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Biblical Pastors


“It is difficult to get a man to understand something if his livelihood depends upon his not understanding it.”

— Upton Sinclair

The word “pastor” is not in the New Testament very often. The word pastor simply means “shepherd”.  What does the Bible mean when it uses the word pastor? Although the word pastor is in the Bible a few times…

The modern role and function of a pastor is found nowhere in scripture.

Our plague is that when we read a passage or see something in the Bible, we so often interpret it based on our prior experience or based on what we’ve already been taught. Based on prior experience, when we see the word pastor in the Bible, it floods our mind with our idea of what a pastor is – which is based on what we’ve seen, what we’ve heard, and what we’ve been taught a pastor already is.

If you had lived during the first century and then read the word “pastor” in a letter written to the church, you would have a much different idea come to mind.


What’s the big deal and why is this an issue?

Our entire Christian culture has largely fit around this erroneous idea of this one man and his unscriptural role. Entire groups and churches are built around the pastor. People join churches based on who the pastor is. The entire direction, vision, and focus of a group is often based on the pastor. While the whole time, his role, function, and very existence are not even Biblical.

We’ve been taught:

“If you don’t have a pastor you are not under authority”.

“If you don’t have a pastor you don’t have spiritual covering”.

“If you don’t have a pastor, you aren’t being fed”.


These are very common beliefs that stem from a basic error.

1 Samuel 10:19 “But you have today rejected your God, who delivers you from all your calamities and your distresses; yet you have said, ‘No, but set a king over us’.”

Just like the children of Israel cried out for a king, It is within the base, carnal nature of people to want a physical king. What does a king provide? A king provides security. A king provides a feeling that someone is taking care of things and that someone is making decisions that need to be made.

The Catholics have their “fathers,” the Protestants have their “pastors.” People will always want someone else to take the responsibility off their shoulders. And we will even pay someone to do it. We want a specialist to take care of the role of leadership.

Men are responsible for leading the church. Not a man.

Our western culture has forced the church into that of a typical American, corporate structure. The modern day pastor has become the CEO of an organization, with the deacons acting as the board of directors. We have reduced true shepherding to that of hiring a paid professional to stand up and make a speech once a week.

Biblically, what is the role and function of a real pastor?

Remember, the word pastor literally means “shepherd”.  So, what should true shepherding be? What should true shepherding look like?

A shepherd feeds sheep. A shepherd cares for sheep. A shepherd watches sheep. To be a pastor is to be a shepherd. To do the work of shepherding is to love others up close. To do the work of a shepherd is to speak into the lives of others. To shepherd is to watch over the lives of others. To shepherd is to care for the well being of others, (Lk.2:8, Heb. 13:17).

The Greek word for shepherd is poimaino {poy-mah’-ee-no} which means to feed, to keep, to tend, to care for, or to shepherd.

It does not mean that a shepherd is the final authority for a group of people. Or even the final authority for one person. Only scripture has the final authority. In fact, the bible says that “the head of every man is Christ”. It does not say that the “head of every man is his pastor”.


Shepherding is to be Plural

1Peter 5:1-4 “Therefore, I exhort the elders (plural) among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Notice that in the passage Peter writes it to elders (plural) that are among you. Peter told the older brothers to do the shepherding. From Peter’s perspective, there are many among us who will be doing the work or feeding the flock! Peter is simply telling the elders to care for the younger members.

In a healthy group of Christians, we should see many people doing shepherding.

Jesus was a shepherd. He is the chief shepherd. Couldn’t we look at His example and see how to properly pastor others? While on the earth, and as a man, Jesus Himself actively shepherded twelve men. He spoke into their lives. As a man, He lived close enough with them to see their lives and address them. If Jesus shepherded twelve, why do we think that one man among us can adequately shepherd five hundred people?

Maybe a man among us can shepherd one hundred people?


Well then maybe fifty?

Nope. Impossible.

If Jesus had twelve, we would be doing very well to adequately shepherd just a few. Sure, a man can stand up and give a teaching week after week to 500 or 1000 people. But he can not adequately shepherd them. How should shepherding really occur?

Like this:

As you are meeting with the Church, living life together, and loving the Lord together, you may find the desire to:

– To be interested in the well being of another saint or even a few.

– To become genuinely interested and concerned for a few people’s growth and life in God.

– To regularly pray for them, look at their lives, and consider areas of growth that may be needed.

