Bible Q&A: Please Explain Why Preachers Are Not Pastors

I visited a Church of Christ last week with my friend who attends there. After the service, I told my friend that I thought his pastor had given a good sermon. My friend told me that he wasn’t a pastor, just their preacher. He told me that the Bible doesn’t call preachers pastors. When I looked it up in my Bible, I couldn’t find where it says that pastors are not preachers. I read your blog and remembered that you preach for the Church of Christ. Could you explain why your church doesn’t call preachers pastors?

Thank you for the great question, and thank you for worshiping with your friend at a church of Christ. I hope you will worship with him again. If you would like to know more about the church of Christ, I could answer questions you might have. Please let me know in the comments section below or private message me on Facebook at the Pre-Denominational Christianity Facebook Page like you did with this question. It’s a good question, so let’s go to Scripture to find the answer.

The Bible teaches that Christians are to follow the New Testament, not the Old Testament. The Old Testament covenant — the Law of Moses — was given to Israel only (Deut. 5:1-3). It was taken out of the way and fulfilled when Jesus died on the cross and replaced with Christ’s new covenant, the New Testament (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:6-13; 9:15-17).

Within the pages of the New Testament, we read of pastors here:

Ephesians 4:11-13 (NASB)
11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

The English Standard Version renders verse 11 slightly differently:

Ephesians 4:11 (ESV)
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,

Notice how the NASB says pastors, and the ESV says shepherds. The reason for this is because the New Testament was originally written in Greek by men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:19-21; Eph. 3:3-5; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Greek term they used which is translated pastors or shepherds is poimen. As a noun it literally refers to a shepherd, and as a verb it means to do what a shepherd does, like “shepherd the flock” or “tend sheep” or “feed the flock.” Pastor is a word which literally means shepherd.

In Ephesians 4:11, notice how pastors are listed alongside — and distinguished from — apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers. There’s a reason for that. The Greek word poimen, which means “shepherd” or “to shepherd,” is used elsewhere in the New Testament in reference to elders of the church. It’s used in Acts 20:28, which is a directive Paul contextually gave to elders of the church (cf. Acts 20:17):

Acts 20:28 (NASB)
28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

Notice how elders are told to “shepherd” the church of God. The Greek term used there is poimen, the same Greek term translated pastor. Elders are the ones who are commanded to “pastor,” or “shepherd,” the flock of God, i.e., the church.

We read of something similar from Peter’s writings:

1 Peter 5:1-4 (NASB)
1 Therefore, I exhort the elders 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,
2 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;
3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.
4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Again, notice that it is specifically elders to whom Peter is giving this directive, and one of the things he tells elders to do is to “shepherd the flock of God among you.” “Shepherd” is from the Greek term poimen, the same word translated pastor. Elders are the ones who are told to pastor the church in the New Testament.

In order to be put into the office of an elder in the church, one has to meet certain qualifications which are laid out in the New Testament:

Titus 1:5-9 (NASB)
5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you,
6 namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion.
7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain,
8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled,
9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.

1 Timothy 3:1-7 (NASB)
1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.
2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.
4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity
5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?),
6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.
7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Not all preachers meet all of these qualifications. For example, I started preaching when I was in my early 20’s. I preached for almost four years as a single bachelor before I got married, and then preached for another 8 years before I had children. As of today, I have been preaching for 23 years and my children have yet to become Christians (“having children who believe” — Tit. 1:6) due to their age and stage of maturity and accountability. So as of now, after 23 years of preaching, I still do not meet all of the scriptural qualifications to become an elder and thus pastor, or shepherd, the church. After my children obey the gospel and become faithful Christians themselves, and as I continue to grow to meet all of these other qualifications and character traits which God wants His shepherds of the church to have, I hope one day to be granted the privilege of serving the church in the office of an elder or pastor. However, as of now I do not meet the qualifications to become a pastor, even though I am a preacher.

To sum up, Scripture does not teach that a preacher is inherently a pastor. A preacher can become a pastor if he meets all of the qualifications and the congregation appoints him to that office, but he is not automatically a pastor just because he stands behind the pulpit every Sunday. The two positions are distinguished from each other in Scripture. Christians are commanded to “not go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6), i.e., not add to nor take away from what Scripture teaches (cf. Gal. 1:6-9; Rev. 22:18-19; Prov. 30:6; Deut. 4:2). Therefore, we must refer to biblical offices such as pastors the way the Bible describes them.

Hope that answers your question! Again, if you have any other questions please do not hesitate to let me know. Thank you for reading.

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