Why are Certain Church Leaders called Pastors?

Written by Josiah Nichols

May 6, 2024

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Why are certain church leaders called pastors?



Why are certain church leaders called pastors? There are many names for different church offices: elder, overseer, deacon, pastor, minister, bishop, etc. So, this brings up the question of why certain church leaders are referred to as pastors. In addition to the following information, you can also check out Andrew Rappaport’s podcast on Pastors to learn more.

Where do we get the term pastor?

The term pastor comes from Peter’s understanding of the functions of an elder. 1 Peter 5:1-5:

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (ESV).

What does this mean?

When examining a Bible passage, one needs to pay attention to what it says and look at the context. Peter wrote his letter to encourage believers during severe persecution. He wanted them to stay faithful to the gospel, the Word of God, and who God puts over them (1 Peter 1:3-22, 1 Peter 1:22-2:8, 1 Peter 2:9-3:7). Because of this truth, he reminds them to stay faithful amidst suffering for goodness’s sake and to witness to the lost (1 Peter 3:8-4:19).

Pastors as Elders

The section we are dealing with is his charge to church leaders. These church leaders are called elders. At this time in redemptive history, leaders of the church were called elders. The calling and qualifications of elders can be seen in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-6. Essentially, an elder must be a godly man, not a recent convert, mature, faithful to one wife (women are not allowed to be pastors), and be able to teach the congregation (see references to 1 Timothy and Titus). Timothy, who was an elder at the church in Ephesus, was called specifically to preach the Word of God and be an evangelist, inside and outside the congregation (2 Timothy 3:1-4:8).

Pastor as Under Shepherd

Peter in his letter lists the same charge to the pastor/elder as the qualifications to overseers and elders by Paul: leading out of calling not gain, not pilfering the church, not being argumentative or combative, and being able to take care of the flock with the Scriptures, while acting as a good example (1 Peter 5:1-5).

The idea is these pastors, another name for a shepherd, oversee the chief shepherd’s flock. That chief shepherd is Christ. One dictionary says,

“Pasʹtor. The word has the literal sense of shepherd, but in the Scriptures is figuratively applied to one who leads the flock of God’s people (Jer. 2:8; 3:15; Eph. 4:11). Summarily stated, the chief duties of a pastor are: 1. To feed the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:2); 2. To guide its members in the pathway of duty and holiness (1 Thess. 2:10–12); 3. To guard them, so far as may be possible, from moral and spiritual evil of every kind (Acts 20:28, 29).”[1]


Why are certain church leaders called pastors? They are called to tend God’s sheep till Christ returns to take them home. It is for a good reason Christ told Peter to feed and tend his sheep till his death (John 21:15-19). Pastors should do the same with the churches they oversee. Pastors, teach the Word, lead your people in holiness, and guard them from false doctrine.

Also, pastors are to faithfully lead God’s church and be happy with what they get in ministry to meet their needs. If you go to a church that tells you to sow a seed to get a thousandfold of money in return, run. That is not a pastor, that is a thief (examples: Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Myer, Creflo Dollar, Steven Furtick, Todd Bently, and T. D. Jakes). Go to a good church that takes care of its members spiritually and helps them grow in their understanding of the Word of God.

More from Striving For Eternity

If you want more information on studying the Bible and how to interpret it correctly, check out the store section at strivingforeternity.org/store. There are tons of resources to help you get started on your journey to interpreting the Bible better. Also, invite Andrew Rappaport and Aaron M. Brewster to come to your church and teach you biblical interpretation with their Biblical Interpretation Made Easy Seminar. Andrew Rappaport, Aaron M. Brewster, and other guests on Apologetics live would also enjoy answering your questions on the live show on Thursdays from 7pm–9pm CST with the link to the stream yard at strivingforeternity.org/apologeticslive. Also check out the Rapp report podcast where Andrew covers different topics covering discipleship and the Word. Lord bless you and strive to make today and eternal day for Christ Jesus.

[1] Thomas J. Shepherd, The Westminster Bible Dictionary (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1880), 393.


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