– You will probably pull these few people aside that God has put on your heart to spend quality time with them, provide instruction, encouragement, and love them by speaking into their lives on a regular basis.

Someone who is doing shepherding does not necessarily have the gift of teaching, although he should be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). You can carry someone in prayer, speak into their life, and care for their growth in an active participatory manner, without having the gift of teaching.

The church has often called “pastors”, those who only have a gift for teaching. Yet often these men have little concern or time for others on a one on one basis.

A shepherd can often care for and be concerned with the growth of a larger group. He may even stand up and teach on occasion to the group as to what the Lord may be saying for growth or issues of correction or vision, but this is in no way a weekly thing that you would be paid for. It may be for three nights in a row. It may be once every month or two. It may be a one time thing. But to stand up and deliver a teaching or a message to a group would be on an “as needed basis”. To be paid for doing a weekly teaching is ridiculous.

Keep in mind that in the body, someone doing shepherding is a sheep themselves. They are not to be considered in a different class or “above” anyone else. It is just a function they are performing, like teaching or prophesying.

Someone that is doing the work of a shepherd will probably be older, but not necessarily. Notice that Peter seems to make synonymous the function of shepherding with exercising oversight and being an elder in 1 Pet. 5:1-4.

We Have Severly Perverted the Gift and Role of a Pastor

In the church today, we have severely changed the role of a pastor and what shepherding is all about. We’ve made men hirelings. When you pay a man a salary for giving a speech once or twice a week, and call it shepherding, it does all sorts of terrible things.

First of all when you pay a man a salary, it tempts him. What if he doesn’t perform? What if he is not inspired one week? What if he is dry in his heart and life and needs prayer and for someone else to take the ball? What if he needs to stay home Sunday morning because he hasn’t had much family time? He can’t. His livelihood is on the line. He’s getting paid for it! It becomes a job. He must perform.

The modern day pastor has become the planner of events, one who delegates, a counselor, a troubleshooter, and an organizer of committees. He is like the president of a business. He becomes spread so thin with his time and emotional energy that he gets burned out and often loses his inspiration. This man is obligated to fill his role or he will be fired and will lose his pay. Lord, forgive us.

He also has to maintain somewhat of an illusion of not having problems. He can confess some things to a certain level, and probably does to maintain some perception of humility, but if he were ever to be really gut-level honest with anyone, it would scare the congregation and cause mass panic. Therefore, he becomes cheated of true body life.

Usually, “the pastor” is the loneliest man in the fellowship.

The modern day pastor’s family also suffers. His children are often rebellious, because they are the product of a failed system. The family is sacrificed because the pastor often doesn’t have time for them. But even worse is the hypocrisy. Again, because he’s “the pastor,” he and his family have to maintain an illusion, a veneer of righteousness, when they  really are not. At home, all sorts of stuff goes on, just like in any family. But around the church members the act is turned on. This puts emotional pressure on the family and a feeling of being false. This is very damaging and often fosters rebellion in the children. Or, it produces a “celebrity complex” in the entire family. Basically, everyone feels pressure to be something they are not.

Pastors Hinder Our Growth

In 1 Cor. 14:26 we read, “What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”

The modern day pastor contributes to stunting the growth of the church. His role on Sunday morning doesn’t allow us to hear from the rest of the body in the general assembly. This limits our experience of what the Lord would want to say through the other members.

But worse than that, the pastor’s role on Sunday causes others to sit passively in the pew as observers and not as participants. When we are participants, we grow. We study, we learn, we prepare. There is no need for this if you have a pastor running the show.

As a member of the modern day church, you are allowed to show up and hide if you want to. You can be needy and desperate in your heart on Sunday morning and nobody would even know it. You go to the church meeting, listen to the sermon, stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, toss money in the plate, go home,  and nobody really knows anybody.

Nor does the pastor really know anybody! How can the pastor really bring an effective message to address the needs of the people,  when he is not actively involved with the daily lives of most people in the group?

Many people Sunday after Sunday are dying inside, hurting and alone, just sitting on the pew. They come with hope in their hearts that someone will notice and again they leave disappointed. This will happen this coming Sunday in countless gatherings all across the country. But, we all sure like “going to church”. Or do we really?

On Sunday morning, you can be in a bad place in your heart and know one will know it. You can be full of the Spirit and no one will know it. Sometimes, the best time on Sunday is usually the 10 minutes before and after the sermon, when you get to visit and connect with others.

