Why Calling me "Pastor" Creeps me out a bit.

zombie-pastorEntering my 7th year on mission in the Cloud Forest Region of Ecuador, there are still folks who insist on calling me “Pastor.”  I have never liked that title applied to me.  In fact, I am amazed that it is a coveted title.  Not amazed really, because here, it’s one of very few spiritually paid positions.  Christians love titles.  It actually makes me giggle when I hear people referring to themselves as “Bishop” so & so or “The Apostle” thus & such.  But, that’s their issue, not mine.

I’ve taken many of those Ephesians 4 Spiritual Gift assessment tests and they always come out the same.  My giftings, in order, are: Prophet, Teacher, Apostle, Evangelist, and Pastor.  Yes, Pastor is last…  It’s further complicated when some gets adamant about cementing by hyphen the “Pastor-Teacher” gifting.

The assumption, although I don’t know why, is that missionaries are automatically Pastors.  Early on, I was convinced that I must force myself to fit in that role because it just made sense.  When folks called me Pastor in the first couple of years on the mission field, I accepted it, but it always sounded “out of tune,” and a bit creepy.  I thought that it was just my rebellious nature that refused to submit to all the pastoral preconceptions.  I tried to be a Pastor, but it always felt like I was caught in an undertow and being drawn away from where and what God wanted me to be.

Someone even told me that I needed to start a church and “pastor” it.  It never happened.  I am a missionary.  I am not a pastor.  When she said that, she meant that I should be the head of a local church or regular gathering of local believers. There are times when I need to be pastoral, and I’ll admit I still struggle with it, but more often than not, I am quite comfortable operating in the prophetic.  Now, before you get your shorts in a bunch, it doesn’t mean I go around predicting the future all the time.  But it does mean that God puts thoughts and questions in my head and heart which I am compelled to communicate to others.    I’ll develop that further in another post.

A friend recently asked me if I’d like to be in on the ground floor of starting a new seminary.  I love the idea and will work towards that end as the Lord leads.  In looking at and developing curriculum for this seminary, one said that we need to “teach Pastoral Theology.”  That creepy feeling hit me again.  If teaching Pastoral Theology means teaching people how to be pastors in the most commonly accepted church sense, then I’ll have to bow out of that segment.  Earlier today on twitter, I said:

“In 2013, let’s take a break from “Pastoral Theology” & reconsider, theologically speaking, what it means to be pastoral.”  

I think there is a huge difference between being pastoral and being a pastor.  Truth is, my wife is way more pastoral than I am.  I’m OK with that in this wonderfully upside-down Kingdom.  But she, even with her enhanced super-human pastoral powers would not want to “pastor” a church.  Together, we make a great ministry team of missionaries.  When folks call me “Pastor” now, I just say, “I’m not a Pastor, I’m simply one who has been sent.”  I think it creeps them out a bit.  So, in that light, I’d like to ask a few questions:

Is it a good idea to assume that missionaries be pastors?  Why or why not?

Is there a justifiable and biblical difference between being pastoral and being a Pastor?

Should we draw any conclusion from the fact that “Pastor” is only mentioned once in scripture?


For Related posts, see:

Obey your “Pastors,” and submit to their authority… Wait a minute? Where’s that in the Bible?

Are Christians Bound to the Practices of the Primitive Church? 

Tyndale Quote on Politics and Christian Leadership 

*The image in this post is taken from one of David Hayward’s (AKA NakedPastor) works which you can see here.


0 thoughts on “Why Calling me "Pastor" Creeps me out a bit.

  1. Well laid out, and I’m in full agreement.
    A couple thoughts:
    First, scripture says the one spiritual gift we should pray to receive is the gift of the prophetic. I would venture to say the gift of pastor-ing would be last on my list; and knowing what so many pastor go through, it would be last on a lot of lists.

    Second, I believe every christian is a missionary… regardless of giftings… or rather, in deep consideration of their giftings. And to be effective missionaries, we need to see the entire spectrum of giftings put into play from everyone playing – the prophets, the apostles, the pastors, the encouragers, etc. You hinder the power of the Holy Spirit when the whole body isn’t allowing it to be exercised through it.

    Third, the pedestal-ization of pastors is humorous to me. Take the administrators, the organizers, the teachers, the shepherds, etc out of the mix… you often end up with a great person who is often really good at speaking to crowds… and making them feel really good about themselves and/or the situation… while doing not-much-at-all. A truly good pastor understands his small part in the big picture made up of a whole bunch of other small parts – ie we’re all small parts!

    Lastly, I believe that if there is a title to be sought, it should be missionary–or sent ones. Because all other titles fall short of the call on us all. Missionaries till the soil, roll in the mud, get filthy dirty, and they do it all for the glory of God.

