It is well known that the title of "pastor" refers to a "shepherd" in both Greek and Hebrew. Many therefore endeavor to find the duties of a pastor by analogy to those of a literal shepherd, spiritualizing the physical duties involved, so that "feeding" may represent (for example) preaching the Word, leading sheep to new pasture represents leadership, and the overall caretaking responsibilities involve meeting people’s needs on an individual basis. The problem with this understanding is that there are no inherent controls on the analogy itself—those making the analogy may interpret any duty in any manner they choose. The usual understanding that emerges from this approach lays great emphasis on personal care for the congregation by the pastor, which may or may not be what was intended by the New Testament use of the term to describe a type of leader within the church.
A better method of discovering the meaning of the title, "pastor," would be to analyze the metaphorical uses of that word in Greek and Hebrew, to discover what aspects of literal shepherding are applied to other occupations, what these aspects have reference to, and to what persons or offices they are applied. Once we understand how the terms for "shepherd" are used metaphorically throughout scripture, we may then better understand how they would have been understood to apply to the title named in Ephesians 4:11.
In that passage, the Apostle Paul cites the office of "pastor" (poimhn) along with those of apostle, prophet, and evangelist (the office of teacher, as we shall see, is probably coordinate with that of pastor), but gives no content to the position so named. In order to discover what the Biblical understanding of that office is, we shall 1) review the metaphorical uses of poimhn and its cognates in the New Testament, as well as its equivalent in Old Testament Hebrew; 2) attempt to discover synonomous offices/titles in the New Testament literature and similarly trace their usage; 3) tie the material thus gathered into a biblical "job description" of the pastor as that role is conceived in the Scriptures.
Outside Ephesians, only Matthew 9:36 and Mark 6:34 (parallel synoptic accounts) have possible reference to anyone other than Jesus; in both cases the crowds following Jesus are described as "sheep without a shepherd," without comment on who the needed shepherd would be. Matthew adds vv. 37-38: "Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’"3 It is therefore possible that "shepherd" in v. 36 is coordinate with "worker" in vv. 37-38, and that the "workers" Jesus has in view are to be "shepherds" (i.e., pastors). This is followed in Matthew by the sending out of the Twelve on their first mission. However, in the Markan parallel, Jesus himself responds to the need and "began teaching them many things"; i.e., one would be led in Mark to identify the needed "shepherd" with Jesus himself. In fact, "sheep without a shepherd" cites Numbers 27:17, in which Moses petitions God for a leader over Israel, and God appoints Joshua as Moses’ successor; in which role Joshua functions as a type of Christ (cf. "I will raise up a prophet like you [Moses]," Dt. 18:18). In drawing a parallel between the situation at hand and that of Moses, Jesus evidently had two analogies in mind: himself in the role of Moses, his successors as shepherds (Matthew), and himself in the role of Moses’ successor (Mark).4
The contexts (apart from Eph. 4:11) in which poimhn is found, then, offer little information on what the biblical role of the pastoral office ought to be. They either refer to literal shepherds, to Jesus in his unique atoning/salvific role, or have uncertain reference to "workers" in the harvest; the most that can be inferred is that "harvesting," or salvation of souls, is involved. However, a further element of the pastoral office may be deduced from the context of Ephesians 4:11 itself: in the expression, touV de poimenaV kai didaskalouV, "and some to be pastors and teachers," the use of "and some" to cover both "pastors and teachers" (as well as the omission of the article before "teachers," according to Sharp’s Rule5) not only allows but actually suggests rather strongly that these offices were intended to be considered together in a single category, or possibly as metonymous expressions for a single office: the pastor-teacher. It is reasonable to infer from this construction that teaching is to be understood as a principle element of the pastoral office.
