Pastors and teachers

Scripture makes a distinction between pastors and teachers.

“He gave … apostles … prophets … evangelists … pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints.”

Eph 4:11

The apostle Paul distinguishes pastors and teachers.  Pastors are shepherds and preachers are teachers.

Some preachers call themselves pastor, such as Pastor Jack Glass, but a preacher teaches and declares the Word of God whereas a pastor oversees the Christian flock as a shepherd looks after his sheep.

One characteristic of a foolish, good-for-nothing shepherd is described as “a shepherd who will not visit” Zec 11:16 showing that visiting is one of the principal characteristics of a pastor. A shepherd visits his flock to attend to its needs. ‘Feed the flock of God … taking the oversight thereof’ 1Pe 5:2.

This is the primary thought in the biblical word episkope ‘an overseer’, often translated as ‘a bishop’. The function of a pastor is more like a bishop overseeing than a teacher teaching. It is one of the functions of the eldership Act 20:17,28.

In very large congregations a preacher may not be able to visit everyone in his congregation in order to deal pastorally with individuals. However, from the examples he meets on his visitation particularly of the sick, bereaved and widows, he will learn lessons to address to the whole congregation.  In this manner, the bulk of his pastoral work is done through teaching. This shows the importance of experimental preaching and the need to address ‘cases of conscience’ in public preaching. Pastoring is a wide role involving oversight and rule, particularly through teaching by word and example. Divinely-motivated, divinely-approved and divinely-taught pastors feed the sheep with knowledge and understanding Jer 3:15.

A division of labour was recognised and introduced in Moses’ time to spread the workload Ex 18:17-26. Division of labour was recognised and practised among the apostles Gal 2:7-9 and Act 6:1-6.

Pastoral work is more closely allied to the visitation role of the eldership than the teaching role of the preacher, and it may even involve the office of the deacon attending to the temporal needs of poor saints. There are different forms and aspects to oversight of God’s flock.

Pastoring has temporal elements in it, more suited to deacons, oversight more suited to elders and the personal counselling and consolation more suited to the public teaching of the preacher. There is some overlap of function. The apostles recognised different spheres of spiritual labour but they did not confine caring for the poor to a specific office, but every Christian is to remember the poor Gal 2:10. Pastoral care applies to all Christians according to their ability and their opportunity to do good Gal 6:10 and Php 4:10.

The identification of different spiritual gifts led to the concept of teaching elders and ruling elders – preachers and overseers. The functions of each overlap and are not absolutely distinct. All elders must have an aptitude to teach 1Tim 3:2 and 2Tim 2:24, a readiness and an ability to teach – not necessarily the gift of public teaching, but certainly in private at an individual level – and teaching elders must oversee also.

Paul’s putting pastors before teachers probably indicates the importance of the oversight of the flock, including oversight of the teachers as to what they were teaching.

The idea of confining pastoral work to preachers is thus not supported by Scripture.  It is wrong to confine this widespread Christian activity to one person ‘the pastor’, nevertheless recognising that some individuals have pastoral gifts of varying sorts, far less to conflate it into the inflated office of ‘bishop’ in episcopal churches or the unbiblical concept of a pope in Rome.

Preachers of the Word are to give their utmost attention to it Act 6:2.  The needs of the church required the division of labour. Deacons were appointed to attend to temporal needs Act 6:3, but this was not simply to count and spend congregational money but to distribute it to the needy in the name of Christ.  The modern Welfare State has taken over the welfare role from the Christian church at a more professional level, but it has not taken over the Christian role. Jesus reminds us: “You have the poor always with you, and whenever you desire you may do them good’ Mk 14:7.


5 Feb 2019: View from the Pew.

9 Mar 2019: at the induction of a preacher to a new ‘charge’ today, one preacher addressed him and said that “you will discover that your most effective pastoral work will be through the pulpit”.

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