The pastor is a man of God, called and separated for a specific ministry, that is, the preaching and teaching of the whole counsel of God, especially the gospel; always maintaining a relationship of prayer on behalf of the saints.

He is given charge of a local congregation of believers to feed, to counsel and equip the body to do the work of ministry. He is to lead by precept and example, being a disciple himself and urging others to "Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ."

Basically, his role is one of teaching, motivating and persuading people to be discipled for Christ his Master and to lead others to the Saviour.

The divine principle of love as the overriding law

1. Love seeks not its own. The pastor does not have in mind his own advancement, his own dignity or celebrity. Rather he is willing to serve in a corner, doing the will of Christ from the heart.

2. Being called to a very demanding (and often unappreciated) ministry, he seeks the approval of Christ. "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." That commendation is enough for him.

3. He regards himself as a steward and administrator of God's mysteries. The authority he exercises is not inherently his; he manages his Master's affairs.

4. Love covers a multitude of sins. The pastor, in counseling, often gets acquainted quite intimately with other people's problems. He is careful not to spread them around; he is jealous to keep private matters private.

5. In his dealing with fellow-men he has a watch over his tongue. He is not crass in speech. On the contrary "a soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger" (Proverbs 15:1).

6. Love acts in wisdom, the capacity to do the Lord's will the Lord's way.

7. Rather than enforcing he prefers to motivate and engender a vision. "Without a vision the people perish," (Proverbs). He even is willing to give options: "Shall I come to you with a rod or in a spirit of meekness?"

8. Love corrects. "Those whom I love I rebuke and chasten; therefore be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3).

9. The loving pastor does not show partiality and is not a respector of persons. He applies the Word to all those who need it in their particular and known trials.

10. His model is Christ. His desire is for others to see the love of Christ in him.

11. The pastor knows that because his is "the cause of God and truth" (J.Gill) he must necessarily be unpopular and even lonely in the world. Yet he is willing to pay the price because he knows that "the truth will set you free" and nothing else. (cf. 1 Timothy 4:16).When confronted with heresy and error, he is meek and gentle, seeking to correct the opponents in a humble attitude, for he knows that apart from God's grace he will also be in the same predicament (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Above all things he "must not strive" and show a carnal attitude.

"Let all your things be done with charity" (1 Corinthians 1:16). Oh that pastors would take this to heart. Without love we are like a clanging cymbal and less than nothing. Paul showed it in his actions, his self-sacrificial ministry, and in his words too, "My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen" (1 Corinthians 16:24).

The responsibilities of a pastor

1. A pastor's primary calling is to preach and teach the Word, particularly the way of Salvation, the gospel of grace (1 Timothy 3:2). By study (2 Timothy 2:15) he should be able to present sound doctrine that cannot be censured 2 Timothy 4:2-4).

2. He must be a model of holiness and mature Christian living (1 Timothy 4:12).

3. He must see to it that God is worshipped in spirit and truth, according to his ordinances (1 Timothy 4:13).

4. He should be able to give counsel (Colossians 1:28-29), to engage in "the cure of souls," to tend the flock in all its needs (1 Peter 5:1-4).

5. He must administer and govern the church, applying scriptural principles (Hebrews 13:7,17). He is entrusted with the care of the local church (1 Timothy 3:5).

6. He must see to it that proper church discipline is being carried out (Matthew 18). Also the due and reverent use of the sacraments, for the sacraments are tied up to the Word. He is entrusted with the One as well as the other (Matthew 28: the great Commission)

7. He is to train and equip all church members to be effective in their Christian testimony (Ephesians 4:11-12). His ambition is to see Christ formed in them (Galatians 4).

8. He is to present his brethren, among whom he works, before the throne of grace regularly (see the opening of most of Paul's epistles).

9. He is to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5), i.e., winning souls by the gospel.


My goal now is to establish, on the biblical evidence, who are the leaders in the church, what are they called and why, and what is their relationship to each other and to the church among which they serve.

In God's wisdom it is deemed proper that his people should have human leaders, weak as they are, that his power and glory may be all the more evident. Church leadership is not to be denigrated or set aside. Paul knew his limitations, but also his calling and designation as a leader (apostle). He said, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels," this purpose being that the power may be evident that it does not belong to him inherently but comes from above.

Way back in the Old Testament the people had elders, who ruled and directed them according to God's revelation. The early church was also gifted with leaders and ministers to equip the saints and train them for the work of ministry, to motivate and direct the whole company of the Lord's people to godly service.

We find a richness of words by which they are known, the very words indicating what sort of labour and activity they are to be engaged in. The most frequent is elder or presbyter (Presbuteros), signifying the maturity of the man in the faith, his experience in life and his ability to handle to exigencies of life according to God's word. Thus he is qualified to help others. Another word is bishop (episkopos), taken from the Hellenic world, and simply means overseer, a supervisor, one who watches over the souls of men for their own welfare and advance in the faith. A few times church leaders are called pastors or shepherds (poimen), a picture-word culled from the Old Testament that is so pregnant with meaning (cf. John 10).

Church leaders are therefore under-shepherds, serving under the Great and Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, the ever and everywhere present Head of the church (1 Peter 5; Hebrews 13). Then they are also called governors (hegomenoi) or those who have the rule (Hebrews 13:7,17). Evidently church leaders are meant to lead; they are not simply figure-heads, with the government of the church entrusted in the hands of the congregation itself (congregationalism).

All the above terms, if we are to study them in their proper contexts, are naturally interchangeable. A bishop is a pastor and a pastor is a bishop; an elder is a pastor and a pastor is an elder, and so on. I find no convincing reason to the contrary. Furthermore, every local church should ideally have a plurality of elders. Paul addressed his epistle to one church thus: "To the church that is in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons." Many bishops in one church, not what developed later in church history, that is, the very reverse, one bishop over many churches.

It should be borne in mind also that among the elders that might easily be different capacities and giftedness. Paul recognizes this when he made a distinction between elders who rule well and those who labour in the word (1 Timothy 5); the latter being worthy of double honor - meaning they should receive an adequate compensation (financial) for their work. So, among the eldership, there is usually at least one man whose whole bent is the study of the Word and the preaching and catechizing of the same. But I see no reason why he should be known as "The Pastor" in distinction to "The Elders." He might be more prominent, or more public if you want, but he has the same authority and the same status with his fellow-elders.

If we deny this then we have basically the same hierarchy of Anglicanism and Catholicism, with bishops, then presbyters, then finally deacons. What I perceive in the Scriptures, as permanent office-holders for today, are elders and deacons. All elders are meant to teach sometime somewhere, whether in church, or at individual homes, or in families; I do not exclude the possibility that usually to one of them will be committed the regular ministry of the Word in the local church. But that does not make him higher or more authoritative that the rest.

The presbyterate is meant to function as a body, in humility and meekness seeking the mind of Christ for the advance of the church.