In his farewell address to the elders of the Ephesian church, the apostle Paul charges the elders to "Keep watch over youselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God" (Acts 20:28). In this passage we are given to understand that the "elders" (to whom Paul is speaking, vv. 17-18) are also called "overseers," and that it is they who are to shepherd the church; i.e., the pastoral office is to be identified with that of an "elder" or an "overseer." Moreover, Paul seems to explicate what he means by poimainw in vv. 29-31 by two coordinate expressions. In the first (v. 29), he warns that "savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock." In the next verse, he explains that "men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them." Then he warns the elders to be on their guard and recalls to them his constant warnings for the previous three years. Here, watchfulness with regard to false teachers and warning the people concerning them is the evident practical import of the descriptive verb poimainw.
1 Peter 5:2 calls upon the "elders among you" (i.e., among the church worldwide; cf. 1:1-2) to "Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers." In this we see confirmation that "elders" are to be identified with "overseers" and charged with "shepherding"; we see also that "God’s flock" (i.e., the congregation) is in some sense "under" the elder’s "care." Vv. 2b-3 indicate, by three contrasted pairs, the manner in which "shepherding" ought to take place: "not because you must," "not greedy for money," "not lording it over those entrusted to you"; but rather, "because you are willing, as God wants you to be," "eager to serve," and "being examples to the flock." In verse 4, a reward (the "crown of glory") is promised from the "Chief Shepherd" to those who faithfully serve in this capacity.
If we identify the verbal poimainw with the conduct of the "pastoral" office, it follows from these three passages that 1) the office of "pastor" is to be identified with that of "elder" and "overseer," and therefore what is said about these offices is in turn applicable to the pastor; 2) its motive ought to be out of love for the Lord and a willing eagerness to serve (rather than out of compulsion or greed); 3) its conduct involves serving God’s people and exemplifying the new life before them; and 4) its content specifically includes watching out for false teachers and warning the people of them; i.e., teaching against false doctrine as it appears.
Before turning to the offices that we’ve seen are identified with the pastorate–"elders" and "overseers"—we will take up the Hebrew background of "shepherd" and "shepherding" and investigate what connotations the NT readers may have been expected to bring to their understanding of the terms.
Used as a verb, râ‘âh most often refers to the literal tending of sheep, as a rule understood primarily to involve feeding and leading to fresh pasture. Used metaphorically, it often refers to God’s provision for His people, frequently with reference to Israel’s restoration. When referring to human leadership, the civil leadership of kings or judges is usually assumed: judges or kings are often clearly in view in the context, and leaders, when their specific office is not identified, are often compared to (or replaced by a type of) King David. Râ‘âh is never used with clear reference to priests, and only once to prophets, in Jeremiah’s self-reference. It can refer to feeding or taking care of oneself, and can be used metaphorically. The general sense of this usage seems to be the responsibility of the leader/shepherd to provide for the needs of his people/flock. As these needs are generally either undefined or understood to be the physical needs for food and water, there is little OT direct evidence to guide one in determining how to meet the spiritual needs of the NT church (although this may provide a basis for the mandate for the church to provide physically for those who are in physical need). Emphasis seems to be placed, however, on the attitude of the "shepherds": whether they provide for their own needs at the expense of the people, or whether they give primary regard to the needs of the people.8
In Ezekiel 34, a seminal text in this regard, the Lord pronounces judgment upon the "shepherds (civil leadership) of Israel,"9 on the basis that they "only take care of themselves" and do not "take care of the flock" (vv. 2-3). The Lord’s specific indictment of the shepherds is that they do not help the weak, sick, or injured; that they do not rescue strays and the lost; and that they have ruled the flock harshly and brutally, benefiting themselves with the best the flock has to offer (vv. 3-4). The result of this neglect and abuse is that the sheep are "scattered," a recurring term used frequently to describe bad or nonexistent shepherding. God’s response to this situation will be to hold the shepherds accountable and remove them from their position (v. 10); to rescue His flock, search for His sheep, and tend them Himself (vv. 11-12), and to take care of the injured and weak (v. 16). His shepherding also involves meting out justice upon the sheep as well as the shepherds (vv. 17 and 22) and, as a culmination, placing over them "one shepherd, my servant David" (typologically, Christ), who will "be their shepherd" (vv. 23-24). The rest of the chapter describes the restoration of Israel in the Messianic Age.10
From this OT background, we may draw a few conclusions that one may expect the early church to have understood by the term, "shepherd/pastor." 1) God Himself and Messiah are to be understood as the preeminent Shepherd(s); "pastors" are therefore delegated extensions of His leadership. 2) Shepherds in the OT denote civil leaders and not prophets or priests; pastoring in the church should then refer primarily to leadership within the church, and not to priestly (sacerdotal) or prophetic functions of ministry. 3) The welfare of the sheep/people is to be the shepherd/pastor’s primary concern. Specifically, the weak, sick, or injured ought to receive concern and care, and lost strays are to be sought out for restoration. Above all, the flock is not to be scattered, i.e., unity, direction, and correction are primary responsibilities of the pastor.