    None of that sounds very pastoral to me… thank God.

    • Miguel says:

      Pete, thanks for the comment.

      I think it’s important to to distinguish the gift of prophecy, 1 Corinthians 13:2, 1 Corinthians 14:1, Romans 12:6 etc. with the gift of Prophet Ephesians 4:11

      I also agree with the general idea that all are missionaries in the sense that all are sent. But, check out this post by a fellow worker here in Ecuador entitled, “Why everyone is NOT a missionary.

  2. Barbara Prince says:

    I can agree with you in that I hate “titles” in general and I’m not a big fan of the “organized” church. I’m a member of one. I teach Sunday School. I don’t like most of what I see because I’m always looking for what I read in my Bible. When I hear the term “pastor”, I’m always hoping “shepherd”. That not what I find, but I keep hoping. I think only you can know how God has called you to serve Him. I have a greatly admire missionaries. I don’t get to talk to them often. When I was young, I thought that would be the greatest thing in the world to be. Don’t ever let man lead you where God has not told you to go.

    • Miguel says:

      Barbara, thanks for joining the discussion.

      Couple of things I’m curious about:

      What, in your view constitutes “organized” church? Is organization bad?

      Also, and more importantly, what’s the difference between a pastor and a shepherd?

  3. Rob Kampen says:

    Like all things emphasised, and out of balance, beware the consequences. Pastor is only one of the five mentioned in Ephesians. We need all five ministries operating and in harmony and like all gifts, used for the building up and equipping of the saints for: yes – being salt and light in the world and making disciples of all nations.
    I see all Christ followers in these roles, we all need to be engaged in the Kingdom purposes, there are no spectator roles or recipients only. At times we must all receive encouragement, correction, shepherding, guidance, teaching ……. AND we must also be giving the same things to others according to our gifts and abilities as the Holy Spirit leads.
    It’s a shame there are so many who go to church looking for something for themselves, for what they can get out of it – so perverted – rather than looking for opportunities to bless, share, encourage, build-up, teach, prophecy, heal, give …… maybe the emphasis on pastor caters to this immaturity of the folk – maybe it even creates the immaturity??

    • Miguel says:

      Rob I think you’ve hit on something here.

      In your last line you said, “maybe the emphasis on pastor caters to this immaturity of the folk – maybe it even creates the immaturity??”

      If the Ephesians 4 giftings are “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” Ephesians 4:12,13 then any action or philosophy away from that purpose will not only prevent the church from maturing, but counter-act existing maturity.

  4. David Bartholomew says:

    The worst thing about the title “pastor” is what it has come to mean. It takes all kinds of gifting – teaching, administration, shepherd, etc. – and hangs it on one person’s back. Paul clearly says that the Spirit gave some one gift, some another gift, and some yet another gift, not all the gifts to one person. And to be more correct, these were functions the Spirit gave people to have in the Church, not one person to have to do all the work. It is to be God working many parts together as one body
    This is what the legacy church has done to itself. Official church workers took on certain functions as part of being religious professionals, and the “laity” said, “Hey, while you’re at it, here are a few more things you can take care of”. And now someone who has been gifted as a pastor just wants to be a shepherd but not a teacher or a business manager, is looked at like they are unfit to serve as a true pastor.

    • Miguel says:

      David, thanks for the contribution to the discussion.

      All one has to do is look at the Job descriptions that churches put out when looking for a new pastor to see what “it has become.” I’m particularly interested in one aspect of your comment. “And now someone who has been gifted as a pastor just wants to be a shepherd but not a teacher.” In my Presbyterian days, the pastor was referred to as the teaching elder.

      If a pastor doesn’t want to or is not capable of teaching, can he be a pastor?

      • David Bartholomew says:

        Biblically, the function of a pastor is a shepherding role. The function of a teacher is to teach.

        But the legacy church took to enjoying the oration of the teacher and made the teaching elder – good title, actually – more prominent than elders God gave other functions to. Eventually they gave the role and title of pastor to anyone called into ministry, expecting them to exercise all of the gifts (especially teaching), and many of the functions, many of which they had to/have to fake.

        Referring to someone as a teaching elder is very good. There are others who should be referred to as shepherding or pastoring elders. Even administrative elder is an okay title. But none should be referred to as “the pastor”.

        Yet, as one who is still in the process of breaking away from an institutional church, I still call the man who does it all for our congregation, “Pastor”. It’s a hard habit to break.

  5. There’s a view out there (and I think it’s correct) that pastor and teacher have ruled the roost in evangelical circles for generations and the other gifts to the church have been eclipsed and forgotten. See Alan Hirsch, Neil Cole etc. But I’m sure you’re well aware of this stuff.

