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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic


Ministers, Pastors, and the Calling (Part 2)

The Importance of Music in Worship
The Church and Going to Church
Ministers, Pastors, and the Calling (Part 1)
Ministers, Pastors, and the Calling (Part 2)
Introduction: Financial Support for Ministers
Financial Support for Ministers (Part 1)
Financial Support for Ministers (Part 2)
Church Leadership and Authority Conditional
Communal Living



The word "minister" in the New Testament was the same word often translated "deacon." It is the Greek word "diakoneo" (Strong's #1247) which literally means "servant." Paul even applied this term to himself as the apostle to the Gentiles (Compare Romans 1:5-6,15-16 and Galatians 1:15-16, 2:8).

Galatians 2:7 On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. 8 For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.

The first selection of men as ministers or deacons comes in Acts 6. In that chapter we see somewhat of an insight into what the function of deacons may have been in that these men were selected to carry out administrative tasks so that the apostles would not have to neglect the teaching of the Word.

Regarding the terms pastor, overseer, bishop, and elder we can easily see that these terms were interchangeable in the New Testament. In reality, these words actually referred to different aspects of the same leadership position.

Let's start with the term pastors. It can be found in Ephesians 4:11 listed side by side with apostles, prophets, teachers, and evangelists.

Ephesians 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

In the Greek, this word is "poimen" (Strong's #4166) and it literally translates to shepherd. This word occurs 18 times in the New Testament. Of those 18 times, 15 are in the Gospels. Of the 15 in the Gospels, 2 times it refers to the people of Israel not having a shepherd. 4 times (all in Luke 2) it refers to the actual shepherds who came to visit Jesus shortly after his birth. The other 9 times it refers specifically to Jesus. Of the 3 times it occurs outside of the Gospels, 2 times (Hebrews 13:20 and I Peter 2:25) it refers specifically to Jesus. The only remaining occurrence of this word is in Ephesians 4:11, which also happens to be the only time it is used to refer to a leadership role held by members of the Church community.

In today's church we have youth pastors, music pastors (or ministers), assistant pastors, and every church must have a head pastor. But how is it we have so many pastors and such a wide understanding of "pastor-ship" in the church today if such an office is only briefly mentioned one time in the entire New Testament?

One answer is that the New Testament usage of this word actually overlaps other leadership roles. These other roles (which are really only one role) are described in further detail and from that detail we have derived some of the aspects of being a modern pastor.

The Greek word "episkopos," (Strong's #1985) is translated in some modern Bibles as "bishop" and at other times as "overseer." Actually, it is the same Greek word in either case. We may recognize episkopos because of its resemblance to the modern word Episcopal. Episkopos literally means "overseer." Specific qualifications for holding this office are given in Titus 1:6-9 and I Timothy 3:1-7.

Now, when we examine the relationship of this term "overseer" to the concept of being a pastor/shepherd, we find these two terms are virtually synonymous. The most obvious correlation occurs in I Peter 2:25 when both terms are applied side by side to Jesus Christ himself.

But there are other examples of this overlap as well. I Peter 5 is also very informative.

1 Peter 5:1 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

Speaking to elders, Peter instructs them to feed and be examples to the flock, which they have oversight of. In doing so, Peter associates both being a pastor and being an overseer/bishop as the same work, the work of an elder. Likewise, in Acts 20, Paul speaks to the elders of the Church of Ephesus, telling them that the Holy Spirit has made them overseers of the flock and so they should feed the Church (Acts 20:17-28). And Paul also speaks similarly in Titus 1:5-9.

In both places we see the terms "elders," "overseers", and "pastor" incorporated into a singular office. In the New Testament, these were not 3 different roles, but the same role described using slightly different terms. This is why we have such a developed concept of being a pastor when in fact that specific term is only mentioned on one brief occasion in the New Testament. Some of our understanding of this role is derived from the descriptions and qualifications assigned to the terms elders, overseers, and bishops in the New Testament.

But as we said, this is only a partial explanation of how we have arrived at our modern concept of being a pastor. First of all, there is no New Testament differentiation for youth pastors, assistant pastors, head pastors, or music pastors (ministers). In today's local churches, there is always a headship or hierarchy of pastors with one person being given the designation of head pastor or senior pastor. Of particular significance is the complete absence of this concept of pastoral hierarchy in the New Testament.

From Acts 14:23, to Acts 20:17-28, to Titus 1:5-9, to Philippians 1:1, to I Timothy 5:17, to I Peter 5:1-3, to James 5:14 whenever we see these positions, they are plural. They are always held by a group of men. They are never mentioned in a singular manner. It is always to a group of them that the writer is speaking. Even when we see them appointed such as in Acts 14 and Titus 1, a group of them are always appointed, never just one man, and always without mention of headship. So, what Biblical basis is there for such a hierarchy? None apparently. It is entirely a product of post-Biblical history and tradition.

We believe this practice of hierarchy based on title or age or board approval or formal education or experience has been detrimental to the growth of the Church. Any hierarchy, if one exists at all, should not be fixed, especially not by titles (which confer authority independent of consistent ability). No man is infallible. A pastor/overseer/elder is only as reliable as his doctrine and judgments are day to day and instance to instance. To confer a title on a man is to remove his accountability.

