“WHY DOESN’T THE CHURCH OF CHRIST HAVE PASTORS?”

That is a fair question, and one to which all disciples of Jesus need to be ready to give an explanation (1 Peter 3:15). Let us turn to the Bible to find instructions which can help us answer according to the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11).

Fact: Though the querist wonders why we do not have pastors in the church, in fact, we do. Really? Yes, we sure do. Speaking of the ascended Christ, Paul wrote this to the saints in Ephesus: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). This is the only verse in the English New Testament in which the word “pastor” is used. That is interesting, is it not? Just a note of clarity: in this same verse in which we read about pastors, we also read of apostles and prophets. We still need pastors in the church today, and we still have brothers who can meet the God-required pastor characteristics. When it comes to prophets and apostles, though, we neither have a need for them nor is there anyone qualified to serve as one.

Fact: Pastors of the church shepherd, oversee, rule, and in general, take care of a local flock of Christians. The noun “pastor” is from the Greek word “ποιμ ν/poim n,” which means shepherd/herdsman. Thus, by definition, a spiritual pastor is one who shepherds. In New Testament language, along with his co-pastors, he shepherds the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1,2). In that context of 1 Peter 5, the apostle Peter identifies those whose role it is to “Shepherd the flock of God” which is among them (5:2). Peter says those who shepherd the sheep are “elders” (5:1), and the local church is blessed to have these godly men “serving as overseers” (5:2). The wording of this text makes it plain that in God’s plan (and that is the only one that counts!), elders are the overseers who shepherd the flock. We recall, though, that by definition, a pastor is a shepherd, that is, he shepherds. Thus, when we connect Peter’s written statements with Paul’s oral statements to elders from Ephesus, it is clear that “pastors” is simply another designation for those who function as “the elders of the church” (Acts 20:17,18,28).

Fact: The church has only one Head Pastor. Jesus alone is described as “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4). The Christ has preeminence in all things (Colossians 1:18), and the pastors/elders who serve under Him are equal to one another in value and importance. Among God’s people, we never should refer to a mere mortal as a/our “Head Pastor.”

Fact: In God’s plan for the organization of His church, not every member of the body is allowed to serve as a shepherd/pastor. Every Christian can be saved, labor faithfully in the Lord’s Cause, and eventually go to heaven, but not all may be pastors. God has given specific traits that one must possess in order to be appointed as a pastor/elder (Titus 1:5- 9; 1 Timothy 3:1-7). We dare not disregard His setup.

Fact: In the Bible, the term “evangelist” and the word “pastor” do not refer to the same role. Again, biblically speaking, a pastor is a shepherd, overseer. An evangelist is one who bears the good news of salvation: he is a gospel preacher (2 Timothy 4:2,5).

Not long ago I was given the opportunity to read the notes that a professional person wrote about me and placed in a file with my name on it at her work place. In a handwritten note, she identified me as “pastor” of a church in Chattanooga. She did not hear that from my lips. I told her that I am a gospel preacher/evangelist. Rather than record what I said, instead she interpreted my message to mean that I am a pastor. Wrong conclusion.

“I do not want to argue, but I would think if you teach God’s word to His flock, then you are helping them grow spiritually. So, really, you are playing the role of a pastor.” Many brothers of all ages and levels of spiritual maturity might present lessons that contribute to the strengthening of God’s church, but only those who meet the heaven-given criteria are allowed to function as pastors (Titus 1; 1 Timothy 3).

Fact: Some congregations currently do not have pastors. For a variety of reasons, local churches exist without a multiplicity of brothers who possess the scripturally-designated qualifications. However, each local church needs to be working diligently to train brothers so that some of them one day in the future will be qualified and prepared to serve as pastors.

— Roger D. Campbell

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