    Many believers have become so accustomed to this that they have redefined pastor (or shepherd) as a sort of managing director and redefined teacher as ‘lecturer’. Some have bundled the two into one ‘role’ or ‘position’. But it just doesn’t work like that!

    Something Alan Hirsch is clear about is that it’s not easy to recognise our own gifting in this regard. He offers the tests you mention (maybe you even used his test process). But he also did a great exercise in Nottingham in the UK recently. He asked for an informal show of hands – ‘who thinks this person is apostolic, who thinks they are prophetic’, etc. It was very revealing! There were good levels of agreement. What you are affects what you do and the people around you pick up on what you do.

    Clearly, we all operate in different combinations of these gifts for building up the church. And perhaps every single believer is gifted to some degree in all of them. The ‘clergy’/’laity’ divide is nowhere near as clear as some people would suggest. It’s probably more tradition than reality.

    • Miguel says:

      Chris, good to see you brother…

      I am familiar with Alan’s test. In fact here’s my “score.”


      Prophetic 47
      Teaching 27
      Apostolic 21
      Evangelistic 17
      Shepherding 15

      Profile for Prophetic + Teaching

      The Prophet Teacher has a compelling sense of calling and a broad range of understanding. The PT orientates their learning and knowledge around what they believe God is calling them to. Passion is added to intellect, but social awareness may be lacking. The PT has a unique ability to illustrate and explain the great beliefs and causes of faith. The motivation of the Prophet Teacher is to communicate and express the message of God’s greater kingdom message and purpose.

      What bugs me about these tests is that some of us are intuitive in their taking. We almost know how to answer in such a way as to achieve the desired tag. but more than this, I wonder if we should be in an ever ready state of flux. Can we move in and out of these giftings as the Lord directs, or are we fixed with occasional outbursts of the other gifts as needed?

  6. Claudia Labrador says:

    In the culture we work in, I think when the people and local pastors call you ‘Pastor’, it isn’t in the sense of how the world has redefined and reshaped the role in the corporate leader sense. I think their addressing you pastor is a gesture of high respect and regard for recognizing you just as you described yourself–a sent one, a prophet, teacher, apostle, evangelist–one who genuinely cares for them and genuinely administers all that God gives you to disciple them with the Love of the Lord. Perhaps one day you will no longer hear or recognize the word pastor when the people address you as such, but rather will only see the outpouring of genuine love and respect they have for you. They have learned much by your example. I know this, because I have been witnessing this for 7 years. You are very blessed.

  7. Tim Day says:

    I’ve had people call me “Pastor” because I spoke once at a homeless outreach dinner – nothing on the scale of what you guys are doing. It does creep me out, even though I agree with Claudia, I think many people use it to show respect or to acknowledge that they notice you love them and that you allow Christ to love them through you.

    I’m not sure being last in a list equates to being least. I’m not sure the Ephesians 4 gifts are really static or indefinitely linked to one person for life. I think the passage is about God’s generosity toward His church: that He showers her with gifts.

    I’ve been trying to use those times when people try to label me to engage them in a real conversation.

    Ideally “Thank you for calling me pastor, but I’m really just Tim. How are you doing?”

    So far that’s led to some good discussions, though I don’t know if it’s had any real impact.

    I believe you’re familiar with the story of a shepherd who is out searching for His lost sheep. I think missionaries are part of that search. So – keep pastoring, bro. Or whatever you’d like to call it 😉

  8. Miguel says:

    Tim, thanks for participating…

    You raise a good question as to whether or not the Ephesians 4 gifts are static. I’d like to develop that idea further in another post. But off the cuff, what biblical foundation would you base that from?

  9. David Woods says:

    From what I read in scripture, missionaries ended up being the apostle more than the pastor. In the epistles, and in the seven letters to the seven churches in Rev. The Apostles are the missionaries who planted the church. These are the people writing letters to the local churches commending them for right doctrinal behavior, and correcting them where they doctrinally fell short of God’s intentions.

    The pastors may have been part of the local church receiving the letters from the missionaries (apostles), but I don’t see the missionary-pastoral connection otherwise. It seems to me that the missionaries were more of a spiritual “general manager” over a large number of churches if anything.

  10. Miguel says:

    Thanks David, Happy New Year…

    Do you see a difference between the Apostles and the gift of apostle as stated in Ephesians 4? If so, does that change your thinking at all?

    I find your proposition regarding missionaries as GM’s both interesting and scary (personally speaking)

    • David Woods says:

      Happy New Year Miguel,

      I personally don’t see where the Bible clearly defines the Aposle’s role, or differentiates between the gift and the office. I really don’t even see where it establishes the office AS an office, but it seems to just generally use it as a description of a person.