In bringing together the Hebrew and Greek terms for shepherd/pastor and their verbal equivalents, we see that 1) the motive of pastoring should be love for the Lord, and willingness to serve as His delegates, for the benefit of His people; 2) the conduct of pastoring should be that of servant-leadership: exemplifying the new life, caring for those with needs, and guiding, directing, correcting, and unifying the congregation as a whole; 3) the predominant method of pastoring should be sound teaching, especially to protect against "wolves," i.e., warning people of false teachers as they arise.
The qualifications of a presbuteroV are laid out in Titus 1:5-9. Briefly, they are: to be "blameless," identified in v. 7 by five things it is "not": overbearing, quick-tempered, given to drunkenness, violent, and in pursuit of dishonest gain; to be "the husband of one wife,"12 and one whose children are obedient believers; to be hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined; and to be one who holds firmly to the basic gospel message, so that he may encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. The emphasis seems to be laid upon moral and ethical character, along with fidelity to the gospel message and the ability to teach it properly. These qualities confirm what has already been discovered about the "shepherd": that he should both practice and teach the content of the gospel.
The most helpful passages in understanding the episkopoV are from the requirements laid out for the office in 1 Timothy 3:1-10 and Titus 1:5-9, the latter having been examined with reference to the presbuteroV since the Titus passage uses both terms. Besides those qualifications already considered, 1 Timothy 3 adds that the office consists of a "noble task"; that the overseer must be respectable, not quarrelsome, not a recent convert, and have a good reputation with outsiders.
Most of the qualifications of elders and overseers are basic moral, ethical qualities that are elsewhere urged upon believers in general; those in leadership are therefore expected to be exemplary in these matters. It is worth noting, however, the differences between the qualifications of elders/overseers and those of deacons (evidently, lay leadership): while many qualifications are equivalent, those specifically enjoined upon elders/overseers seem to stress self-control in interpersonal relationships, personal holiness and love for what is good, self-discipline, hospitality, and in three citations (1 Tim. 3:2, 5:17; Tit. 1:9), ability to teach.
It would appear that the terms "elder," and "overseer," considered together, constitute one who is set apart and appointed for leadership in the church, one who leads by example and exemplary moral character, and who faithfully teaches and preaches the gospel. They connote leadership and mature Christian character. These qualities may be understood as applying to the pastorate as well.
The Pastoral Epistles lend a great deal of support to the idea that the New Testament pastoral office is largely conceived of in terms of teaching. Various forms of the didask— root occur 27 times in these three brief epistles.14 This is out of 210 occurrences in the New Testament as a whole (13%), of which most of the rest are references to Jesus. There are only 64 references in all the epistles combined, so that the Pastorals contain 42% of the epistolary references to teachers, teaching, doctrine, and instruction. While the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation contain the most of the didask- roots in the New Testament, the pastorals contain the highest frequency of these roots.
An examination of the passages involved indicate that the writer is primarily focused on the teaching role of the church leader; either Timothy or Titus themselves, or the elders/overseers that they are appointing. The leader is to oppose false teaching (1 Tim. 1:3-7, 4:1-3) by pointing out the "truths of the faith" and the "good teaching" he has followed (1 Tim. 4:6), and by commanding false teachers to cease (1 Tim. 1:3) and by silencing those who are "teaching things they ought not to teach" (Tit. 1:11). He is to "command and teach these things" and to "devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching" (1 Tim. 4:11, 13). He is to "teach the older men," "teach the older women," "teach what is good," "encourage the young men," and "teach slaves" (Tit. 2:2, 3, 6, 9). He is to "give the people these instructions" (1 Tim. 5:7), and to "teach what is in accord with sound doctrine" (Tit. 2:1). The leader is to "correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2-3). In his teaching, the leader is to "show integrity, seriousness, and soundness of speech" (Tit. 2:7-8).