We should never go to a church meeting and leave unchanged. Every time we get together we should leave filled, listened to, prayed for, and even more connected with Jesus and others!

Since I’ve become a Christian, I’ve known about 4 real pastors.

Sure, I’ve known many men who have the title of “pastor”. They give weekly teachings –  but they don’t do true shepherding whatsoever. Often these are quality men, but their real gifting is more in things like administration, teaching, or music. Some of them have a strong gift of “helps”, but they have been misidentified as being “pastors”.

Just because a man has started a fellowship or was an original founder, doesn’t make him a pastor either. Just because a man is eager, knows the word of God, can teach, attends seminary, or has leadership abilities – none of these things cause him to have the biblical gift of a true pastor. Please don’t miss my heart. I do not intend to speak down to or degrade these men at all, but in most cases shepherding is just not their gift.

Most of the so called pastors I’ve known, know nothing of hospitality, which disqualifies them from being in leadership (refer to chapter on hospitality). In addition, most of the so-called pastors I’ve known will never ask anyone about the condition of their heart or how they are doing in their faith. A lot of these men are pretty self-focused (but they would never think they are). And most of them have no idea of what the scripture means when it says that “Jesus, seeing the multitudes felt compassion.” It takes a pastoral gift from God to regularly and in daily life see others with compassion, and then seek them out to spend time with them.

Again, most so called “pastors” are usually good men, but most of the time, they are not pastors – at all. Usually, if they do spend time with you, it is either to protect the organization they’ve built or grow it in order to add to its numbers.

Only the true gift of a shepherd will be genuinely interested in you and who you are, and on a continual basis.

Spiritual Authority

There is a tremendous difference in spiritual authority and authority that is given a man because everyone agrees on his authority. Spiritual authority comes from the Spirit and from the Word of God. You “just are a pastor”, because of your heart and the gift of God in you. It cannot be learned from seminary, and you don’t receive it automatically because you started a church.

We have an extremely damaging system of authority in the church today. It hinders people who have gifts from God and true authority from the Spirit. The only gifts of leadership that are recognized are those “on staff”. In other words, if you are not on staff, then you don’t have as much authority, if any, as the ones who are on staff. We should be able to publicly recognize spiritual gifted people among us, without it being a paid staff position.

The problem is that there are many people in traditional groups who are gifted, who have tremendous weight, spiritual authority, and leadership authority who go unrecognized and unnoticed because they are not “staff members”. This hinders the growth of the church, promotes frustration, and ultimately passivity in the group. Many times, the only outlet for these gifted people to express the gifts that are in them is to go start another church, therefore establishing themselves in a leadership position. If we would publicly recognize those with leadership gifts and authority among us, it would vastly cut down on the number of divisions in each city.

Pastors Can Have Severe Identity Problems

There is usually a consistent identity problem in most pastors or men in leadership. An identity problem affects how you view yourself. Usually from the ones who attend seminary, they think of themselves… “as pastors”. This is a problem. They don’t see themselves as just another brother, but inside of themselves, they are in a different class than the rest of the sheep. It’s part of the clergy/laity separation which is false. It’s how they’ve been trained to think of themselves.

Part of this identity problem is that the church is “their baby”. Subtly, they forget that the church belongs to Jesus, not to men and that He is the one who is building it. Anything that threatens the organization they have built will usually solicit extreme emotional reactions in these brothers. This identity problem is very hard to shake and they are usually very reluctant to become just brothers, yet still function in their gifts. All they’ve believed, all they were trained for, all they’ve built, their credentials, their place in society, their entire identity would come crashing down. Not to mention, their income.

Actually, the men I have seen let go of their pastor identity are very relieved once they do so, and they begin to thrive more than ever in body life. They also begin to function much more effectively in their gifts and functions.

So, What Should A Pastor Do?

Simple answer: Quit.

In their hearts before the Lord and with the group they are with, the “pastors” need to resign. They need to find work, and they need to become just brothers in the church. They should not break fellowship or stop meeting with the group they are with. But if they truly have a gift of shepherding they can do still do it – but from freedom, without money being involved, without expectations, without all the trappings; and therefore do a much better job. Pastors need to let go of the reigns and truly encourage other brothers to start bringing weekly messages and teachings.

A “pastor” needs to spend more time with his family and “decrease” in the fellowship he is in. He needs to become more like a quiet observer for a very long period of time in the meetings. He should still continue to love people, but spend more one on one time with others and show more hospitality to individuals and to families.

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