Thursday, November 14, 2019

A Pet Test to Find a True Pastor of God's People

Rachelle, my wife, loves cats. I take the 5th regarding my charity toward the furry felines.

When Rachelle’s business takes her away, I must "fill in" to care for the cats. The cats love my wife, She's their caregiver. She's tender with them. She loves them. She shepherds them.

I am a hireling for the cats.

My wife is a true pastor to the cats.

Yes, that's right. Rachelle meets the biblical definition of what it means to be a pastor.

Rachelle doesn't "rule over" our cats. Cats weren't designed to be "ruled over" by anyone. It's not in their nature. There's a reason that attempting to do something without success is compared to "herding cats."

So too, when Jesus becomes our Lord and Savior, He makes it very clear to us that only He is to reign as King over our lives. Jesus alone is Lord.

Nobody else is to rule over His people.

Especially pastors.

A Pastor Never Rules 

In the average evangelical church, there's this concept that an elder, or a bishop, or a pastor, is someone who should "rule over" God's people.

The typical "ordained" pastor in an institutional church believes in pastoral authority over people because it’s been taught by those who trained him. Further, says the average evangelical pastor, the church “pastor" must only be a male, never a female, because the "pastor" must be in authority over his church like the husband is in authority over his wife and like a father is in control of his children.

But that's not how the New Testament defines a pastor.

The New Testament definition of a pastor looks more like my wife’s care of her cats than it does the traditional pastor's control over his church.

Am I being silly? I don't think so.

In the Greek New Testament, there are four different words used to describe the person whom the evangelical church calls "pastor," or "elder," or "bishop," or "ruler" of Christ's church. Not one of those four words speaks of authority or control over. Rather, each of them describes what my wife does for our cats.

Let me show you.

1. Pastor (Greek: ποιμήν, transliterated poimaino).

This word literally means "one who feeds, nurtures, and guides with tender care." The Greek Septuagint uses this word in translating the Hebrew of Ezekiel 34 where God condemns Israel's leaders for being abusive "shepherds" (pastors) of His sheep (people).
"You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally." (Ezekiel 34:4 NIV)
God then gives a Messianic prophecy of the coming of the Son of David when He declares:
"I will place over them one Shepherd (poimaino), My servant David, and He will tend them; He will tend them and be their Shepherd (poimaino). (Ezekiel 34:23)
The great Hebrew linguist John Gill says of Ezekiel 34:23:
The shepherd is not David himself literally; who though a shepherd, and the servant of the Lord, yet had been dead many years before this prophecy was delivered... but the shepherd is Messiah, as is expressly owned by the Jewish rabbi Kimchi; who says, "This is the Messiah that shall arise from his seed in the time of salvation: he is called David because his name agrees with him, which signifies "beloved", he being beloved of God and man; and because the son of David, of his seed according to the flesh; and because David was an eminent type of him, in his person, offices, afflictions, wars, victories, and exaltation; and because he was David's Lord and representative, and in whom his everlasting kingdom is established." (Gill's Commentary on Ezekiel)
Jesus accepts the words of the prophet Ezekiel as a reference to Himself. He said:
"I am the good shepherd (poimaino). The good shepherd (poimaino) lays down his life for his sheep" (John 10:11)
The Greek word poimaino (pastor) conveys much more than "to feed" (Greek: boske) sheep. The word poimaino (pastor) involves feeding, caring, guiding, guarding, and protecting.

David is the epitome of a good poimaino.
But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear." (I Samuel 17:34-37)
In the famous passage from John 21:15-17, Jesus asks Peter about his love for the Good Shepherd. In the conversation with Peter, Jesus uses both boske (feed) and poimaino (pastor/shepherd) in reference to His people:

Jesus: "Simon, do you truly love me?
Peter: "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus: "Feed (boske) My sheep."

Jesus: "Simon, do you truly love me?"
Peter: "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus: "Take care of (poimaino) My sheep."

Jesus: "Simon, do you love me?"
Peter" "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus: "Feed (boske) My sheep."

My wife pastors our cats. She protects them, cares for them, guards them, guides them, doctors them, and feeds them. I will sometimes feed them. I am a fill-in for the true pastor. You could call me a hireling. I feed the cats when my wife's away, but I don't pastor the cats.

A pastor by its very biblical definition is never one who "rules over" any thing. A pastor is one who truly cares for God's people.

2. Ruler (Greek: προστῆναι, transliterated proistami)

This word literally means "to assist, to help, or to manage." 

