What is a pastor and how does one become a pastor?

(Answered on 10/24/2015 Program)

Ephesians 4:11-12  11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;

We see here pastors are among a list of specific roles God gave to accomplish things with the saints and church (verses 12-13). Common ideas of what a Pastor is can include the one who gives sermons, minsters to the members of a church, and is a leader of a congregation. Some might understand it to be a title given to someone with special religious training or a title like Reverend that shows respect. Let’s look to the actual definitions of some Biblical terms to see if we can validate these ideas that the term pastor evokes:


  • Pastor: from the Greek word poimēn, meaning “a herdsman or shepherd of animals, also an officer or manager of an assembly” (See Strong’s number G4166). Metaphorically, it describes one who oversees an assembled group of Christians and is most often translated shepherd.
  • Elder: from the Greek word presbyteros, meaning “advanced in life (older) or having a rank” (See Strong’s number G4245). Elder is also translated bishop and presbyter. It was used by the Jews and by Christian to describe a mature man who presided over others.
  • Overseer: from the Greek word episkopos, meaning “a man with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly” (See Strong’s number G1985)

The definition of the term pastor depicts one of leadership and oversight of others just as a shepherd would guide sheep. Of the only two leadership offices that are defined in the New Testament (Overseer and Deacon), a Pastor would correspond to an Overseer. Paul gave detailed qualifications for an Overseer in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and a very similar qualifications in Titus 1:5–9 that uses the term Elder.

These three terms are almost synonymous in the role they define, but describe different aspects just as we see God is given different names to describe different things about Him (Elohim: “power”, Adonai: “Master”, Yahweh-Jireh: “The Lord Will Provide”, etc.). Elder would suggest maturity and wisdom, Overseer describes the administrative responsibility of a leader, and Pastor suggests the care for and responsibility over others. Peter, who Jesus called to feed His sheep, (John 21:15-17), included the responsibility to sheperd (Strongs number G4165) and exercise oversight (Strongs number G1983) in exhorting the elders to serve God willingly

1 Peter 5:1-2, 5 1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;  5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.(NASB)

Qualifications Of A Pastor

We’ve got a high-level look at what a “Pastor” is, though let’s look at scripture to know what is required to become a Pastor/Elder/Overseer. God has given specific qualities a man must have grown to obtain to accept this role as an elder. Note the extent of qualities God expects the Overseers are to have:

1 Timothy 3:1-7  1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), 6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (NASB)

Here are the qualifications of Elders:

Titus 1:5-9 5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, 6 namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. 7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. (NASB)

Looking at the broad aspects of life that are included in the qualities God expects, what is clear is that an elder is to be characterized by maturity and integrity. These types of qualities only come from many years of love for God’s ways and service to others they are to guide. So to become an elder, one must be a man who is married with children and show diligence to acquire these virtues and character conveyed in these passages. When we realize how great their responsibilities are and how they will be held to a higher standard as teachers (James 3:1), we can understand how important these attributes are. They even are held accountable for the souls of those under their oversight:

Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (NASB)

Acts 20:28  Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (NASB)

These days many assume a pastor must have a theological education to be “qualified”, but these passages say nothing of a formal education but rather those virtues any man can acquire with God. Certainly, some mature Jewish converts may have become elder with a background of religious traditions and guidance from God’s laws, though this is not a requirement seeing Peter was a fisherman (Acts 4:13).

Proper Titles

Often some will call a preacher or teacher of God’s word a Pastor. A pastor may very well preach the Gospel of Christ and teach as they are to be able to do (2 Timothy 2:24), but because one preaches or teaches does not mean they would qualify as a pastor/elder. Have you seen some young preacher fresh out of college called “Pastor”? It is possible he is married and may even have young children, but it is not likely he meets the qualifications God requires of an elder man.

Most understand that a Pastor is one who leads, teaches, serves the members of the body, yet by tradition we mistakenly call some “Pastor” who do not meet the qualifications for that office. There will be cases where mature men are qualified and accomplishing many of the duties of a pastor but have not been installed as an elder. There may also be young men truly serving a community that have been expected to fulfill the many duties of an elder but just aren’t as well equipped as they might at a later stage in life. Just as you would not call a student teacher a “professor” or call an apprentice a “Master Artisan”, we would not want to give titles that God would see as inappropriate.

Even Christians may accept titles and responsibilities when we aught not. For men who love titles and being elevated over others, Jesus gives these words:

Matthew 23:8-12 8 But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

Some have a tradition of calling religious leaders “Father” while Jesus speaks against this. The word “leader” in this passage translated “guide, master or teacher” (Strong’s number G2519) indicates only Christ should be the founding head of our religion. Even Paul’s rebuke of those who called themselves disciples of certain teachers (1 Corinthians 1:10-17) which should be a caution to us who are enamored with a charismatic teacher or follow after a religion named after some person. Consider how problematic the term denomination is considering Paul’s rebuke of division.

Jesus describes as all as brothers while some make distinctions of clergy and laity as though there are different classes of people in the church. While God gives distinct roles (Ephesians 4:11-12) and some are to be given special honor (1 Timothy 5:17), God wants all to have the humble view of self as all just members of the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Some will also say only a select few were “Saints” as having greater piety whereas by definition, all Christians/believers are holy and thus called “saints” (Strong’s number G40).

Simply Servants

Pastors are essentially believers who are recognized as men who have grown to be mature Christians. As Christ came to serve and act as an example of loving service to others (John 13:5-17), so too the elder is one having those traits of a servant that make them suitable to guide other Christians in their walk. God has purpose for Pastors as with the various other roles He’s designated for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. God’s design is for the church to grow and in time, to be organized with multiple elders (not just one) once men are found to be qualified.

Acts 14:23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (NASB)