Encouraging, Living, Reaching

Assemblies Need Pastors

Assemblies Need Pastors

For a movement that has been rigorously scriptural, it’s odd that the assemblies, in general, have chosen to avoid the use of the word “pastor” (and its linguistic equivalent “shepherd”) when speaking of our leaders.  The word “elder” —the one who presides—is used almost exclusively.  Certainly we need leaders to ensure the orderly functioning of the assembly, but while administration is important, so is shepherding the flock.


Some suggest that “pastor” and “elder” (along with “bishop” which is used the least, if ever) are interchangeable terms for people fulfilling the role of leadership in an assembly.  Certainly, these are all words which apply to those in leadership, but each of the words lends a different emphasis.  “Bishop” emphasizes the overseeing aspect of leadership, “elder” speaks of the spiritual maturity and social status of one who presides, while “pastor” draws us back to the image of the church as the flock of God.

It reminds those in leadership that their role must include gently feeding and humbly tending those in their care, as well as presiding and overseeing.

A while ago, I went to the funeral of a much loved saint.  The elder who presided is one who manages to balance his leadership roles brilliantly.  Yet as he spoke, I remembered complaints that I had heard about him—that he was nosey, that he pried into people’s affairs, that he meddled, and the like.  Ironically, it was in his pastoral work that these criticisms arose.  I couldn’t help but wonder that if the assembly had embraced the word “pastor”, in its true biblical sense, and applied it to him whether people would have understood that God expected him to know about and be involved in the personal lives of the people He had given to him to shepherd.

Lost Concept

Words express concepts and, without the words, sometimes the concepts are lost.  Because we in the assemblies avoid the use of the word “pastor”, we run the danger of losing the concept of the leader as shepherd.  As I travel around, I observe that the stronger assemblies are those that have pastoral leaders (admittedly, whether or not they use the word “pastor”).  Of course, you don’t have to use the word if you feel you have good reasons not to, but you lose the concept of shepherding associated with it to the peril of the sheep.

I believe it is fair to say that many of the Lord’s people in assemblies do not know what it means to be pastored. Consequently, they don’t know how to relate to one who has a pastoral heart.  They confuse his interest with nosiness, his guidance with meddling, and his authority with arrogance.

Moving forward, it will be necessary both to educate the pastors on the care of sheep and to teach the sheep about how to respond to shepherds.

Acknowledging the Pastors

In the assemblies I know, one doesn’t have to look far to find those who are adept at keeping things done decently and in order, but pastors—leaders who can help those whose lives are sometimes indecent and disorderly—are harder to spot.  While I’m not advocating a wholesale switch from referring to assembly leaders as “elders” to “pastors,” it would not threaten our identity to acknowledge those with pastoral gifts so that those who need them can find them readily. In fact, I would suggest that mere acknowledgement is not enough. The pastors in our midst should be recognized as such whether or not they serve as overseers.

Gift-driven Leadership

In our effort to avoid anything that looks like hierarchy, we sometimes want each of our leaders to be involved in all of the tasks of leadership.  This draws those with pastoral gifts away from their care for the flock by requiring them to sit in on meetings which those with more administrative gifts could easily handle without them.

At the same time, it sometimes means that elders with no pastoral gifts to speak of find themselves awkwardly “doing visits” which are often unproductive and, sometimes, unappreciated.  Let’s set the pastors in our midst free to exercise their gifts and calling while the other elders exercise their administrative gifts.

Whether or not you have someone (or more than one) recognized as “pastor” in your assembly is not as important as the fact that you have someone (or more than one) functioning as “pastor” in your assembly.  I have no hesitation in saying that our assemblies need more pastors.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any other author or an official position of the assemblyHUB team.

Ron Hughes

Ron is president of FBH International.  Ron and his wife, Debbie, were commended by Edmison Heights Bible Chapel in 1983 to the Lord’s work in Ecuador. They served there for 10 years and returned to Canada on the invite of the FBH board to work alongside Arnot McIntee, then president of the ministry. In 1995, Arnot retired from active work with the board and Ron assumed responsibility. He writes and produces program material for use by the international producers, creates videos and other on-line material, and promotes the ministry among interested believers.

11 Responses to Assemblies Need Pastors

  1. Avatar
    Ron Hofman

    I agree, our assemblies need “pastors.” And I believe the Holy Spirit equips and supplies what our assemblies need. But, there are reasons why the term “pastor” is not commonly used. The word “pastor” is one of those weird churchy terms, like “bishop” that carries with it a connotation that is abhorrent…equivalent to a salaried priest or minister. The word only appears once in the NT (Ephesians), and it’s really a mistranslation. It does mean “shepherd” which emphasizes the work. And that is how it should be translated in every case. Even the term “pastoral gifts” is unscriptural. It’s my understanding that there are not many “pastoral gifts,” but rather, only one. Either you have the gift (singular) of shepherding the flock, or you don’t.

