the weblog of Alan Knox

What makes a person a pastor?

Posted by on Jun 17, 2008 in blog links, elders, office, service | 15 comments

So, what makes a person a pastor?

Education? Clothing? Salary? Position? Teaching ability? Authority? A vote? Hair style? Speaking skills? White teeth? Integrity? Other things?

Certainly, most people would say that some of the items listed above are necessary. Some would say that others are not necessary. But, what makes a person a pastor?

Brant at “Letters from Kamp Krusty” is one of my favorite bloggers. I love his humor and sarcasm, because they always make me think. However, this time he’s written a very serious post called “Ministry without the People“. You should read it… all of it… and the comments. Brant tells the story of Rick, who was greatly inspired by his pastor and sought to get to know him better. Rick was disappointed when he could only get an appointment to spend 5 minutes with his pastor in the hallway. Brant uses this example to discuss how we can love “the People” without actually caring about people:

“It’s not realistic to be spiritual shepherd thousands of people,” — I know, I know. And I agree. But if you’re not my spiritual shepherd, why am I calling you my pastor? If it’s just teaching them, I could do that on the radio. But I wouldn’t be their shepherd.

I think it’s really easy for Pastors, for any of us, really, to love people. At least, I should say, love People, capital “P”, as in The People in Theory, the People Out There, the Sheep, the Idea of People.

It’s real easy to love The People. It’s much more difficult, much more challenging, much more exhausting, much more a test of the heart to love actual people: The people who work for you. The people in your home. The people who slip you a heart-rending note when you’re getting ready to impress The People.

Ministry is loving people you didn’t handpick.

Then, in a comment that is too good to leave in the comments, Brant says:

Regarding the “teaching pastor”: I guess I’m not sure what that is, exactly. Teaching is one gift, sure, and aren’t some given a pastoral gift? Biblically speaking, are we to believe they’re one and the same?

If they’re not, why are we using the term “pastor” out of context? If teaching a mass audience makes one The Pastor, can’t a radio or TV or even author host be The Pastor to me?

Again, I think this reflects confusion not only about what a pastor is, but what the church is, and is for, and what Jesus had in mind when it comes to “leadership”.

I think it’s fair to wonder if we’re redefining the term, in order to benefit those who like to teach, but would rather not do stuff that isn’t CEO or up-front stuff. Believe me, I understand them. Like I say, I’m a public speaker-type myself, and ministry would be great without the people.

Is “teaching pastor” a biblical concept? Where did that come from? These aren’t smart-aleck questions — I seriously don’t understand. If it’s someone who’s got a pastoral heart who gently loves and shepherds non-hand-picked people during the week, and then does the teaching, I guess I understand that. Otherwise, isn’t it just, “teacher”? Nothing wrong with that, right?

Regardless of how one wants to define the “pastor and teacher” of Eph 4:11, it seems clear that “shepherding” is part of that function. But, we have equated “pastoring” with “teaching” to such an extreme that we often think that we are shepherding when we are teaching. The two functions are not the same, although they certainly can be performed by the same individual.

“Pastoring” – “Shepherding” – “Caring for God’s people” – is very serious, very demanding, work. In fact, the ones that we look to as “pastors” and “leaders” should be the ones who demonstrate the best examples of caring for God’s people. Sometimes, I speak to large numbers of people. This is not pastoring. This may be teaching, and it may be important, but it is not pastoring. Yes, it can be part of pastoring. But, if all of my time is spent with large groups of people, then I am not caring for those people.

Pastors… leaders… get off the podium and spend time with the people. If you don’t have time for that because of your busy schedule, at least be honest and ask people to stop calling you “Pastor”.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 6-17-2008

    I agree!

    Now since there is not one standard for “pastors” and another for everyone else; the same also applies to the whole church.

    The problem I see in many house churches (and big churches) is that they’re just a collection of people who like being with one another. Like the part you quoted, “church” is loving people you don’t handpick.

    Alan, you end the post with an admonition to “pastors” but I think it should extend to everyone. “people, get out of your seats, out of your homes and start loving people. If you don’t have time to reach outside your circle of freinds, then stop calling yourself a church and stop calling yourself a disciple.”

  2. 6-17-2008


    Since you’ve read my series on elders, then you know that I agree with you. The “requirements” for elders apply to all believers, not only elders. And, like you said, we should all care about people, even those that we don’t “handpick”.

    Your admonition is priceless: “[G]et out of your seats, out of your homes and start loving people. If you don’t have time to reach outside your circle of freinds, then stop calling yourself a church and stop calling yourself a disciple.”


  3. 6-18-2008

    A few years ago, someone gave me a great little booklet in Spanish, of which the English translation of the title is: “Smelling like Sheep” (“Oliendo a Ovejas”). The idea of the book is that every true pastor (e.g. shepherd) will necessarily smell like sheep. That is, he will spend time with sheep, he will know what sheep like to eat, when they like to sleep, he will get down on their level, he will know about their daily problems, joys, and temptations, etc., etc.

  4. 6-18-2008


    I’ve heard something similar. Thank you for reminding us that shepherds should spend most of their time with sheep.


  5. 6-6-2011

    I wonder if the combined form in Eph. 4:11 is God’s way of reminding us that ‘teaching’ without a shepherd’s heart isn’t what He has in mind…

  6. 6-6-2011


    There is certainly a close connection between teaching and shepherding/pastoring in Ephesians 4:11!


  7. 7-21-2011

    “If teaching a mass audience makes one The Pastor, can’t a radio or TV or even author host be The Pastor to me?”

    “Pastors” spend 60-70 percent of their time, I’ve heard, preparing Sunday sermons. Yet many of them really aren’t that good. Maybe it would be better to just turn on the radio to Charles Stanley or get a John Piper video from YouTube and play that on Sunday mornings.

