A gracEmail reader writes, “Why do Churches of Christ not call their preachers ‘pastor’? We’re about the only Christian group which doesn’t use that term. I occasionally hear it applied to elders, but I’ve not seen them do much real pastoring.”
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A “pastor” is a spiritual “shepherd.” In the Bible, spiritual shepherding basically means leading (by example) and feeding (by teaching). We see general descriptions of such persons in 1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9 and Titus 2:2-5. Because most preachers of any maturity fit these descriptions, one wonders why they ought not be designated and recognized among the pastors and solve this peculiar problem involving titles. Such a move would also provide a biblical job description to serve as a goal and create a clearer measure of accountability. The usual response against this proposal is that it would give the preacher too much power. However, that answer reveals a much deeper problem and betrays unscriptural perceptions of the church itself as well as of Christian leadership, giftedness and service (Matt. 20:25-28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4).
One can hardly object to putting such a person on the congregation’s payroll. It is certainly appropriate, when expedient, for a church to support Christian workers financially, including those who preach, lead or otherwise serve (1 Cor. 9:14; Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:9-10, 17-18). Men and women who forego other livelihoods to devote themselves to genuine Kingdom ministry deserve to be supported generously and without grudging.
The most important point to remember about Christian leadership is that we all should follow Jesus Christ — and only follow other people who themselves are doing that. The various New Testament terms for church leaders are somewhat ambiguous and at times overlap. This accounts for the diversity of polity (organization) across the Christian spectrum. Nobody today precisely reproduces or imitates first-century, near-eastern church leaders, nor does the New Testament say that they must do so. Precision on this topic is not a condition of salvation. In the end, providing godly leadership is far more important than the label used to describe the person who provides it. Substance matters more than form.