The leader is to keep what he has heard from the Apostle Paul as "the pattern of sound teaching" (2 Tim. 1:13), and to entrust Paul’s words to "reliable man who will also be qualified to teach others" (2 Tim. 2:2). The elders whom he appoints are to be considered worthy of "double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching" (1 Tim. 5:17). Such an elder is to "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" (Tit. 1:9). Scripture is recognized as "God-breathed and . . . useful for teaching" (2 Tim. 3:16).
In short, the primary mission of the pastor, as described in the Pastoral Epistles, is to teach. This includes teaching of scripture, doctrine, and godly morals; it includes opposing false teachers; and it is to be done both by verbal means and by personal example.
There are some who would equate the ministry of a pastor exclusively with doctrinal instruction. This position is not borne out by the present study. A pastor’s responsibilities include serving others, exemplifying his message through his daily actions, loving his people, and a concern especially with those who are weak and in need.
However, a much more common view of the pastor in the church, often arrived at by default rather than analysis, is to regard the pastor as the chief worker of the church. Tasks of administration, visitation, counseling, assuaging difficulties, and many other, individually minor, demands on his time have the combined effect of squeezing out what scripture regards as the pastor's primary responsibility—that of teaching the people of God the truths of God’s word and principles of godly living. Many pastors are pressured by people in their congregations to be "more visible" or "more accessible." Those who demand these things have little understanding that time spent in private study or in the solitary prayer closet may be of much greater value to the Body of Christ than endeavoring to be seen doing what the people want the pastor to do.
If the call on a person’s life to pastoral ministry is truly of God, then it is to do the work of God, which is described and exemplified in scripture. It is not necessarily to do the work expected by congregants. Churches need to allow their pastors to involve lay leadership in circumstances that do not require a pastor, and members of congregations need to accept a visit or some other ministry by a brother or sister in Christ as just as valid as the same thing being done by a pastor. People naturally feel honored when the pastor takes time out of his schedule to meet personally with them, and they enjoy seeing him involved in community affairs. But when a pastor spends the majority of his time "taking time out" to do these things, he risks neglecting the gift he has been given; just as bad, he often finds himself trying to operate outside of the gifts God has given him, because God has given him gifts appropriate to the ministry He has called him to, not necessarily the one people expect from him. The success of the modern megachurch may be due partly to the fact that a senior pastor, often a gifted preacher and expositor, is freed by his staff to actually do the work he has been called to do. How much more effective might the Church be if all those who are called to teach the word of God were able to do the same thing?