  8. 10-12-2011

    Good thoughts above. I agree that a pastor that is not with the rest of the church on a regular basis, is not functioning like a pastor. Now, larger churches can not ask one pastor to be intimate with all the congregation. But, this is why Scripture speaks of a plurality of elders as well expects all members of the body of Christ to minister to one another, even with those who are “part of another local church.”

    Just a note to Dan’s comment. You are right, many sermons are not good, but for many they are not good because they are not entertaining. We are not called to entertain, but to share the word. Also, a radio or TV pastor can not and should not (except maybe in extreme and rare situations) be considered one’s pastor. A pastor is to help lead a “flock.” A person can not be in close fellowship with a flock he never sees. How can a member minister to another member he or she never sees? Just a thought. Also, if your pastor gets in a rut with bad messages, pray for him, go get a coffee together, and see how you can pray for him. Often, there is more going on than meets the eye. Be a church, do not go to one.

  9. 10-12-2011

    Hi Ron,

    I wasn’t seriously suggesting that a congregation listen to the radio or watch a TV on Sunday. I’m suggesting that “pastors” spend too much time on sermons that aren’t that good — meaning effective or life-transformaing — to begin with. Lecturing is the worst way to influence people, yet preaching is considered job #1 for most pastors. Barna found that two hours after a sermon, most people have forgotten even the TOPIC of the sermon, let alone can remember the three or four points that it made. The best way to effectively communicate God’s word is through discussion and interaction and doing. Not lecturing. I would suggest that we would make better pastors if we can get them to cut down on the preaching. Then they’d have more time to do what you suggest — pastor/shepherd/teach people.

  10. 10-12-2011

    Gotcha Dan. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Good point.

  11. 11-6-2012

    Its a great question, but one that the bible leaves hanging unanswered, and probably with good reason. Given that we know a quite a bit more about the other ministry gifts to the church, its ironic that the church has fashioned itself around the pastor, of which we know very little, and to which there is no human example to anchor our understanding upon.
    Why didnt we fashion our churches around Apostles or Prophets or even healings, giving or teaching, which we know a lot more about from scripture? Of course some churches are constituted along those lines but they are the minority in a sea of pastoral monoculture.
    My experience in a fellowship where titles, positions, salary, budgets and programs didn’t exist has given me an altogether different view on the question. We experienced the gifts emerging in our midst over time, within changing contexts and commensurate with the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Several of us were pastoral, a few clearly prophetic, one is Apostolic, several healers, a few teachers…
    But no one had a title, salary or executive authority at least for the first 25 yrs. The pastors among us simply exercised their innate gifts in the context of everyday life. And though they were pastoral, they needed teaching and the other gifts, like all did.
    We were careful to not allow our imaginations to run wild with ‘kingdom building’ schemes and we fashioned our everyday life together to fit the one another’s, rather than a mission of any kind.
    Missions emerged, including church planting, but they were a united, concerted, prayerful and sacrificial effort by all the church.
    Leadership was by whoever was leading, depending upon which gift was needed, by consensus, by scripture, prayer, discussion, trial and error
    and always in the context of ‘the servant is not above his Lord’.
    The Lord expresses Himself through us, as we trust and obey Him in what we understand, no matter how we are constituted together, but He prefers to be the one to constitute us. Its clearly very difficult for most to imagine how to function daily and corporately without the constructs that have replaced being led by Him and the Word, but it is possible.
    I liken it to the church needing to be born again collectively.
    I see us all like a collective neo Nicodemus’ who are hungry for God, but trapped in our own good intentions and methods.
    The short route to transforming an entire generation from religious to spiritual is to die to our own wisdom, understanding and sufficiency, like Nicodemus,Paul, Peter and all of the first church who were trying to translate their OT paradigm into what we now know with 20/20 hindsight to be NT life.
    Our good intentions, experience, learning and genuine desire to please the Lord must go to the cross. We cant help God build His house.
    We are stones, not builders. Stones just are, like lilies, children and flowers; simply living and not knowing their own frailty, strengths or even having a well developed self identity.
    We can know those things, in a different and very humbling way than we do now, but only after having gone thru fire, testing, failure and resignation that in us dwells no good thing.
    And that must be both personal and collective knowing.
    We must come to embrace and cherish weakness, having found His full measure of supply as our ALL, and then we will be strong “dunamis” in His strength, and wont run ahead of Him, trying to build His house for Him.
    A pastor that is gifted from God will counsel others to seek to be broken to their own ambitions, dreams and wisdom, so that Jesus dream of one family can emerge under His leadership.
    That’s my perspective.

  12. 11-6-2012

    Very well said. Today, the church runs on the same batteries that “businesses” run. We have hierarchies, budgets, reporting responsibilities, and we are missing a lot of the nurturing, breaking of bread, lifting each other up, using our gifts freely as parts of the body of Christ. Nothing turns me off than someone who calls themselves a “pastor” based on his presence behind a pulpit. Pastoring is messy, dirty and completely active by being fully involved in each person who they “Sheppard”. I may even go as far as saying that if you don’t know the name of each person you “sheppard”, I would question your “pastoring”.

  13. 11-6-2012


    Pastor/shepherd are action words, aren’t they? 😉

    I would give Joel Osteen or Mark Driscoll 500 bucks if they could tell me the names of each “member of their churches”. Oh, wait. They might be too busy getting their teeth whitened or writing a book.

  14. 11-7-2012

    Thanks for continuing this discussion everyone. There are some great comments here!


  15. 11-10-2012

    I may have shared this one before, but here it is anyway…a few of my thoughts on what a pastor is and isn’t.