2) The elders were the pastors in the early church.
The word ‘pastor’ comes from the Latin for shepherd (poimen in Greek). As we will see, this title was never applied to an individual in the church, but to the elders altogether.
Jesus is the Chief Shepherd (John 10:11,14, Hebrews 13:20, 1 Peter 2:25, 1 Peter 5:4). He is the Good Shepherd, in contrast to the bad shepherds described in Ezekiel 34. All of the qualities seen in Psalm 23 perfectly describe Jesus. This is how He related to people, as sheep for whom He was willing to die to protect.
Jesus assigned the task of caring for His sheep to the apostles. In John 21:15-17, Peter is being restored as a disciple after denying Jesus three times. In the threefold commands to ‘feed my lambs’, ‘take care of my lambs’ and ‘feed my sheep’, Jesus is calling Peter back to his task as a disciple/apostle. As we see below, the first disciples/apostles understood their task as caring for the Lord’s sheep.
In Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5, we see the apostles appointing elders in the churches. In Acts 20:28 Paul urges the elders to keep watch over the flock as shepherds (poimen, pastors) of the church of God. In Ephesians 4:11, along with apostles, prophets and evangelists, Paul says that Jesus appointed pastors (poimen, shepherds) and teachers, otherwise known as elders. In 1 Peter 5:1-4 Peter also urges his fellow elders to keep watch as shepherds (poimen, pastors) of God’s flock. He reminds them that they will one day stand before the Great Shepherd to receive their reward for service.
Jesus is to be their example. The apostles/elders are to imitate the self-denying, God-honouring, neighbour blessing care modelled by Jesus, the Good Shepherd. They are not to fight for position or prestige, nor to demand special titles (Matthew 23:8-10).
Let me be clear. There was not one person specially ordained that was made the ‘pastor’, while the rest were elders. The elders were the pastors, the shepherds. The separation of elders and pastors is a later development, one that imported a worldly hierarchy concept into the church.
I am a pastor in the church, but I am not THE pastor in the church. I do not need or want special titles (like reverend, or pastor, or worst of all ‘dominie’). If the elders insist on respect for church leaders and the use of titles, then each of them should be called pastor – Pastor Tony and Pastor Cathy and Pastor Tim and Pastor Liz, etc.
In my next post we will look at how the early church pastors (elders/shepherds) managed all of tasks they were responsible for.