Once a year, a small college in Michigan publishes a list of words that should be banished from the English language. These include words that have become incredibly over used, and still others that have been twisted to mean something entirely different from their original meaning.
As a writer, I am acutely aware of the power of words to shape and limit thinking, create attitudes and, thereby, change behavior. In the case of modern Western Christianity, we have a number of words that are so commonly used that the ideas they convey have become part of our culture, are rarely questioned, and, as a result, have changed our behavior in ways that are detrimental to our spiritual growth and the growth of the Kingdom. On top of that, they are non-biblical!
Here’s the third in my series of nominations for words which should be banned from the Christian’s vocabulary: ‘Pastor.’
This one hits close to home for so many 21st Century Christians. This refers, as we all know, to the professional Christian who leads the congregation, brings a sermon in Sunday morning worship services, and is expected to visit the sick, preside at funerals and weddings, and basically do the ‘ministry’ things that the folks don’t want to do themselves. You can tell who he is, as his name is often on the sign in front of the church building. In larger congregations, we see various derivations of this, as in ‘worship pastor,’ ‘youth pastor,’ ‘executive pastor,’ etc.
Just as in the case of the ‘clergy’, so, too in the case of the ‘pastor’ there is no biblical support for the idea, nor the word. The concept of one person leading a group of Christians is unknown in the New Testament. For example, there are 29 instances of Christians gathering mentioned in the New Testament, and not one mention of a ‘pastor.’
Instead, the Bible clearly conveys the concept of ‘elders.’ These are the folks who arise up out of the local group of Christians, prove themselves by their spirit and their service, meet the list of qualifications mentioned in Titus and I Timothy, and are charged with the task of overseeing the local folks. They are always plural, and are recognized for their qualities of character, not their education.
The only instance of the use of the English word “pastor,’ is in Ephesians 4:11,
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,
Here’s the problem with that. The word which is translated here as “pastors” appears 18 times in the New Testament, and is always rendered “shepherd.” Of those, seven times it refers to the people who literally mind the sheep, in nine it refers to Jesus, and in the other two it refers to the ‘elders’. It clearly does not refer to a class of professional Christians, but rather to the elders who are called to shepherd the congregations. Perhaps the reason it is translated as “pastor” has to do more with the day jobs of the people who did the translating, than it does to any reason from the text.
Like all of these non-biblical words that have ingrained themselves into our mind-sets, the practical impact on our thoughts, attitudes and behavior is detrimental to our spiritual growth and the growth of the kingdom.
As long as we have a paid professional to do ‘ministry’ on our behalf, we don’t have to do it ourselves. Magically, we are absolved of half of the ‘one-anothers’ in the Bible. It is much easier just to hang out for an hour or so on Sunday mornings, donate some money, and think that we are being ‘Christians.’ So, the pastor system encourages apathetic, spectator Christianity.
And, since the training of pastors emphasizes ‘doctrine,’ they naturally are concerned with making sure everyone believes, in every nuance of doctrine, the same things that they do. This emphasize has produced incredible division among Christians. We now have over 40,000 denominations, and every year brings hundreds, if not thousands of church splits. At the heart of all this division is the concept of the ‘pastor.’
If Christ indicated that the world will know we are Christians by our unity, does our incredible division indicate that we are not?
Let’s banish the word ‘pastor’ from our vocabulary and add it to the list of words that have no basis in scripture, but have become common usage among 21st Century Christians. We now have ‘ministry,’ ‘clergy,’ and ‘pastor’ in our list of words that should be banned.
In my next post, I’ll have a couple of more words that should be banished from Christian vocabulary. In the meantime, I’m open to nominations from you. Which other words are non-biblical, convey concepts that cause us to think and feel is such a way as to hinder our spiritual growth and the growth of the kingdom?
What other church practices do you accept without question?
Dig a little deeper. Read “Is the Institutional Church Really the Church?“