Not once, but three times. Recently, within a span of five days, I had conversations with three different people about whether or not I or someone else is a pastor. I call it “the pastor question.”

At a funeral parlor, prior to the beginning of a funeral service, one of the directors asked me when I entered the door, “Are you the pastor?” My honest answer was, “No, sir, I am not. I am a gospel preacher.” His smirk and facial expression were unprofessional, as if he were rolling his eyes and saying, “Whatever!”

A second person asked me if I know a particular brother in the Christ. I affirmed that I do. He went on to say that the brother is “the pastor” of a local church. I know that the brother whom we were discussing is not a pastor. When I corrected the one speaking to me by saying, “No, he is not ‘the pastor’ of anything, he is a preacher,” his reaction was, “Yes, he is the pastor. He preaches every Sunday.”

The third instance involved a former teammate of mine whom I have not seen for over four decades. Not long ago, he said that many years back a mutual friend told him that I am a pastor. He was wondering, “Are you still a pastor?” My reply was that I have never been a pastor, but have been serving as an evangelist since 1979. He asked for clarification and I gave it.

“The pastor question” comes up frequently. A common assumption made by many is that the one who preaches on Sunday must be “the pastor.” That is, in their minds, “pastor” and “preacher” refer to the same individual. Biblically speaking, that is not accurate. Our duty is to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11), is it not?

Many denominational people use the word “pastor” as a religious title, such as when they refer to a preacher as “Pastor Lee.” Yes, “pastor” is a biblical term, but it is not employed in the Scriptures as a title. It is a job description, a role designation, not a title.

In the English New Testament, the word “pastor” is found only one time — in Ephesians 4:11. In that context, Paul is writing about the gifts that the Christ gave to His church, including various roles played by some of His followers: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.”

In Ephesians 4:11, the word “pastors” is from the Greek word “ poim n.” In every other instance in the New Testament, translators of all English Bibles with which I am familiar translate that Greek word as “shepherd.” An angel announced the birth of the Christ to shepherds (Luke 2:8), Jesus called Himself the good Shepherd (John 10:11), and the Master saw multitudes of people as sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). The word “pastor” means a shepherd. It can be one who literally takes care of literal sheep, or it can be a pastor/shepherd in the spiritual realm.

For a moment, let us step away from the word “pastor” and ask this question: In the first-century church, who was given the responsibility to feed/ shepherd the flock of God, that is, to act as spiritual shepherds over God’s people? In 1 Peter 5:1,2, we read, “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder . . . Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly.” What do we see in those verses? References to “elders,” “shepherd,” and “overseers.” In God’s plan, elders are overseers, and those brothers are the ones who have the duty to shepherd God’s family.

What should we conclude? Pastors are shepherds, but God says the role of elders/overseers is to act as shepherds. Thus, in God’s plan, pastors and overseers/ elders/bishops/shepherds are the same folks. We say it again: in the Bible, saying someone was a pastor does not mean that he was a preacher/evangelist. Those are two different roles . . . look again at Ephesians 4:11.

Brothers and sisters in the Lord need to cease calling a brother who works as an evangelist a “pastor.” And, when we have our eyes opened to and accept the truth that God’s gospel preacher is not a pastor, we need to stop expecting our evangelists to act like a denominational “pastor.” A one-man pastor system where one person is expected to do all of the visiting and “call the shots” is man-made, which means it did not come from heaven (Matthew 21:25).

In the Lord’s body, we have one “Head Pastor,” our Chief Shepherd. His name is Jesus (1 Peter 5:4).

— Roger D. Campbell