1 Of 17 total uses of poimhn, four refer literally to shepherds (Lk. 2:8, 15, 18, 20), one metaphorically to God (Mt. 25:32), and nine to Jesus (Mt. 26:31; Mk. 14:27; Jn. 10:2, 11, 12, 14, 16; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25). Interestingly, these nine references probably stem from only two self-references in Jesus’ lifetime: a synoptic reference to Zech. 13:7, and the Johannine discourse in John 10 (the two epistolary references derive from the gospel identification). Two (Mt. 9:36, Mk. 6:34) are parallel accounts of an observation by Jesus of the lack of a "shepherd" for the people (see text), and the last is Ephesians 4:11, in the list of ministry gifts. [back]
2 This is not to suggest that such analogies are in all cases wrong or irrelevant; "Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered," for example, may perhaps be applied to the effects on a local body of believers on the forced ouster of a pastor, as it partakes of the nature of a proverb to which Jesus makes specific application to Himself, but which may be applied in a more broad sense. But it would be begging the question to argue that, for example, "as Jesus has identified Himself as a shepherd, here are some other aspects of Jesus’ role as ‘shepherd,’ which have now become the duties of the pastor," because it is yet to be determined what such aspects of "shepherding" might be, and whether or not they are transferrable to the present-day pastor (as opposed to, e.g., the church body as a whole). Since neither Jesus nor other NT writers identify Him as "shepherd" apart from a salvific context, it is unwarranted for interpreters to do so, and then to pour their own content into the alleged "shepherding." [back]
3 All quotations, unless otherwise specified, are from the New International Version. Words in italics designate the NIV’s contextual translations of the Greek and Hebrew terms under consideration. [back]
4 The two accounts also differ in what action is taken to meet the need for "shepherding": in Mark, Jesus responds by teaching the people (although there are indications in Mark that "teaching" includes much more than imparting information); in Matthew, the disciples are sent out with "authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness," in order to "preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’" (Mt. 10:1, 7 NIV); i.e., they were to do all that they saw Jesus doing up to that time. It is probable that at this point in time (i.e., during Jesus’ ministry) the pastoral office would not yet be distinguished from that of an apostle or an evangelist; i.e., even if part of what the Twelve do at this point is to be identified with shepherding/pastoring, certainly not everything is: they are functioning as apostles as well. The missions undertaken by the Twelve and the Seventy during Jesus’ lifetime are in some senses unique by all accounts; thus, little can be definitively applied to the later, specifically pastoral office, merely by examining the charge to the Twelve in Mt. 10. [back]
5 James A. Brooks and Carlton L. Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek (Lanham, MD and London: University Press of America, 1979), p. 76. [back]
6 Poimainw is used a total of eleven times in the NT. Twice it refers literally to the care of livestock (Lk. 17:7, 1 Cor. 9:7). Four times it refers to Jesus in his unique messianic role, and in each case the idea of rulership is expressed or implied: in Mt. 2:6 (quoting Micah 5:2), Rev. 7:17, and Rev. 12:5 and 19:5 (both quoting Ps. 2:9); additionally, Rev. 2:27 (also quoting Ps. 2:9) indicates Jesus’ authority will be given to believers (in the millenium and/or eschaton) as well. Jude 12 speaks of false teachers (alluding to Ezek. 34:2, 8), and represents the converse of the three remaining passages, in which Peter (Jn. 21:16) and "elders" (Ac. 20:28, 1 Pet. 5:2) are enjoined to "shepherd" God’s people. [back]
7 By the present author’s count, 24 references are made to "shepherds" generically as "leaders" (1 Kg. 22:17; 2 Chr. 18:16; Isa. 56:11; Jer. 2:8, 3:15, 10:21, 22:22, 23:1-2, 4, 25:34-36, 50:6; Ezek. 34:2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10; Zech. 10:2; Mic. 5:5; Nah. 3:18); one to foreign rulers (Jer. 12:10); and three to military leaders (Jer. 49:19, 50:44; Zech. 10:2). Four passages refer to specific personages: a successor to Moses, i.e., Joshua (typologically, Jesus; Num. 27:17); Jeremiah (Jer. 17:16); Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28); and Moses (Isaiah 63:11). God is recognized as Israel’s (or the psalmists’) shepherd on five occasions (Gen. 49:24; Ps. 23:1, 80:1; Isa. 40:11; Jer. 31:10); and the messiah is so described on three occasions (Ezek. 34:23; Zech. 10:16, 13:7). There are 19 references to literal shepherds; although some of these occur within similes—i.e., something else is being compared to a shepherd—but since comparison is being made to literal shepherds, the usage is considered literal. Metaphorical usages, in which the comparison is implied and not stated, are considered nonliteral and attributed to the referent of the metaphor. There may possibly be other, rare uses of râ‘âh as a noun which are translated unusually and have not been counted by the present author. [back]
