Who’s Your Pastor? (Hint: It’s Not Who You Think It is)

from the archives

The role of pastor is perhaps the most prestigious within the American Church. Most of us have had a pastor at one point or another–the guy who speaks from the pulpit, or runs a particular ministry, or leads a home group.

The gift of pastor is often referred to as an spiritual gift of equipping, listed alongside teachers, apostles, prophets, and evangelists. In Ephesians 4:12 Paul writes, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

I have always wondered, however, how it is that many pastors are actually confused with teachers and many teachers are confused with pastors.

The word for “pastors”–without delving into the historical evolution of that word–is by Greek definition, poimēn, which literally translates, “shepherd.” They are  to shepherd their flock. They make sure people are enfolded into the flock, growing safely, and protected from the wolves.

Chances are that the person who you think of as your pastor today may not actually be fulfilling the role of pastor in your life. Chances are someone else very well could be. The question is: Who’s your pastor?

Here are some questions to help determine who your pastor might be…

  • Who notices if you are not at church on a given Sunday and might even come looking (calling, emailing, etc.) for you when you’re missing?
  • Who knows your current prayer needs?
  • Who helps keep you accountable?
  • Who is available to you at any time?
  • Who is concerned with your spiritual health, as well as your spiritual growth?
  • Who tends to the “young sheep” among your community, as well, as to the mature, gauging people’s spiritual needs?

Pastors are the people who the Lord has placed in our life who do most, if not all, of the above and more. Pastors need not be speaking from a pulpit or directing a ministry. It seems we have confused the office of pastor with the ministry of pastor.

American Christians, in particular, expect so much from our pastors, who are typically the people we come to see and listen to on a Sunday morning. However, this one person cannot possibly fill the role of pastor in the life of an entire congregation.

God listed “pastor” alongside four other gifts of  the Holy Spirit for a reason. Wolfgang Simson, in The House Church Book, puts it this way:

“A pastor (shepherd) is an important member of a whole team, but he cannot fulfill more than part of the task of equipping the saints for the ministry. He has to be complemented synergistically by the other four ministries in order to function properly.”

More than that, many believe that, in order for an individual to be our pastor, he is usually required to hold a seminary degree and/or have 4+ years of experience in ministry.

I have touched on the subject before, which is not biblical,  that tells us that only those who are specially trained can serve. The disciples who followed Jesus were ordinary men and…wasn’t that the point?

Some were educated, but not all. They certainly were not considered to be the religiously superior of the day. They were simple men who happened to be called by the Messiah and were willing to serve Him wholly, even to the point of death.

“Religious professionals,” as Simson refers to them, can drive a wedge between the works of God and His people. The church is a church of ordinary people who God chose to become a royal priesthood, not just special people who are called to do special things. The church, as Simson goes onto explain, is made up of ordinary people “whom God has made extraordinary, and who, as in the old days, may still smell of fish, perfume, or revolution.”

I am not opposed to seminaries, training, experience, or building a reputation before serving. My point, however, is that these requirements may not always be necessary.

An individual with the spiritual gift of shepherding, in love with Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit, may be just as capable, if not more so, of shepherding a given flock. Sometimes, it is the most unassuming people who do the most powerful things–a carpenter’s son, for instance.

Who is your real pastor? How has God used an ordinary person in your life to do extraordinary things? How do you feel about “religious professionals”?

post image here

17 thoughts on “Who’s Your Pastor? (Hint: It’s Not Who You Think It is)”

  1. WOW! My husband thought I might like this post and I must say, I not only like it, I LOVE it. You have great insight into something that I have struggled with for many years. Thank you.

    1. Malisa,

      Thank you for commenting and I’m glad it touched on something you have struggled with.

      Just out of curiosity what aspect have you struggled with, if you don’t mind sharing.

      P.S. I dig your Tumblr blog. It’s right up my alley.

  2. So good. I’d have to say that while my pastor is definitely also personally invested in my life (which is new for me), that my pastors are some of the “ordinary” people in the church who aren’t as noticed. They challenge me, I challenge them, they push me, I push back, and I’ve learned so much from our interactions. Thanks for refocusing my perspective.

  3. This was a great post Nicole, really made me think. I’ve always been in smaller churches where the pastor fulfilled the role of the shepherd as well as teacher, out of necessity. In larger churches though, I can definitely see this distinction as a necessity.

    Just subscribed to your blog, really love your thoughts here – good stuff!

    1. Nathan,

      Thanks for the kind words and for subscribing!

      I think you raise a good point, in that, I suspect the role of pastor/teacher as a 2-in-1, probably did form our of necessity in many cases.

      Large churches, I think, need to be cognizant of this lumping together, so as to ensure the flock really is being shepherded, not just taught.

      Hope to see more of you around here. Thanks for commenting.

  4. “Large churches, I think, need to be cognizant of this lumping together, so as to ensure the flock really is being shepherded, not just taught.”

    Good important point! When you end up with such large communities, people definitely get lost in the shuffle. Even if you have a whole staff dedicated to caring for adults, it is still not enough. I think a good reminder like this is awesome and important – there are pastors in the congregation as well – your small group leader, your MOPS table head, the worship leader to the band, the head of the discussion group in the men’s group, etc. etc. etc.


    ‘The church is a church of ordinary people who God chose to become a royal priesthood, not just special people who are called to do special things.’

    Good stuff. Thanks Nicole.

  5. I love the way you explained this so simply. I’ve tried to say what you said and botched it royally more than once. Maybe I’ll print this and carry it in my pocket, and the next time I get into a situation that warrants it, I’ll whip out your handy printed post (but don’t worry, I won’t call it a tract–hee hee). Thanks! :)

  6. Great job on this. With the misconceptions of his role in America, I think a pastor is the “hardest working man in show business.” I jest. He is expected to perform at a level impossible to maintain for a lifetime of service. That is why so many are retiring(read quitting) early and also for the systematic destruction of their families.
    Having said that, you are so right that my pastor may not be the guy that I listen to preaching at service times. He isn’t. My pastor is someone else, actually several someone elses.

    1. Ken, I love the “hardest working man in show business” joke. It’s sad, but true. The average American pastor has an impossible task. He cannot actually pastor an entire congregation. I’m glad you have several people in your life who can shepherd you. It is a blessing for sure.

  7. This is the reason we take all of our small group leaders through “Shepherding Training”. As “pastor” I can’t possibly keep up with everyone, but someone needs to.

  8. Greg and I were JUST discussing this today! Here’s the scripture that filled us with so much inspiration as to why “organic church” really is a Spirit-led model: from Matt. 23: “8 But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ,[b] and you are all brethren. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. 11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *