As pastors have such an important role in the church, and I’m studying the Pastoral Epistles at the moment, I wanted to offer you a quick overview of the pastorate. I’m not attempting anything scholarly; simply presenting what the Bible says as I read it. If I’m missing relevant verses feel free to comment. As an aside, the terms pastor, elder, and overseer refer to the same position in the New Testament and I will be using these terms interchangeably.
What Does a Pastor Do?
Pastor is Latin for shepherd. The title is his job description – he shepherds the people under his care. That’s kind of it; deacons do everything else (kidding). Ok, well I suppose I should say something about what that means. Unfortunately, the NT doesn’t tell us exactly what their position looks like. 1 Peter 5 tells elders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight” and to serve as examples. Paul, in Acts 20, tells the Ephesian elders to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock…to care for the church of God.” Lastly, according to Titus 1:9 a pastor must be able to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
It seems to me then that the elders of the church work for the spiritual health of the believers under their care and make sure the teaching they receive is sound. Practically, this means that the pastoral team makes sure everyone is being discipled, receiving good teaching, that their family relationships are healthy, and if things are lacking on a spiritual/emotional level to help them or find help for them in some way. What this will look like in practice must be worked out among the pastoral team, as each elder will have different strengths and weaknesses. This doesn’t mean that pastors do all the ministry, all Christians are called to minister, but it does mean pastors make sure ministry is done.
The job of deacons is to handle the practical needs of the people – think Acts 6 – so that pastors can do their job. It is clear from the job description above that elders do not have time to be in budget meetings and the like. Churches simply must have deacons (it doesn’t matter what you call them). Without them the pastorate can become endless meetings about this or that building issue, debates about the website, the color of the carpet, and so on. The pastors then no longer have time to be pastors. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that it is disastrous for churches not to have deacons.
What are the Criteria for Being a Pastor?
Combining the criteria from 1 Timothy and Titus we get the following criteria (thank you ESV Study Bible):
· Above reproach
· Husband of one wife
· Able to teach
· Not a drunkard
· Not violent but gentle
· Not quarrelsome
· Not arrogant or quick-tempered
· Not greedy
· Manage his own household well
· Keeps his children submissive
· Not a recent convert
· Well thought of by outsiders
· A lover of good
How Many Pastors Should a Church Have?
Elders are appointed in groups in the NT (Acts 14:23; 20:17; 21:18). The obvious question is how many to appoint. However, the NT never tells us how many elders where appointed, but it seems obvious that there need to be enough pastors in each church to shepherd all the people. There can be no fixed number as the needs of people vary as do the abilities of each overseer.
Proper Attitude of Congregation
Nobody is perfect. All pastors will do things wrong and in ways you don’t like. The info above is not license for rebellion. The job of the shepherd is hard enough without the sheep attacking him. It is interesting that Peter, in 1 Peter 5, quotes “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” in the context of submitting to elders. Don’t take that warning lightly.