Do You Want Your Church Leaders To Be Shepherds or Builders?

The title of Pastor has been popular among Protestants since the mid-18th century.  For centuries before then the title was Father, as it still is among Roman Catholics. The Pietists, who were at their peak in the 18th century in Germany and Scandinavian countries, used pastor to reduce the distance between the clergy and the laity, as the social status of clergy grew ever loftier.  “Pastor” in Latin means shepherd.

I am surprised that the pastor title is used so extensively even in American Evangelical circles.  There are two alternatives.  One is “Reverend” and the other is “Preacher.”  Reverend is used frequently among mainline churches, as Rev. John Doe. I think Pastor is the loftier title, used only for those pastoring a congregation.  Rev. applies to all ordained, whether or not they are pastoring.

I am proposing a new title for the leader of a suburban church.  Pastor is very appropriate for a village church.  Jesus self-identified as a shepherd.  Paul, however, self-identified as a master builder, and the Greek is architect on (1 Corinthians 3:10).  A good title for doing ministry Paul’s way would be Mb. (Master Builder) or Arch. (Architect).  That kind of title is most appropriate for a new suburban strategy.

In the Gospels, Jesus used the shepherd analogy eight times, five in his teaching on the Good Shepherd.  He used “church” only once.  Paul, on the other hand, in his letters implied the shepherd image only once.  He used the word for building up fellowship twenty-five times and the word for church 103 times.  Jesus discipled his twelve followers and taught the basics of relationships with God and each other.  Paul, on the other hand, planted and led local congregations in many cities.  He is really the founder of the worldwide Christian church on earth.  I enjoy studying how he did that.

Key, I think, is that he thought in terms of a fellowship builder.  The Greek word is oiko-domeo, to build a house.  The oikos is literally the physical house, and then by extension the people living in it.  The Greeks had no name for family other than oikos.  By extension, oikos became the fellowship we call church, which met for centuries in private homes—house churches.  His letters went to the house churches (the fellowships) then existing in large cities.

Most of the twenty-five times Paul used the oikodomeo term were in verb form.  He was continually encouraging the house churches to “build up the fellowship.”  I like to put the “up” in the English—to build up the fellowship.  To the Ephesians Paul writes, “From Christ the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

In the same Ephesians chapter, he encourages leaders “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”  A popular translation is “to equip.”  Five other passages where that Greek word is used suggest getting something in alignment, organizing.  My personal preference is to translate that the purpose of church leaders is “to get God’s people organized for works of service.”

Centuries of pastors looked at the Latin version “to edify” (aedos-facare, with aedos as an edifice, a building with facio meaning to make) and translated edification to their advantage, to give spiritually uplifting messages. That rather bland function takes on a whole new meaning when leaders are encouraged to get their people organized for works of service, something that is crucial to a suburban strategy for planting and building churches.

To the Corinthians Paul points out that “everything is permissible, but not everything builds up.  Accept this maxim:  If what you are about to say and do does not build up the fellowship, don’t do it.  Think of how many existing churches would become more attractive if their members took Paul’s precept seriously.

What is your reaction to church leadership as building rather than shepherding?

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