The best scenario is to have a group of equals sharpening each other as iron sharpens iron by being able to question and correct each other without the interference and obstacle of titles and artificial superiority. (For more on this please visit our article entitled "Reason and Learning through Questions" in our In Depth Study section.)

In summary, the term pastor is Biblically equivalent to the terms elder, bishop, and overseer. These were not separate offices or positions but one and the same. The different terms were used to convey different attitude or aspects of the role, not to convey different roles. This truth alone is enough to throw a lot of modern church structures right out of bounds with regard to the Biblical standard and precedent.

Given that the role of pastor/elder/bishop/and overseer is, in fact, the same role, let's take a look at how individuals came to fill such roles. What we will quickly see, particularly in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 is that these were offices men themselves consciously aspired to have. And the Bible commends them for it, but it does not say they were "called of God" to these roles, nor does it equate these acts of service with some kind of calling other than the general calling to all believers.

Acts 14:23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

2 Timothy 2:1 Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.

1 Timothy 3:1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap. 8 Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. 11 In the same way, their wives [2] are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. 12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well.

Titus 1:6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless--not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

The very first thing we want to point out is that in I Timothy 3 we see that overseers had to be able to teach. And Titus 1:9 is very similar.

There was no self-realized "calling" from God to such positions. We have no depiction of such men being set apart to a special calling in the same way apostles were. The Church did not unquestioningly accept a man's own testimony that God had chosen him to be a leader. Nor do we have any evidence that men pursued these things because of a call from God. Instead, having the general call to believe and serve that all believers have. These men recognized the importance to do their part to build up the church and so volunteered themselves for these tasks.

There was no illusion about whether it was God's choice for them or their own choice. Here Paul is very clear when he writes, "Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task" (I Timothy 3:1).

According to the Bible, here's how it worked. A man chose to pursue such a position. Then there was a selection process in which that man had to meet specific, qualifying guidelines including that had to be an able teacher.

And being an able speaker was not enough, nor was it considered the same thing as being able to teach according to I Corinthians 2:1-4. Obtaining such positions was a matter of a man's personal choice to pursue them, meeting certain requirements and capabilities (including teaching), and then being selected as needed by men who themselves had already undergone this process.

Notice that the entire process seems to be set up to occur after a man thinks he is already qualified. A man did not go forward to volunteer himself and then have to go through years of training with the already approved understanding that he would become a leader. No, a man chose the path and volunteered himself at which point in time he had to meet the qualifications. Therefore, there would not be any room for a man to choose this service before he was ready and able. If a man wanted to pursue this service he would have to ready himself before getting the Churches approval in the matter. In this way, no Church could accept the choice of a man to serve until he had first proven himself ready.

This in itself would prevent the process by which young Christians are accepted as "called to the ministry" before they reach maturity. The aspirations of such a young Christian could only be considered potential at best. Such notions could never be accepted as an accurate reflection of God's will because they were so far from being able to prove their qualifications.

In addition, if the modern church followed the Biblical standard, the entire notion of Bible colleges, seminaries, and theology schools would not fit either. Because men could not set themselves apart for leadership roles before they were qualified, it would make little sense to have special schools for those who were "supposed" to go into the ministry. Instead, the burden would fall back on educating the entire Church so that able leaders could rise in every generation.

Of course, the Biblical record does not tell us much about how men became evangelists. But given the job requirements of conversion and discipleship, it seems most probable to us that the process and requirements would have been the same as for teachers and overseers. Evangelists would have to be able teachers, able apologists, and able to refute those who opposed them just as overseers would (Titus 1:9).

Based upon the Biblical record, we have no reason to assume that men who become pastors (oversee, elders, bishops, even deacons), or evangelists (missionaries), or teachers (theologians, authors) have any other calling on their life beyond the general call to believe in and follow Jesus. We have no reason to assume a man is "called" to such tasks like men are called to be apostles. According to the New Testament instruction men chose to pursue these things for themselves and that was said to be a worthy pursuit. But then they were scrutinized and had to pass certain qualifications such as their ability to teach and defend strong doctrine before they would be selected by the existing leaders to fill a role.

Understanding that our church leaders are no more called than you and I as ordinary believers would go a long way in tearing down the unaccountability and Biblical ignorance that has occurred on both sides of the pulpit in the two-class Church community of today.

It would also remove a great deal of the illusionary authoritative weight and self-validation that goes with being "called to the ministry." It would also return these positions to their intended stature of service and lowliness as opposed to positions of authority, which command the respect and attention of the lay community no matter how subtly they convey it. We would do well as a Church to remember our roots and how much the religious leaders at the time of Jesus loved the honor of their positions.

Returning leadership roles to a process of personal pursuit and qualification would help greatly in dismantling the illusion that so many have been "called by God to lead the rest of us." It would also be of great use to humbling the pride in a man's heart who thinks God has called him to lead many. Instead each man would be caused to realize he has chosen that path for himself. The Bible calls the pursuit of such a path noble. But the illusion that we are called to something when, in fact, we choose it ourselves is not noble at all.