    There is nothing wrong with the words “overseer,” “elder,” or “shepherd.” Those words have clear meaning, emphasized the different aspects of a single person, are divested of ecclesiastical garbage, and were never intended to be used as titles for a position. The reason for attitudes in our assemblies which you describe (“nosey” for one), is not because we don’t use the title of “pastor,” but rather it reflects a lack of teaching regarding, not the position or the person, but the work, and displays what is common in our society today, a disregard for authority. A TRUE “elder,” or “overseer,” or “shepherd” WILL have the gift of shepherding…if he doesn’t, he’s not any of those. And sadly, that happens all too often.

    I’m going to suggest this article seems to be coming from a move toward the “normal” idea of “church” which is prevalent in 99.9% of what we see around us — having clergy (position) and laity (the rest of us). Like Israel who looked at the nations around them, saw that they had “kings,” and as a result, wanted one too. And look at what happened.

    We need to return to what God teaches us in His Word and seek the leading of the Spirit of God (rigorously scriptural, is how you phrased it)…not adopt the ways of Churchdom.

    • Avatar

      Thanks brother RON HOFMAN, your reply gives clarity to this article. There are few among the assemblies who think, we also need to be organized like the other ‘churches’. Some have even changed the name of their gatherings and slowly trying to adopt what is found in the traditional churches. That is not the answer for whatever issues we see among us…..only answer is to stay true to the Lord and His word.

  2. Avatar
    Eddy Plett

    Great article. I believe that this is one of the areas of greatest need in our Assemblies. All too often we feel we have done our duty when we throw out our weekly supply of feed to the sheep. Who has the time to deal with the sick and wandering? We do need to come along side of the gifted pastors/shepherds in our churches and encourage and free them to concentrate on the work the Lord has gifted them to do.

  3. Avatar
    Scott Leach

    I appreciate that Mr. Hughes distinguishes that not all elders are pastors. This is indeed the case. I also agree with most of Ron Hofman’s response. I differ in that I do not believe all elders have the gift of shepherding. They certainly may, and they certainly are all called to this work, but “pastors, teachers & evangelists” themselves are gifts to the church. There is no restriction on brothers or sisters being such gifts to the church – only in how those gifts are used in the headship order. Similarly, we are all called to evangelize – however, we are certainly not all “evangelists”. I agree with Ron that Biblical terms are perfectly accurate to use.

    • Avatar

      Here we have Peter referring to the same group…using all three terms: (NKJV) 1 The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;

      An elder, a shepherd, an overseer. An “elder” who does not shepherd, is neither.

    • Avatar
      Mark Swaim

      I agree with what Scott has written, especially that there are those gifted to do the work of a shepherd or pastor who are not part of the eldership. The gift is scriptural. The position is not.

  4. Avatar

    Couple of things. First, I am not totally comfortable with terms like “leader” and “leadership” as descriptors for the oversight of an assembly. I don’t presume to know their etymology, but I know them from their use in 20th Century management science, which is largely based on social sciences. I do prefer the Biblical term “oversight.” And, as you say, the words we choose matter, because the subtle differences in words carry subtle (but important) differences in meaning. I only make this point to say that the head of the local assembly is the same as the head of the universal Church. And those referred to in this article are not “leaders” in the common sense of the word, but co-followers of a common Head, who have been given certain gifting, character, and circumstance, which prepares them for certain kinds of service, namely, the oversight of the local assembly.

    Having said that, I agree that pastoring is a gift given to some, and it is one mentioned in the key passage about local assembly oversight in Ephesians. I also agree that it is often overlooked or disparaged by assembly folk, in favor of teaching and evangelism. This may be at the very heart of why assemblies are suffering and numbers in fellowship are shrinking.

    We very likely are “afraid” of the word, pastor, because of what denominations have done to it (by, among other things, CAPITALIZING it). What a pastor does in a New Testament assembly, and what a Pastor does in a denominational group are two fairly different things. The Pastor of a denominational (or generically non-denominational) evangelical church is more like a CEO/Executive Director. Often he is the founder, agenda setter, fund raiser, and patriarch.

    It is a matter of some concern to me, that we glorify some gifts (teaching, exhortation, evangelism, administration, and to some degree, pastoring), while disregarding gifting (and ministries) that don’t involve talking into a microphone (like helps, prayer, the other side of exhortation, the private side of pastoring). For New Testament assemblies to function, we need to recognize and use ALL of the gifts among us. That’s what the Spirit of God put them here for. And, of course, as the author says, this would include pastors.

    • Avatar
      James Briggs

      Thanks James. Well stated and much appreciated. Blessings upon your dear life and upon those that you serve.

      • Avatar

        Thank you, brother. It’s been a long time since I wrote this response. It was good to read the article again. Having forgotten about my response, I was about to write a new response (that would have been much the same). Blessings on your dear life as well!

  5. Avatar
    Ray Jones

    Correct! The assemblies do need pastors (plural), spiritually qualified mature elders. The various words are interchangeable, but with different emphasis. The reason we often avoid the word pastor is the same as the reason that we avoid the word bishop. They have both been changed to a singular term; The Pastor or The Bishop – and worse Arch Bishop.

  6. Deb

    Thanks for the article. I’m thankful you drew attention to the need for the exercise of the pastoral gift.

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