New Testament Pastorate

Spurgeon once wrote: “A minister fully equipped for his work will usually be a spirit by himself, above, beyond, and apart from others….There are many soldiers, few captains, fewer colonels, but only one commander-in-chief. So, in our churches, the man whom the Lord as a leader becomes, in the same degree in which he is a superior man, a solitary man.”[1] Yet as America has increasingly lifted up the idea of the extraverted person, it becomes more and more difficult to envision how the pastor can live up to all of the ideals imposed on them. They must be the solitary, aloof leader that Spurgeon typifies and they must also be the sociable extraverts who can get along with everyone all of the time.

But is the pastor a legitimate concept which is well-defined in the New Testament? Or does our culture have ultimate sway in this department, shaping our notion of the Church’s preacher/teacher/exhorter/prophet/people person and any other role (however contradictory) that is imposed?

Three key approaches to defining the New Testament pastorate involve ways to fit the information that we have concerning church leadership with church practices of leadership.

One way is to try to assemble all of the related Scripture texts with an emphasis upon the instructions given to Timothy and Titus by Paul on “overseers” or “bishops” in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 and put that together with the exhortation of Peter in I Peter 5: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (5:2-4; ESV).

Mayhue, in addition to the aforementioned biblical texts, focuses on the Epistles to the Thessalonican churches and elaborates on 17 key participial actions which are more than likely applicable to all the saints with a possible special connotation for church leadership (Mayhue in MacArthur, Ed., 2005). In that approach, 1.) Preparation of the sermon; 2.) Delivery of the sermon; 3.) Performance of special ceremonies, such as weddings; 4.) Marketing; and 5.) Management of volunteers.

This approach has the disadvantage of seeing the people in the “pew” as rather passive and listening and the main person or “pastor”  who is exegeting, teaching, and exhorting from Scripture as the one who is active and verbal.

Another approach sees the biblical pattern of church leadership as so fundamentally different from what we find today in the notion of “pastorship” that it seeks to scrap the entire church system and liturgy and start over from scratch. In their eyes, it is actually wrong to have one sermon preached by one man on one day every week. It distracts from Jesus’s authority and ultimately undermines it. Also, when the sense of “clergy” versus “laity” is done away with, then less baggage is attached to the “pastor” concept and elders would emerge from within the church body, rather than being seminary graduates who had to educate themselves into a position of authority in the church, and church meetings can become participatory. Passages like Ephesians 5:19-21 are emphasized in this approach: “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This is the sort of church where believers can be free to exercise spiritual gifts in the manner that Paul spoke of in I Corinthians 12:7-11, one where each gift has a “manifestation” that builds up the body. In our text, the more radical Anabaptists who stress the priesthood of all believers rather than a single, sermonizing saint would be the forerunners of this movement today. (Stitzinger in MacArthur, 2005, 40-41).

This approach highlights the participation of all members of the body, but has the disadvantage of being viewed as “chaotic” and “undisciplined” by many, both in and out of the church.  Because it stresses how each member can participate, often conflicts are brought out. While there is no “pastor” in this arrangement, one of a group of elders in this scenario would be called upon to be skilled as 1.) Facilitator; 2.) Group Moderator; 3.) Conflict resolver; 4.) Spiritual advisor; and 5.) Encourager.

The third approach acknowledges some cultural relativity about how church leadership is demonstrated. There is not one correct “tradition” of church leadership, but church leadership, as dynamic and shaped by cultural priorities, under the headship of Jesus Christ, can take many forms. In the New Testament. There is usually reference to a number of “elders” rather than to a single person or “pastor” who is either organizing or performing (or both) the liturgy of the church. Thus, it is preferable to distribute biblical teaching responsibilities among a number of experienced and mature believers (who may or may not have special academic training in the biblical languages, depending on the surround cultural situation).

Generally, I find that missiologists and those who view the church as very mission-oriented tend to take this third approach. They are more flexible about how many leaders there are for church gatherings. They would not necessarily focus on one main “pastor” who does the majority of the “sermonizing” or offering of biblical teaching. However, in different cultures, there may be an emphasis on a distinction between the “learned” one and the “learning” ones but the “learned one” is not more privileged.

Overall, the problem with defining pastorship is that the New Testament texts on leadership do not present a simple picture. In terms of one person who represents the entire local body of Christ, the closest passage that speaks in this fashion is probably in Matt. 16: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (18-19; NKJV) That “binding” and “loosing” power of the church is important. The next time it is mentioned in Matthew is in a passage that seems to indicate that the “Church” (with or without an official leader or “pastor”) is gathered every time that a few believers meet together (Mat. 18: 18-20).

Thus, clearly, when we are speaking of someone who performs marriages or baptisms or conducts funeral services, that is never mentioned specifically in the New Testament as the role of a person called a “pastor.” In fact, who engages in or conducts these activities or whether this would be performed by a single person or several people is probably a culturally based (not a biblically mandated) phenomenon. Some or all of these functions may not even exist in some cultures and, contrariwise, may be very vital in other cultures.

Cover Lost at Starvation Lake

Audiobook Nook

Locust & Honey Publications has been working on the sequel to Paul Hansen’s Survival at Starvation Lake. Paul and Sally are now Mr. and Mrs. Sinhuna and they are financially helping Susan, nee LeForest, who previously helped them both out, including being instrumental in the salvation of Sally. The sequel is entitled, Lost at Starvation Lake, and is a lot of fun to narrate. Hopefully, this one will attract a broad-base of audio book listeners.



MacArthur, John. Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville, TN.: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005.

Spurgeon, Charles. Lectures to My Students. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1954.

[1] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1954) 157.

Written by Adam Zens

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