There is no higher title for me than “pastor.” There is no higher office in this land than pastor. If I were confirmed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America or requested by a universal, popular mandate to serve as Secretary-General of the United Nations, this would be a step down from the office of pastor. There is no higher calling than to be pastor of one of the Lord’s churches. I ask your prayers for me that I might be the kind of man worthy of the title — pastor.
There are three words used for pastor in the New Testament: elder (presbuteros), bishop/overseer (episkopos) and shepherd (poimen). The New Testament usage of these three terms is at times interchangeable. The words do not necessarily stop at one point and start at another point in their function. All these are used interchangeably.
Paul calls for the elders of the church (Acts 20:17). In the same meeting with the elders (vs. 28), he tells them to shepherd the flock of which God made them overseers or bishops of the church.
• Elder (presbyter) — This word really connotes age. It really means “the older.” It never would mean “the younger.” The elders who oversaw the synagogues were those with years of experience. The cultural position of being older and wiser is this particular meaning. Our word for Presbyterian Church comes from this word.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke refer to the Hebrew elders time and again in their gospels. These are the leaders of the Hebrew people in the time of Jesus. This term was always used for these people who lead the nation in their religious journey.
Acts refers to the elders of many congregations as Paul made his journeys (14:23; 15:2). Paul refers many times to this word (I Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:5). James uses this word in 5:14. Simon uses this word in I Peter 5:1.
• Bishop/overseer (episkopos) — This word indicates another function. The Episcopal form of church government derives its name from this word. It really means to “look over and to oversee” a church. The early church replaced the office of Judas in Acts 1:20 and it uses this word for his office.
Paul makes reference to this term at least two times as he gives us a litany of the qualifications of a bishop: I Tim. 3:1 and Titus 1:7. Simon in I Peter 2:25 tells us about Christ being the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.
• Shepherd (poimen) — This word has to do with another function and specifically leadership. It is a common word for “pastor.” It is one who shepherds and leads the flock of sheep. A key passage for this is Eph. 4:1, where the word is probably pastor and teacher in one unit.
I believe churches want a shepherd to lead the flock; not a cowboy to drive the herd. The New Testament speaks of the pastor in this kind of term. It is not a sense of a cowboy driving a herd of cows. A modern-day shepherd is one who gently leads the flock of God. The Lord is my shepherd of course. Never forget it is His rod and staff that comfort the sheep. Jesus is the good shepherd who gives His life for His sheep.
What are some things you may do to assist your pastor? I am a member of this church. My pastor wants my help to be the very best pastor he can be. Here are some things you may do to help your pastor fulfill his role as he is elder, overseer and shepherd:
Support Your Pastor in Prayer
Is your pastor any different from you? Is he of another “class of Christian” than you? No, we are all of flesh and have the treasure of Christ in jars of clay.
• Pray for your pastor’s moral life. I read and see in the news of multiple accounts about pastors falling into moral lapse. Your pastor might be a little more human than you in that he may be tempted in different ways than you. I know, as pastor you hold me to a higher moral standard than you hold other people. I accept this and agree with you that I need to be an example to the flock. Pray that your pastor will lead a life of piety. Piety simply means he practices his faith. Piety means he walks the walk as well as talks the talk.
• Pray for your pastor’s wife. His wife is his key ally and best friend. She is first lady of the church because she bears burdens in a unique way that no other wife in the church bears.
• Pray for your pastor’s children. These children know “different” treatment in many instances. They “need to be good” because their daddy is a preacher. Church members might say, “We are going to ensure they are good by our close inspection of their every action.”
Support Your Pastor in Your Actions
• Support your pastor by your words. Talk him up. Show your enthusiasm for your pastor. I don’t think many people think about how harsh their words are when they speak in a derogatory manner about their pastor. If I really believed how “horrible” some pastors were from listening to their church members, I would believe he was the spawn of Satan or at least the child of the antichrist.
• Support your pastor by your deeds. A kind card, letter, email, phone call or other gracious act goes a long way to help a long night in prayer, counseling or other ministry performance your pastor performs that you never see nor would he want you to know about.
• Support your pastor with your finances. I always want to be a minister rather than a preacher because a minister made more money than a preacher. How do you overpay someone who loves you and prays for you? How do you overpay someone who comes to your bedside in illness? How do you overpay someone who is ready to hear your confessions? How do you overpay someone who stands by your side in heart-wrenching family calamity?
Support Your Pastor by Following the Word of God
• Be serious about your spiritual life. Your existence is body, mind and soul. God breathed into us, and we became a living soul. Man is different from an animal in that the Spirit of God is within him. Your pastor wants you to live a life on the highest spiritual plane. Do the things the Bible tells you to do. Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.
• Be serious about your family. You have a gift in your family. We don’t choose our family. God placed our parents over us and they are in the place of God to us. Parents created us and have rule over us. You are now a parent. You are in the place of God to your children. Be serious about what you are doing.
• Be serious about your church family and its obligations. My church is the most important institution in this city. My church is the most important institution in my life next to my family. I need to be serious about my church family. When my sister or brother hurts, I hurt. When my sister or brother rejoices, I rejoice. It is perfectly appropriate to be happy in the presence of God’s people.
It is not uncommon for the three offices in the New Testament to be used in plurality in one church. However, they are never used in the sense of the plurality of churches under one leader — bishop, elder or shepherd. You have had great men to serve as pastor here. They are tremendous spiritual giants gifted in their fields of service. They have provided good service as pastor here — they have been the elder, the overseer and the shepherd. Our church has done well to follow them.
Often with smaller churches, and even with larger churches, there is a sense of the congregation following the seven last words of the church; words written on tombstones of many churches: “We have always done it this way.” There is some sense of leadership that is missing, and the congregation takes up the slack in the absence of pastoral leadership.
You have a pastor today. I am ready to serve you as shepherd, elder and overseer for this flock of the Lord Jesus. You must decide what you will do with this shepherd, overseer and elder. Do you look back to ask for the “good old days” that were and are no more? Some church members might say, “I wish our pastor today were more like Pastor So and So. I really liked him better. He did this in a certain way or he did that better in the other way. I wish for the good old days.”
This church has called me to be pastor — elder, bishop/overseer and shepherd. I have accepted this joyous calling with all my heart. I ask you to look at, consider carefully and act upon the New Testament pattern of pastor. Follow your pastor as he follows Christ.