Jesus is building His Church (Matthew 16:18) and it will look and function very differently than the current one we see which is often man-made and functions on a business or political model and organizational structure.
Today we see churches that are led by a “pastor.” He is the shepherd of the local church, the flock. The Greek word we translate “shepherd” is poimen. This word, in various places, is listed as the work that elders do (shepherding). Paul instructs the elders in the church to be both shepherds and overseers, saying: “Keep watch over yourself and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseer. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). So, caring for the sheep was the role of the local elders who had oversight of the life and health of the local body of Christ.
Peter refers to elders as shepherds in 1 Peter 5:1-2: “To the elders among you… Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing…”
Whenever the Bible talks about spiritual shepherds in the early church, it is always talking about elders. And, the only time the word poimen is translated as anything other than ‘shepherd’ is in Ephesians 4:11, where it is translated as “pastor” instead: “So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.”
This single aberrant translation of the word poimen has caused a whirlwind of confusion in the Church. This is the one and only time the English word “pastor” appears in most popular translations of the Bible. And there is no good reason to translate the word any differently in this instant than the way it is translated everywhere else. Everywhere else it is translated “shepherd” and refers to one of the many roles of the elders that lead each local church. Plus, the English word “pastor” means ‘shepherd’ anyways. So nothing is gained by using a different word. Other than to confuse how the early church – and thus today’s biblical church, should function.
It is abundantly clear the elders were the only shepherds in the early church. There was no solo pastor who headed up the organization. Simply a team of elders (men and women) who acted as spiritual parents – spiritual mothers and fathers. Yet this bizarre, once only, translation of the word poimen has disconnected it from all other uses of the exact same word, setting the imaginary “pastor” apart from (and often higher than) the other elders. And, confusion reigns as we function with a non-biblical model of the church that man has created, designed, and built.
And, one step further … the term “pastor” in the five-fold ministry team of Ephesians 4:11-12) is a five-fold pastor or shepherd (to translate it correctly). This means that, like the others in the five-fold ministry team, this person is trans-local, moving from one local church to another. Churches that they are relating to. And, their task is to teach and train the people (the Bible calls it “equipping”) in how to care for one another. They teach the sheep about ‘body ministry’ so that the 59 “one another” verses in the New Testament can be carried out and fulfilled by the people – not by a paid professional pastor.
Thus, the sheep minister to the sheep under the spiritual oversight of a team of local elders whose biblical mandate is to “shepherd” … and the shepherd / five-fold pastor continues to help and equip them as they learn and grow in their abilities. The local elders oversee the ‘shepherding’ to make sure all are being cared for correctly – but they don’t do the work of the ministry – the people do. This is what Paul was referring to in 1 Corinthians 12 regarding all of us being members of the body, connected to one another.
As a result, the role of a local, full-time, paid, professional pastor is done away with and the life of the local church is overseen by a team of elders … and the “pastor” or “shepherd” within the five-fold ministry of Ephesians 4 is free to fulfill their function the same was that the apostles and prophets do – trans-locally.