What is the purpose of having pastors?

Last updated on June 14, 2021

What is the purpose of having a pastor?

The word ‘pastor’ does not occur in the Bible. So we need to take a broader look about what the Bible teaches about spiritual leadership in the church. A church without ordained leadership is an incomplete church, as is clear from what Paul writes to Titus: “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5).

Shepherd and teacher

The Bible says a lot about the qualifications for an elder and about the tasks he should perform. It is also clear that some elders have a special calling to preach and teach (1 Timothy 5:17). It is proper for them to receive support from the church (1 Timothy 5:18).

It is this special group of elders that we nowadays call ‘pastor’. This calling is described in Ephesians 4:11 as “shepherd and teacher”. These two words express the two main tasks of a pastor: the personal spiritual care of the members of the church (shepherd) and the public explanation of the Word of God and its application to the lives of the hearers (teacher).

Building up the body of Christ

Immediately after that, the Bible gives the purpose of having a shepherd-teacher: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). So a pastor has to build up the body of Christ, that is the church, spiritually. At the same time he has to ensure that he is not doing all the work himself, but that he encourages and trains all the members to use their spiritual gifts in ministry, both inside the church and towards those who do not believe in Christ yet.

Most important things for a pastor

1 Timothy is a letter of Paul written to his spiritual son and fellow-worker Timothy about how he had to do these things. In it we read what is most important for a pastor:

  • A pastor has to guard the right doctrine: “remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3).
  • A pastor should show love and should build up love in the lives of the church members: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5)
  • A pastor should pray a lot: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” (1 Timothy 2:1).
  • A pastor should organize the church (1 Timothy 3).
  • A pastor should train himself in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7).
  • A pastor should read the Bible for the church to hear; apply the Bible text to the lives of the hearers; and explain what the text means: “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13).
  • A pastor should take care of the church members, helping them in their spiritual lives, but also help them with practical life issues that they are facing (1 Timothy 5).
  • A pastor should maintain church discipline: “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Timothy 5:20).

Full-time or not?

While Paul clearly states that those who lead the church spiritually should be supported by the church (1 Timothy 5:17-18), this does not mean that all pastors should be full-time employed in church work. In many cases teaching elders, shepherd-teachers, or pastors (whatever term you use) will have a job on the side to make their own living, but are also partly supported by the church in gratitude for the spiritual blessings they receive.

For the church it is important to display the understanding that “the laborer deserves his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18). For the pastor it is important to show the church members that he is more interested in spiritual blessings than in material blessings, and that it is true in his own life what Paul wrote to Timothy: “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8).

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