What is a Pastor?

by Pastor Matthew Norville, Sr.


The word “pastor” is the Latin word for “shepherd.” In English we use the word “pastor” to denote a “spiritual shepherd” (one who shepherds people spiritually).

The pastor is one of the five offices of ministry that God calls some people to under the New Covenant. (Ephesians 4:11) (see What is the Ministry?)

In the New Testament there are five different words that are used in reference to the pastor's office: bishop, overseer, pastor, elder, and shepherd. I teach my congregation the acronym “BOPES” (rhymes with “hopes”).

B..........Bishop
O..........Overseer
P...........Pastor
E..........Elder
S...........Shepherd

I have personally attended churches and known people that have used each of these five different names for the pastor of their church. All five are scripturally correct names. When talking about the office of ministry of a pastor, a pastor is the same thing as a bishop, is the same thing as an overseer, is the same thing as an elder, is the same thing as a shepherd. However, these words could mean other things in other settings—even in other settings in the Bible. For example, the Bible does use the word “shepherd” sometimes in referring to a natural shepherd, one who tends actual sheep. The Bible sometimes uses the word “elder” in referring to “one who is older.” In some religious organizations and denominations, the word “bishop” is used to denote a person who is higher in rank than a pastor and in authority over a number of pastors and churches. But in the Bible, when the ministry is being referred to, a bishop, an overseer, a pastor, an elder, and a shepherd are all the same thing.

A Christian cannot just choose to become a pastor. He must be called of God to be a pastor and then meet the qualifications listed in the Word of God. He must be saved, filled with the Holy Spirit, and be found faithful by God before entering the ministry. When the qualifications are met and the man has been found faithful by God, God will then direct the man into the ministry. God will also direct him as to what church he is to pastor.

The Pastor is the Head of the Local Church.

Everything in God's kingdom has an order. I Corinthians 14:40 says, “Let all things be done decently and in order.”

Colossians 1:18 says, “And He (Christ) is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence.” Christ is the head of the church—the “universal” church. This means that Christ is the spiritual head of every Christian, whether they are a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, married or unmarried. But the head of the “local” church is the pastor. This means that the pastor is in charge of how the local church is run. This does NOT mean that the pastor is anyone's spiritual head and that the pastor can tell anyone what to do in his personal life.

Some years ago there was a very prevalent false doctrine in the body of Christ, which we Christians referred to as “the shepherding doctrine.” It is still around, but it is not as widespread as it once was. The doctrine states that the pastor is the spiritual head of every single person who is a member of his church and that the members are to all “submit” to the pastor as their spiritual head. Instead of the individual Christian praying and asking God for guidance in his life, he was told to ask the pastor, and the pastor would in turn pray and ask God for the answer. When God told the pastor the answer, the pastor would then tell the Christian member what God had told him. In this way the pastor could control every member of his congregation. This applied more or less to every area of the Christian member's life—his job, where he could attend school, where he could live, what he could buy and sell, whom he could marry, etc.

I personally knew a number of people who were involved in this. When I was in college I knew this one girl who had a guitar that she was not using. She was a member of one of these “shepherding” churches. I offered her $60.00 for her guitar and case. She told me that she would have to ask her pastor, and that he would pray about it, and then she would let me know. I got back with her a little while later and she told me that her pastor had asked God if it was O.K. for her to sell me her guitar for $60.00, and that God had told her pastor that it was O.K. She then sold me the guitar and case.

This is NOT what the Bible means when it explains that the pastor (shepherd) is the head of the local church. If this girl had a question about whether or not she should sell me her guitar, she should have prayed to God for herself and received the answer directly from God—not supposedly through her pastor. God DID NOT tell this girl's pastor that it was O.K. for her to sell me her guitar for $60.00. It was none of this pastor's business! Her pastor lied when he said that God had said this to him. He either made it up or had the voice of a demon tell him this.

The pastor being the head of the local church means that the pastor is in charge of what goes on as far as the local church is concerned. The pastor receives his instructions from God as to how his particular local church is to be run. Every local church is different in some way even though there are similarities. However, the doctrine that every church teaches should be identical. (The reason that all so-called “Bible-believing” churches do not teach identical doctrine is because some of them are wrong.) The pastor, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, determines where the church meets, how many services the church has, what days and times the services meet, how the church money is used, who is on staff at the church, what programs the church has, who the guest ministers are, what can and cannot be taught at the church, what kind of chairs the church has, what color the carpet is, what color the church is to be painted, etc. The pastor, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is in charge of all aspects of the local church. What goes on at the church is not to be determined by some sort of a “board” voting on what the church should or should not do. The pastor is the one who was called by God to pastor the church, and the pastor is the only one that God will speak to about how the church is to be run. If you don't believe that what your pastor is doing is right, then it is your responsibility to find another church! It is not your responsibility to stay there and try to straighten out the pastor. You can pray for him while you attend another church.