      What I see this person doing in scripture is the work of a missionary, and then GM to all his established churches. However, this was done in part from prison, not an institutional office building, so I don’t see that it’s necessarily established in scripture that it’s SUPPOSED to be that way, just that it happened that way back then.

      As seen in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and other books, God is perfectly capable of establishing specific offices, and defining leaders roles if He wants. I don’t see that this was done in the NT. The ripping of the veil may be a clue as to why He didn’t.

      As far as missionaries (apostles) being GM’s, I don’t see that necessarily established either, it just happened out of necessity at the time. Like I said in your other post, http://www.rawgod.com/2012/12/returning-to-1st-century-church-requires/ the way things were in the first century aren’t necessarily how they were meant to be in the 21st century. A lot of the things done back then were probably done out of necessity, and not necessarily established office. That necessity being the low numbers of people who actually understood the truth about what God wanted for us post-resurrection. Now that half the world presumably understands these things, many things that were necessary back then, may not BE necessary today.

  11. Tim Day says:

    Miguel, I did say I’m not sure they are static. But here are my still-forming thoughts, since you asked.

    I’ve been messing around with interlinear Bibles and explanations of Greek grammar online. I know, I should bite the bullet and go study Greek.

    Apparently the word “gave” is in the aorist tense, meaning – from what I have read – the time of the action (past, present, or future) wasn’t a primary concern of the author.

    Given that the previous passages are about what God is doing throughout all generations, and the following passages are about ways we are to grow in being like Him, I’m thinking that gifts of all kinds are continuously coming from Him.

    Then, in various other passages we are either commanded to earnestly desire gifts like prophesy or to behave in ways that “shepherd” (protect, guide, care for one another) or to go as ones who are sent, or to teach on another, or to make disciples…

    The only real criteria for gifting seems to be the way the Holy Spirit distributes the gifts.

    So, I am moving away from thinking that the Ephesians 4 gifts are statically assigned to a person for life, but haven’t quite arrived at a conclusion that they are dynamically assigned. Either way, I think we can be confident that if we are obeying His call then He equips us as needed.

    I’m looking forward to your post!

    • Miguel says:


      Yes! You should “επιμείνει στις προσπάθειές της και να πάει ελληνική μελέτη.”

      Actually, this is an Aorist Indicative Active “gave” here. It’s a bit of a strange beast. It is the same form of the verb in Ephesians 4:8. But, any argument that says these gifts (all of them) are no longer operative for purely linguistic reasons will be a weak one. I have a draft article on this very subject that I’ll finish and release in the coming days.

      In the mean time, I’ll be happy to check any references other might have on the implications of the verb usage in this passage.

  12. As followers of Christ, we are all to be missionaries. Once we realize that it will creep us all out to be considered a “pastor.” Like you, I function in the prophetic gifting, a lot, but there are times when God’s DNA has me flowing in the pastoral or apostolic gifting. While I don’t want to minimize the movement of the Spirit it really it comes down to our being adaptable to the situation out of obedience and abandon. It may require us to speak with a prophetic voice, care with a shepherds heart, be a catalyst like an apostle…etc.

    In the end we are sent to make disciples and some of us flow in the gift to the Church in the APEST. Still we are all missionaries to the culture where we are sent.

  13. Derech says:


    wonderful article it also freaks me out when people do things without substance. It is like being fake, and not true to your wonderful design, it kind of inhibits one out of others expectations to radically be yourself.

    I think we live so in normal expectations that we wil not miss the greatness that awaits us because our expectations quite frankly denies us that. What if you where something that has not existed before, like a dvd player in the Kingdom, what an identity crisis to be called a gramaphone player….

    the term pastor is wonderful if those that want to use it understands and comprehends it’s full meaning but it is quite full of tradition and without weight when it is used mainly to justify a certain culture. (i do not call the waitress, waitress al the time i want to honour her by calling her on her name)

    We are all a bit of pastor in some way anyway….but i think the crown go’s to those that has sleepless nights over the needs of others, spiritually and physically…and i do not think it is everybody’s role, it is needed but we cannot all be made that way. Some of us need to lay awake at night pondering scriptures and if the community’s doctrine is ok or something or asking God direction for everybody.

    For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function,…

  14. David Croom says:

    Ephesians 4 says that the five-fold gifts are given until we all come to the fullness of the measure of christ and mature enough to stop being victims of doctrines and people that use them in craftiness.

    The object is to work ourselves out of the five-fold function rather than create a permanent position. The apostles, prophets, etc, are given UNTIL. We should have that UNTIL as an objective and expect the body to mature beyond her need for us.

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