Please Don’t Call Me Pastor! Albert Fairweather

Good accommodation is not always easy to find in isolated areas of Africa. The local Catholic Mission offered lodgings. The food was good, prices moderate, and there was a cold shower and electricity! But Sister Joan, the nun in charge, kept on addressing me as ‘Pastor Patrick’. I explained to her that I was not the Pastor of my church and so finally she settled on Brother Patrick – she just could not remember my first name! So I am ‘Brother Patrick’, the first un-ordained brother of that Mission!

I found confusion among believers over this same issue. In one assembly, a young man led the meeting at the Lord’s Supper. He was Bible School educated, gifted and articulate and took the title of ‘Pastor’.

Later, in discussion with the old elders of this church, I found that there was hurt over this change as well as confusion over the meaning of ‘Pastor’ and ‘Elder’. My inquiries revealed that, like our English Bibles, the tribal translations are not always accurate in their rendering of these words, and the believers are at a disadvantage not having good study aids such as concordances and commentaries.

This raised the question of leaders taking titles such as Pastor, Bishop, Deacon or Elder. I believe we can profit from the teaching of our Lord who laid down some ground rules on this subject. Jesus said of the Jewish leaders of His day:

“They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi’. But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:6-12).

 While there are many humble men who take a title, it still remains a fact that titles can appeal to human pride, and they tend to elevate the leader above his fellow believers in the local church. This is against the teaching of our Lord and His apostles. By the sixth century, some in the early church had deviated from God’s Word and were being called ‘Priest’, or ‘Bishop’ and one man even took total control as the ‘Pope’ over ‘Christ’s Church’! While the reformers cleared away much Papal error, they still held to the clergy system and it holds sway to this day in most denominations.

What Do These Titles Mean?

Titles such as ‘Pastor’ and ‘Bishop’ as used today mean different things to different people and their Biblical meaning is often obscured.

. A ‘Pastor’ is really a ‘Shepherd’ of the flock, and the word is often translated that way. The Greek word means “to feed the flock from the Word of God along with other acts of shepherd care”, just as a shepherd leads his flock to good ‘pasture’ (Psalm 23). Our Lord Jesus is “The Good Shepherd” (John 10:11) and this is the same word as is used for ‘pastor’ in Ephesians 4:11.

. A ‘Bishop’ is really an ‘Overseer’, and this word has the meaning of “one who stands in a prominent place and protects and cares for, or oversees the flock”. Our Lord Jesus is “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25NKJV). This gives the true meaning rather than “the Pastor and Bishop of your souls”.

A ‘Deacon’ is simply a ‘Servant’, or one who ‘serves’, and our Lord said, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The qualification for overseers and deacons are found in 1 Timothy 3.

An ‘Elder’ is one who is ‘spiritually mature’. This is the word most used in describing leaders in the New Testament. There were always more than one elder in each local church for “…in the multitude of counsellors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).

Elders are the ‘Bishops’ and ‘Pastors’ of the Church!

Nowhere do we find the apostles appointing more apostles or a ‘Pastor’ in churches, but:

* Paul and Barnabas “appointing elders in every church” (Acts 14:23).

* The “apostles and elders” met to settle a dispute (Acts 15:6).

* Paul called “the elders of the church” at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-28).

* Peter, an apostle and elder wrote to “the elders” (1 Peter 5:1-5).

The apostles Paul and Peter taught in the above Scriptures that :

* The elders were ‘made overseers’ by the Holy Spirit. . They were to ‘shepherd’ the flock.

* They were ‘among the flock’ not ‘over’ them, and they were to lead by example.

In the Greek, these words were never used as titles, and therefore should not be worn as badges of distinction or honour. Rather, they describe a special calling and ministry, a work done for the Lord. We often say ‘The Apostle Paul’, but Paul and Peter never used ‘apostle’ as a title! “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” (2 Corinthian; 1:1). Using titles is like calling tradesmen ‘Builder Bill’ or ‘Plumber Paul’!

After I explained this, one leader said to me, “I am now telling people not to call me ‘Pastor’. I am just a servant of the Lord Jesus and an elder in my church.” I feel just the same, so please don’t call me by any title. I seek to be a shepherd, overseer and elder, but I won’t accept any of these names as titles.