Who can serve as pastor according to Scripture?

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By Dr. Timothy Pigg

Pastor, Fellowship Church

Immokalee, Fla.

The role of the pastor is to lead a local church. However, the manner by which the pastor is called to lead is nuanced by three terms that are used interchangeably in the New Testament to speak of the office of the pastor. These three words are bishopelder, and pastor. There are two locations in the New Testament where all three of these terms are used to describe the local church office of pastor. The first location is Acts 20:17-38 where Paul exhorts the pastors of the Ephesians. The second is 1 Peter 5:1-5 where Peter encourages the pastors of the Dispersion to remain faithful to the Lord amid their suffering. In this section, we are going to look at the qualifications of a pastor and the function of a pastor. 

A Pastor’s Qualifications

Is every believer qualified to serve as a pastor? The answer to that question is—no. God has given to his church a list of qualifications that are to be descriptive of the person that occupies the office of pastor. You could say that God’s qualifications are the character requirements necessary to be considered as a candidate for serving as a pastor.

You can find these qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Let’s look at 1 Timothy 3:1-7 for our consideration of these qualifications: 

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil (1 Tim. 3:1-7).

As you can tell, God takes the character of a pastor seriously. Of the fifteen qualifications listed, thirteen of them have something to say about the godliness of the individual. The only two qualifications that do not deal with a virtue explicitly, but rather speak of a function are “able to teach” (v. 2) and “manage his own household well” (v. 4). What does that tell us about the role of a pastor? It tells us that the heart of the pastor matters. 

Along with the character qualifications, God has also put a gender qualification on who is qualified to serve as a pastor. As you reference back to 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-16, you will notice that the gendered pronoun that is used is masculine. The use of the masculine pronoun means that the office of pastor is reserved only for men. Further evidence for the pastorate only being for men is shown through the fact that the New Testament mentions no female pastors. Therefore, to speak of a female pastor is oxymoronic and a defilement of the local church office, which has been given by God. 

A final piece of evidence demonstrates that God cares very much about the gender qualifications for the office of pastor is the evidence of context. What I mean by context is the surrounding passage to a particular section of Scripture. For instance, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 has a context to it. In the paragraph just preceding 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Paul instructs women to not function as a pastor. He says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12). Paul mentions two actions that women are not to do in a church over men: teach or exercise authority. These two functions describe broadly the actions of a pastor. The following paragraph in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 shows that Paul had the office of pastor in mind as he wrote these restrictions to women in the church.

I think we need to ask the “why” question to 1 Timothy 2:12. Why does Paul restrict women from the office of pastor?  Is Paul being misogynistic by not allowing a women to function as a pastor? To answer the question, we have to look no further than our biblical passage in 1 Timothy 2:13, which says, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” Paul answers our “why” question by appealing to a greater authority. Paul appeals to God. He explains that the church is to follow God’s order in creation. Essentially, Paul is telling us that the reason women cannot serve as pastor is because God designed male headship to be the function by which His revelation is made known to His people.    

A Pastor’s Function

A man who meets the character qualifications for the pastorate also has responsibilities that he must fulfill. What we must consider in this section is the function of pastor. You might have an idea already about what a pastor does. For instance, you might think that all a pastor does is preach, teach, visit the sick, and spend time in prayer. Or you might have adopted the view that a pastor is a professional evangelist. It is his job to grow the church. Possibly you view the role of a pastor like the C.E.O. of a business. All these ideas for the function of a pastor are common misunderstandings. The function of a pastor can be described under four simple headings: 1) Leader, 2) Expositor, 3) Shepherd, and 4) Equipper. 

A Pastor is a Leader

First, a pastor is a leader. His function is to lead the church. Paul told Timothy that a pastor must be able to “manage” the church (1 Tim. 3:5). Paul uses an interesting term for “manage.” The term that Paul uses speaks of a house-manager. This was the word that would have been used to describe the lead servant in a large estate. This servant was responsible for leading all of the other workers in the estate. Many times the house-manager would make financial decisions for the family, educational decisions for the children, and personnel decisions for the staff. The house-manager was essential to the function of the house. Similarly, Paul says that a pastor is to be the “house-manager” of the church. This analogy that Paul makes implies that the pastor is a leader. 

A Pastor is an Expositor

Second, a pastor is an expositor of the Word. One of the final charges that Paul gave to a pastor was for Timothy to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2) The preaching of the Word is essential to the function of a pastor. Biblically faithful pastors preach biblically faithful sermons. The apostles in Jerusalem, who functioned as some of the first pastors, were concerned with neglecting the preaching of the Word so they appointed the forerunners to the office of deacon to handle the daily distribution (Acts 6:2, 4).

A pastor who does not preach the Word commits spiritual neglect upon the church for reasons of malnutrition. The result of not preaching the Word is the scattering of God’s people. Jeremiah prophesied, “For the shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the Lord; therefore, they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered” (Jer. 10:21). A biblical pastor takes preaching seriously. 

A Pastor is a Shepherd

Third, a pastor is a shepherd to the sheep. One of the most illustrious metaphors in the Bible to describe the relationship between a pastor and the church is that of a shepherd and sheep. This motif is captured in the definition of the term “pastor,” which means shepherd. Jesus, as we know, referred to himself as the “good shepherd” (John 10:11). Likewise, pastors of local churches are to reflect Jesus in their function. 

Part of being a shepherd means that the pastor protects the flock from danger. Paul explains this role of a shepherd in his farewell address to the church in Ephesus. In Acts 20, Paul tells the pastors to guard the flock from “ravenous wolves” that will seek to destroy the church (Acts 20:28-30).  This role is inferred  from 1 Timothy 1 where Paul is warning the church of the dangers of false teachers, which he refers to as ravenous wolves in Acts 20. 

Another aspect of being a shepherd means that the pastor provides for the flock. A great model for understanding the provision that a shepherd gives is found in Psalm 23. The Good Shepherd of Psalm 23 provides green pastures and still waters for the sheep. It is the responsibility of pastors to provide to the church the nutritional value it needs to live a healthy spiritual life. Also, the pastor is to provide the cool waters of the Word to quench the weariness of the soul.  

A Pastor is an Equipper 

Fourth, a pastor is an equipper of saints and future pastors. In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul explains that God gave the church pastors for the purpose of equipping “the saints for the work of ministry.” The act of being an equipper is rooted in the replication of God’s design for disciple-making. In the Great Commission, Jesus commissioned his disciples to make disciples, who in turn would also make disciples. The disciple-making revolution was started by the first pastors of the New Testament church. It is important to note that disciple-making is an action for all believers. However, pastors should set an example before the church to demonstrate the importance of the task. 

Not only should pastors be equipping the saints by discipling believers, but they should also be looking to train future pastors. Paul may have had this in mind when he told Timothy, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). It is important that pastors are consistently calling out the called and faithfully equipping those men to be faithful to the Lord in the stewardship of their calling.  

This article first appeared in “The Local Church Matters,” published by Northeastern Baptist Press and written by Dr. Timothy Pigg. It has been reprinted with permission. To purchase this book and others from NEBP, visit their website.