The pastor is NOT in charge of anyone's life—Christ is. The pastor cannot tell anybody where they are to go to church. The pastor cannot tell anybody how many times a week they are to go to church. The pastor cannot tell anybody where they are to work. The pastor cannot tell anybody where they are to go to school. The pastor cannot tell anybody where they are to live. The pastor cannot tell anybody what they are to buy and sell and to whom. The pastor cannot tell anybody whom they are to marry. (Bear in mind here that I am not talking about the pastor's own children who have not yet reached adulthood. If the pastor is a father, he, of course, is required to raise his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But this is because he is a father, not because he is a pastor.)

The Word of God says that Jesus is “the Chief Shepherd” (I Peter 5:4). The pastor is an “undershepherd” under “the Chief Shepherd.”

How Many Types of Pastors are there?

There is only one type of pastor in the body of Christ—a pastor. Many churches have various and creative names for people that they call pastors: Senior Pastor, Executive Pastor, Head Pastor, Lead Pastor, Co-Pastor, Associate Pastor, Assistant Pastor, Teaching Pastor, Youth Pastor, Children's Pastor, Music Pastor, and many others. NONE of these titles or positions are Biblical.

Some churches have what they call a “pastoral staff.” This would be a number of different “pastors” on staff at a particular church, usually with one pastor in authority over the others. There is no such thing as a “pastoral staff” in the Word of God.

A pastor is a shepherd or an overseer of the flock of God. God calls ONE pastor to pastor each flock (each local church). By definition, “The pastor is the head of the local church.” In God's creation and His kingdom, anything with more than one head is a freak.

The Godhead, which we often refer to as the Trinity, has God the Father as its head. The family has the husband as the head. In the “universal” church, Christ is the head. In the “local” church, the pastor is the head.

A church cannot have more than one pastor, because it would then have more than one head.

A church, however, could have a “ministerial staff” consisting of prophets and teachers. Acts 13:1 says, “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers....” The church at Antioch, Syria had only one pastor, but a number of prophets and teachers. (Apostles and evangelists would not be part of a ministerial staff of a church because of the nature of their callings. Apostles and evangelists travel around and evangelize people that are not Christians. They don't stay in a local church and feed the flock like a pastor or a prophet or a teacher does. This doesn't mean that pastors, prophets, and teachers don't ever travel and minister the Word of God. It just means that they minister more to believers than non-believers. Whereas apostles and evangelists spend much of their time ministering to non-believers.)

A Pastor is Called to a Particular Locale.

Part of a pastor's calling is that he is called to have his church in a particular locale. A pastor is one of the five types of ministers in the body of Christ. He, just like the other four types of ministers (apostles, prophets, teachers, and evangelists), is called by God to his office. He has no choice in the matter as to whether or not he is called. Romans 11:29 says, “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” This means that a calling NEVER changes. Since part of a pastor's calling is what locale his church is to be in, he has no choice as to where he is to have his church.

John 10:11–13 says, “the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is a hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is a hireling, and careth not for the sheep.”

A “pastor” who claims that God is telling him to move around and pastor different churches for different periods of time is confused at best, and just plain rebellious at worst. Such a man is referred to in the Word of God as a “hireling.” He is not a real pastor (shepherd). He is a hireling. He does not care about the sheep. That is why he leaves one church and goes to another.

The Spirit of God will guide the pastor as to where he is supposed to have his church. There will be an area where the church is supposed to be. As different things happen, and as the church grows, the church may meet at any number of different places. But all these places where the church meets will be in the general vicinity of where God has called the pastor to have his church. The sheep (his congregation) will be able to attend his church at all of the various meeting places.

This is one of the reasons that God does not call women to the office of pastor. It is not because women are not spiritual enough or strong enough. A woman can be called to be a prophet, teacher, or evangelist. But it is because if a man is called to pastor a church in Des Moines, Iowa, and he falls in love with and marries a woman who is called to pastor a church in Munich, Germany, the two of them would rarely see each other! How could they be an example of a marriage? How could they raise children? (How could they have children?!) But this situation would never happen because God does not call women to the office of pastor. If she was called to the ministry (a prophet, teacher, or evangelist), she could have her ministry based wherever her husband lives. As a wife, she has to submit to her domestic head, her husband, and live where he decides that they should live. If he decides to live somewhere, or he is called to pastor a church somewhere, she just simply moves there with him, and bases her ministry there. No problem.

(more to come)

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This page last updated May 1, 2016.