The Pastor is First a Servant

The pastor is a servant first and foremost.

“Servant,” and not “pastor” is the most important and prominent, biblical term for any Christian believer in church leadership!  Surprising?  It was to me.  Like most church people I had accepted the common belief that a lead elder in the local church, is properly called “pastor” because the idea of pastor (or shepherd) is the key to understanding the role and title of that church office. Yet, it is not.

In the New Testament, perhaps the most descriptive word that illustrates what it means to be an elder as a spiritual leader in Christ’s Church is that of “shepherd” or “pastor.”  Indeed, that is the term and the paradigm for true biblical leadership. Further, there are other expressions for this position.  The Bible describes the minister as a soldier and an athlete (2 Tim. 2:3-7).  He is also a farmer and workman  (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Tim. 5:18), as well as a steward or trustee (1 Tim. 4:12; Ti. 2).

However, the overarching model in Scripture for a pastor or elder, which ties all other biblical roles and duties together is that of a servant. This is because he is to live and function like Jesus the grand Servant (Phil. 2:7; Heb. 12:1-2). Jesus Christ declared that anyone who desired to be great in his kingdom must be a servant. This is because he had come not to be served but to serve, even to the point of sacrificial death (Matt. 20:26-28).  Jesus, the consummate, humble servant (Isa. 49:5; Luke 22:27; Heb. 3:1-6), is the one who was perfectly self-sacrificing (John 10:11, 15; cp. Luke 10:34, 35).

In the Greco-Roman world in which the New Testament was immersed, slavery was quite a normal thing. There were different kinds of slaves. One type of slave was called doulos.  Other kinds of servants were the paida (akin to a tutor or a British family governor) and the diakonos (a ministering servant, of which there were different varieties). Of all those sorts mentioned above the most contemptible, despicable position of that day was that of a doulos-slave.  Yet, it is that very classification Jesus, Lord of the universe, took upon himself (Phil. 2:6-8).  Jesus was God’s master-servant who came to serve, but not to be served (Mark 10:45; Luke 22:27).

He is also the glorified paida-servant of God (Acts 3:13; 3:26; 4:27, 30).  Jesus fulfilled the model of Old Testament examples of the doulos-slave, among whom were Moses (Deut. 34:5; Ps. 105:26; Mal. 4:4; Rev. 15:3), Joshua (Josh. 24:29) and King David (2 Sam. 3:18; Ps. 78:70; Luke 1:69; Acts 4:25).

Jesus came not only as God’s slave, he also came to be a diakonos-servant to Israel (Rom. 15:8).  Like a perfect slave, Jesus put his life subordinate to the cause of his Father’s will.

The New Testament teaches that believers in Jesus Christ are slaves to Christ and of God.  All believers in Christ are to live like humble slaves (Acts 2:18; 1 Cor. 7:22; Eph. 6:6; Col. 4:12; 2 Tim. 2:24). They are equal in their position before God and are called upon to sacrificially serve others (John 10:11, 15 cp. Luke 10:34, 35), because they are ministering slaves to God (2 Cor. 6:4; Tit. 1:1, 7) and of Christ (Phil. 1:1; 2 Tim. 2:24).  Jesus made it clear that the manner in which his disciples were to function, rule, lead, and shepherd the citizens of God’s kingdom was in the form of a willing servant and a humble slave.   These servants or ministers must understand that along with other believers, their lives and ministries are living sacrifices to God (2 Sam. 24:24; Acts 20:24; 21:13; Phil 2:7;  3;7-8; 2 Tim. 4:6).  It is through love that they serve one another as doulos-slaves (Gal. 5:13) using whatever gift(s) God gives in order to doulos-serve one another (1 Pet. 4:10).

Even though they are all equal before the Lord, some of God’s slaves have been specially called, gifted, trained and ordained to be steward-slaves in a special office ordained by Christ (Acts 6:1-6; 2 Cor. 3:9; 4:6; Eph. 4:11ff).  These stewards administrate (what deacons do)  and oversee (what elders do) God’s household.  Elder-servants minister by means of God’s Word through godly love (Matt. 28:18-20;  Mark 6:34; Acts 20:20; 1 Cor. 12:28, 31; Col. 1:28; 1 Tim. 1:3;  3:2, 16; 4:11-12; 6:2-5; Jas. 3:1 Rev. 7:17). They also serve in the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1).  Biblical ministers are to perform service in Christ for God’s people (2 Cor. 4:5) and do so with diligence (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 2:15).

These special servants primarily serve the Lord before serving others (Acts 20:19; Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:4; Eph. 6:6-7; Col. 3:22-24).  First and foremost, the servants, placed in their respective roles and particular office, are answerable to God.  They are to live for Christ, never to be ashamed of him (2 Tim. 1:8-11; 2:11-13), always focused upon Christ (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:21; 2 Tim. 2:8-13) and always ready to suffer for Christ (Luke 21:19; 2 Tim. 2:3-7; 3:10-12).

Ministers are to serve God’s people as Christ’s stewards, neither aiming to cater to or please people (Gal. 1:10), nor are they to fear people (Deut. 10:12; Eccl. 12:13; Ps. 118:6; Isa. 12:2; 2 Tim. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:17; 2:17).  No judgment based upon personal preferences or desire is to be leveled against them by fellow servants of Christ (Matt. 20:20-28; Rom. 14:1-4).

At the same time, church officers are called to train and discipline their lives for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7-11) so as to become and serve more and more like Jesus Christ the perfect Servant (Matt. 20:25-28; 23:11-12; Mark 10:43, 44; Luke 22:26-27; John 13:1-20; 2 Cor. 3:10; 1 Tim. 4:14-15; 6:11; Tit. 2:12; 2 Pet. 1:4).  After all, the pastor and elder are to model Christ (2 Cor. 12:18; 1 Thess. 2:10-12; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:3).  The pastor and elder are also to put to use the good gift(s) the Lord has placed upon them, as well as to fan the flame or rekindle the gift(s) of God in their lives (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6) in order to fulfill their primary role in Christ.

What do you think?

To find out more, pick up a copy of The Perfect Pastor and read chapter 9.

The Perfect Pastor?
By D. Thomas Owsley