Unfortunately, the English King James translators of the Greek Bible sometimes wrongly translated this word prostenai as "to rule." For example, Paul wrote to Timothy and gave the qualifications of character for those who truly shepherd God's people. 
 "One that ruleth (proistami) well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; For if a man know not how to rule (proistami) his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)" (I Timothy 3:4-5 KJV). 
The word prostenai doesn't mean "to rule." It means to help, assist, or manage.

The King James translators came across this same word prostenai in reference to a woman named Phoebe. This time, King James translators used the proper English words to convey the true meaning of the Greek proistemi. Paul told the Christians at Rome to:
"Receive Phoebe in the Lord as becometh saints, and assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you; for she hath been a succourer (proistami) of many, and of myself also." (Romans 16:2).
Succourer is an old English word which means "helper."

Ironic, is it not, that English translators in the early 1600's wanted to make men "rule" over women and children, while at the same time, they wanted women and children to help and assist men?

Sounds like John MacArthur would have felt right at home in London during the early 17th century.

When proistami is properly understood in the New Testament as a word that means "to help, to uphold, to care for, and to support," then a pastor/shepherd is seen as one who "helps" God's people and not one who "rules over" God's people.

I Timothy 5:17 is a verse where proistami is used, and when properly translated, makes clear that God's people who "help" widows are worthy of double honor.
"Let the elders that rule ("protect, uphold, care for, and support") be counted worthy of double honor." (I Timothy 5:17). 
Who are these "elders" deserving of double honor.

Women. That's who. Let me prove it by showing you the context of I Timothy 5:17.

Paul has been discussing the need to care for widows in the church where Timothy ministered in the preceding verses:
"But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man. Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work." (I Timothy 5:8-10)
Then, in the verse immediately preceding the "double honor" verse of I Timothy 5:17 where Paul states that those elders who protect and uphold widows are worthy of double honor, Paul writes:
"If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed." (I Timothy 5:16). "Let the elders that rule ("protect, uphold, care for, and support" the widows just mentioned) be counted worthy of double honor." (I Timothy 5:17). 

Oh my. The "elders" deserving of "double honor" for caring for widows are the women believers who care for widows so as not to burden the church."

Greek scholars J.H. Moulton and G. Milligan point out that the word proistami was used as early as 256 BC by a Greek son writing to his father.
"There will be nothing of more importance for me than to look after you (proistami) for the remainder of life, in a manner worthy of you, and worthy of me." (Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament; Moulton/Milligan, p. 551)
 Paul's use of proistami represents the New Testament principle that God's people should be cared for by people with shepherding, caring, helpful, and encouraging hearts.

My wife caring for our cats comes closer to the New Testament definition of pastor/shepherd than a male ordained pastor who sees himself ruling over God's church.

3. Bishop (Greek: ἐπισκοπή, transliterated episkope)

This word means "one who looks upon, considers, has regard for, is concerned for, or cares for something or someone" (Kittles, Vol. II, p. 599f).

The word "bishop" occurs 6 times in the King James Version of the New Testament to identify leaders of the church, but without any clue to its meaning (see Philippians 1:1; I Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7; Acts 1:20; I Peter 2:25; and I Timothy 3:1).

However, there are other biblical texts where this word is used - episkopos (noun) or episkeptomai (verb) - and the context makes clear its meaning. The KJV translators chose other English words other than "bishop" to translate it (bold words below translate episkope)
When Jesus raised the son of the widow at Nain, the people observed the miracle and declared:"A great prophet has appeared among us. God has come to help his people" (Luke 7:16).
When Paul and Barnabas came to Jerusalem to report all that God had done among the Gentile people, James responded, "Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself." (Acts 15:14). 
Later, when Paul and Barnabas decided to go back and check on the churches among that had been established among the Gentile, they said, "Let us go back and visit (i.e. care for) the brothers in all the towns where we preached." (Acts 15:36). 
 In Matthew 25:36, Jesus said that those found acceptable at the Judgment would be those that had bishoped" Him: "I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited (cared for) me." On the other hand, those who would be condemned on judgment day have said of them, "I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me" (Matthew 25:43). 
"Religion that is pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27). 
A bishop is someone who "looks after," and "visits" and "cares for" God's people with regard and concern.

Every Christian is to be a bishop. Every Christian is to be a pastor. Every Christian is to be a minister.

A few Christians are called to serve others vocationally, but every single Christian is to serve others volitionally.

God forbid that a man or woman draw a paycheck as a "pastor" or as a "ruler" or as a "bishop" without a heart of care and concern for God's people. 

My wife's care for our cats better epitomizes the role of a pastor than any man who rules over God's people.

4. Elder (Greek: πρεσβύτερος, transliterated presbuteros)

This word simply means "older, or elderly."

An "elder" is someone older than the average.

Presbyteras, occurs in 1 Timothy 5:2 and  refers to aged women.

