Biblical pastoring: A unique role

A few months back (due to my sporadic writing schedule), I asked this question:

What do you think are the main responsibilities of local church pastors?

I said that this summer I would post my biblical theology of the pastoral ministry. Here we go.

I’m going to release this in three posts related to Biblical pastoring: A unique role; Biblical definitions; and The pastoral team. Due to the detailed nature of the pastoral role, this first section is a little longer than the others.

The Pastor’s Unique Role

The noun “pastor” is found in only one place in the entire New Testament, so that seems like a good place to start.

It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God– a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love. Ephesians 4:11-16[1]

This passage provides three essential components of the biblical pastorate. First, Christ gave the Church a special present of gifted men to lead her. Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 12 that spiritual gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit for the benefit of the whole Church.

To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. … It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things. 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11

However, in the listing of gifts, there is a clear distinction between people-gifts and task-gifts. In verse 28, Paul wrote that “God has placed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then [the other gifts]. An apostle is far different than a gift of apostleship, a prophet different than prophecy, and a teacher different than a teaching gift. In order to fulfill her purpose in the world, the Church needed more than to have gifts given to people; she needed to be gifted with special men – apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers.

This is not to say that these men are more important than everyone else or that congregants are unnecessary. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor in turn can the head say to the foot, ‘I do not need you.’” (1 Corinthians 12:21) On the contrary; if not for the other members of the Church, these men would not be able to fulfill their calling either. We all need each other. The question is, what are these men to do?

The second component of a biblical pastorate answers that question. Christ gave these men the task of making the Church effective. An effective Church requires effective people.

It was he who gave…pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ…

The main job of church leaders is to “equip the saints” to do ministry. To equip means “to make someone completely adequate or sufficient for something.”[2] What is that ministry that the saints are to do? “Build up the body of Christ.” There are two obvious points we should note here:

  1. The bulk of the ministry is to be done by the saints, not the pastors.[3] Pastors equip, saints execute. This is God’s design.
  2. Saints are not naturally able to do the ministry effectively. Even though they have spiritual gifts from God himself, saints need leadership to be effective.

So, how do pastors train? What tools do they need for this all-important work? Assuming the pastors themselves meet the character standards given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, their toolbox is actually very light. There is apparently just one piece of equipment necessary for them to learn and use.

Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The pastor who is skilled in the Scriptures has at his disposal everything necessary to make sure that God’s people are “capable and equipped for every good work.” The word translated “equipped” here is very close to the word in Ephesians 4:11. In order to “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” pastors are required to know and use the Scriptures skillfully.

And that leads us to the third essential component of the pastorate: Pastors equip the saints by teaching them the Scriptures. That teaching is the primary task of the pastors is revealed in Ephesians 4:11-16 in three significant ways:

  1. Unlike the first three roles (“some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists”), which are distinctly separate, pastors and teachers are identified closely together (“some as pastors and teachers”). Constable writes,

We might better translate the Greek phrase rendered “pastors and teachers” as “pastor-teachers.” The Greek construction suggests that one kind rather than two kinds of people is in view. The Greek article translated “the” occurs only before “pastor.” Moreover the Greek conjunction translated “and” between “pastors” and “teachers” is different from the one used elsewhere in the verse (kai rather than  de).[4]

  1. In verse 13 Paul clarified that the work of the ministry, the building of the body, is to happen “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” This unity is in contrast to the divisions that have marked the Church down through the ages. It is not simply unity of purpose, but unity of “the faith” – those truths and doctrines that make up the genuine Christian faith. This is clear from the parallel phrase “the knowledge of the Son of God.”
  2. Two of the expected results of the pastors’ teaching are that the saints will no longer be “tossed back and forth” by the trickery of false teaching, and that their conduct and speech will be truthful, i.e., they will live out the truths of the faith that the pastors teach them. This requires a faithful teaching of the Scriptures.

In summary, the main role of the pastorate is to teach the saints the Scriptures so that God’s people will be able and effective in fulfilling their main ministry, growing and maturing the whole Church.[5]


[1]Unless otherwise indicated all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible® Copyright © 2005 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. www.bible.org.

[2] s.v. 75.5 εχαρτιζω ; καταρτιζω ; καταρτισις ; καταρτισμος, Johannes E. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, 2 vols., 2nd ed. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), BibleWorks, v.8.

[3] Naturally, equipping saints builds them up, which is the work of ministry, so technically, pastors (who are also saints) are indeed doing ministry. Additionally, part of equipping is showing how it is done; thus the pastors, again, are doing some of it. But the majority of the work is to be done by the equipped saints.

[4] Thomas Constable, Notes on Ephesians, 2010 Edition, 50. http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/ephesians.pdf  (accessed June 10, 2011). Constable does note that “pastors and teachers” may also refer to two local groups as opposed to the itinerant ministries of the other three.

[5] Incidentally, a short way of stating the saints’ ministry is to “make disciples”, which includes bringing new people to Christ and teaching them to obey him (Matthew 28:18-20).

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