8 Râ‘âh as verb: There are 33 references to (lit.) tending/feeding/caring for livestock. Twelve involve civil leadership (2 Sam. 5:2, 7:7; 1 Chr. 11:2, 17:6; Ps. 78:71, 72; Jer. 3:15, 23:2, 4; Ezek. 34:2, 3, 10); Eleven cite God as "shepherding" His people Israel (Gen. 48:15; Ps. 28:9; Isa. 40:11; Ezek. 34:13, 14, 15, 16; Hos. 4:16; Mic. 5:4, 7:14; Zeph. 2:7); Ezek. 34:23 alone similarly refers to Messiah. Ten are reflexive—people feeding, eating, or taking care of themselves (literally, Jon. 3:7; referring to leaders putting themselves before their people, Ezek. 34:3, 8, 10; Zech. 11:7; or sometimes referring to God’s provision during Israel’s restoration, Isa. 14:30, 49:9; Zeph. 3:13; Zech. 11:4, 7, 9); four others are metaphorical uses of this reflexive variety: of death (Ps. 49:14), of the military ("destroying," Jer. 6:3), "feeding" on folly (Pr. 15:14), and on ashes (Isa. 44:20). Pr. 10:21 reflects intellectually "nourishing" others. [back]
9 The identification of an antitype of David as the "shepherds’" replacement in vv. 23-24 is what leads this writer to the conclusion that civil leadership is here understood; the leaders envisioned are not otherwise identified. [back]
10 This may be understood either in a literal manner referring to a future millenium, or in a symbolic manner referring to the New Testament church. Exegesis of this passage to determine the referent lies outside the scope of this paper. [back]
11 PresbuteroV is used 67 times in the NT, of which there are nineteen that refer to "elders" as an office in the early church. Most of these references simply assume the existence of elders and describe dealings with them as representatives of the church (Acts 11:30, 14:23, 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23, 16:4, 20:17, 21:18; 1 Tim. 5:1, 17, 19; Jas 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1, 5). Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5 are the only places in which the ordination of elders is mentioned. In 2 Jn. 1 and 3 Jn. 1, John identifies himself as "the elder"; Peter similarly identifies himself as an elder when writing to elders (1 Pet. 5:1). In the gospels, as well as in the early and late portions of Acts, presbuteroV most often refers to Jewish leaders, usually in the expression, "the chief priests and elders." There are also adjectival references, e.g., to the prodigal son’s "older" brother, and to the elderly in general. Hebrews contains a reference to the "ancients" using this word, and Revelation has twelve references to the "twenty-four elders" seated around the throne of God in John’s vision. [back]
12 Explication of this much-disputed phrase (miaV gunaikoV anhr, Tit. 1:6) is beyond the scope of this paper; however, since the rest of the qualifications seem to be concerned with the candidate’s moral and ethical character, it would seem unfitting that this qualification should refer merely to marital status; comparison to Latin inscriptions indicates that the moral quality of faithfulness to one’s spouse in the present, as opposed to unchangeable facts about the past, may be in view here (see Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), p. 344). An alternative translation to "husband of one wife" would be "one-woman man," with emphasis on fidelity, not status. [back]
13 EpiskopoV is used only 5 times in the NT: four times with reference to an office in the church, and once with reference to Christ as the "Shepherd and Overseer of your souls"; this reference confirms the identification of episkopoV with poimhn and links the pastoral office back to the example of Christ. Of the four references to the church office, two introduce the list of qualifications for candidates to that office (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:7); one includes "overseers and deacons" in Paul’s salutation to the Philippian church (Phil. 1:1); and one (Acts 20:28) occurs in Paul’s address to the Ephesian "elders" (see text, §I. 2). [back]14 DidaktikoV (adj., "skilled in teaching"), 1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim 2:24. Didaskalia (n. "teaching, instruction"), 1 Tim. 1:10; 4:1, 6, 13, 16; 5:17; 6:1, 3; 2 Tim. 3:10, 16; 4:3; Tit. 1:9; 2:1, 7, 10. DidaskaloV (n. "teacher, instructor"), 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11, 4:3. Didaskw (v. "to instruct, teach"), 1 Tim. 2:12; 4:11; 6:2; 2 Tim. 2:2; Tit. 1:11. Didaxh (n. "teaching, instruction, doctrine"), 2 Tim. 4:2; Tit. 1:9. [back]