Paul uses this word in Philemon 9 where he says he is "an old man and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ."

Over the years, the word "elder" took on an additional meaning in the institutional church, but throughout the New Testament, the word presbuteros simply meant "old" or "mature."

When Peter wrote to some aged men and women who followed Jesus in the early church, he writes: 
"To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers..." (I Peter 5:1-4). 
 That last little phrase, “serving as overseers,” is not found in any of the early Greek manuscripts.

Elders are people who “care for God’s flock.”

Every Christian should be a minister. Every Christian should be a bishop. Every Christian should be a pastor. Every Christian, especially as he or she grows older, should be a shepherd of God’s flock.

A group of Christians may at times gather and determine that a gifted person among them is to be “set  aside” to fulfill a specific ministry on behalf of the assembly. However, nobody is to “rule over” God’s people.

If you want to find who has a true pastoral heart among your gathering of Christians, just think of the pet test I’ve given you.

My wife is fulfilling the call of pastor to our cats.

Pondering our pets and how we care for them keeps you on track to determining those who are true pastors of God’s people.

Those who focus on “authority,” “control” and “ruling” are disqualified from being considered pastors of Christ’s people, at least according to the sacred Scriptures.

Hat Tip: David Tinker, Quentin and Eileen Vennum, and Rachelle Burleson


David T said...

I got a hat tip! I'm so pumped right now! Seriously, I knew you would do justice to this, and you did not disappoint.

Wade Burleson said...


When you are ready, write a guest post for me in how your love for Scripture led you down a path that brought you both freedom and a deeper love for God’s truth, even when it’s opposite of man’s traditions.

I think your story will resonate with many.

Julie Chase said...

I love this using your cats to teach this it's awesome. Julie Chase

Christiane said...

sometimes it's the cats that do the shepherding: meet young Iris who is challenged by autism and her therapy cat, Thula:

We don't understand so much about how therapy animals reach people who are in need of help, but they do. We are told in Scripture:
" 7 But ask the animals, and they will instruct you. . . " (Job 12:7)
Maybe the animals are humble enough to reach that part of troubled people that has no voice, that place where the pain and the loneliness resides. Proud people seeking to 'rule' others could never serve in that capacity, no.
There is a lot of wisdom in sacred Scripture.

I think the one most needed quality for a Servant of God is humility, because it brings grace to its bearer, and this is the kind of grace that blesses those being cared for in healing ways.

Those cats?
"The life of every living thing is in His Hand. . ." (Job, chapter 12)
Sometimes God opens His hand in special blessing. :)

Rex Ray said...


“In the average evangelical church, there’s this concept that an elder, or a bishop, or a pastor, is someone who should “rule over” God’s people.”

Reminds me of Pastor Harbor telling HIS BOARD, “I’ve been trained how to run a church, and I will run this church.”

The first thing he did was push through “Church Bylaws” that gave a BOARD the right to ‘LEAD THE CHRUCH’.

Joe Misek said...

Wade, this is one of the most clever and eloquent treatments of the issue I have seen. I love it.

Rileydogbarks said...

Cats?!! Really?!!! Sigh....the illustration works but cats?!!! LOL

Wade Burleson said...


Thank you.




Wade Burleson said...


Seriously, you ought to write an autobiography of your life.

You’ve got more anecdotes, more stories, and more great illustrations than anyone I know.

Rex Ray said...


Thanks, but I’ve not done much; it’s just the people I’ve been around. My daughter text me about someone that wrote:

“I’m going to save a ton of money on Christmas by discussing politics at Thanksgiving dinner.”

RB Kuter said...

“I’m going to save a ton of money on Christmas by discussing politics at Thanksgiving dinner.”

Now THAT is a winner!

Christiane said...

Good Morning, REX RAY

Wade has a good idea about a biography. It would be a best-seller, nationally, is what I predict. Your stories are moving and funny and often at the same time, which is a mark of great writing and a very humane sense of humor.

So, may I also encourage you to BEGIN. Let Judy help you. She can read back to you what you wrote and you can hear it out loud and decide if that is what you wanted say or if you want to change it. And don't worry about things like grammar and spelling . . . small potatoes against your gift of story-telling and humor, which right now, the country needs.

Hope you are well. My best to Judy.
Hope you will take Wade's advice to heart. Have a wonderful Lord's Day.

Pam said...

In this blog, there are two words used - prostenal and proistami. If I read correctly, the word 'prostenal' is used in regards to rulers and 'proistami' is used in regards to Phoebe.
Could you tell me the difference between these words?

Wade Burleson said...


The truth is something worse.

Typos. :) I will correct them. Thank you.

Pam said...

Oh, ok. Happy to help! :)