The Modern-Day Pastor: Is It Biblical?

The Modern-Day Pastor: Is It Biblical? July 5, 2024

            Photo by Thirdman/

The recent news of esteemed Dallas pastors Tony Evans and Robert Morris stepping down due to “past sin,” has undoubtedly caused some to question their perceived perfection. It never occurred to me that they or anyone else would be absolutely perfect, but the fact that these “sins” are only now being acknowledged after a number of years, leads me to question the men’s integrity. Additionally, seeing comments from believers who try to justify it or make it sound like it’s okay or even honorable, is disturbing. 

If the pastors had acknowledged it when it happened, I would probably agree it was noble. But there is nothing noble about continuing to mislead people into thinking that nothing had been done, and after all these years of success, book signings, abundant praise, and numerous money-making ventures—after portraying yourself as near “perfect” in public to both believers and non-believers alike—to now come out and shock us all and cause confusion, betrayal, and speculation after you’ve enjoyed “your time,” is not honorable. 

My impression is that they and others intended to take it to their graves, and the only reason they’re speaking up now is because they were called out—but that’s just speculation. Ultimately, the issue here isn’t one of sin— the issue is one of a lack of trustworthiness and integrity both which are needed to lead God’s people faithfully and effectively. Since issues such as these adversely affect the church community and the Lord’s reputation to outsiders, we should examine church congregational structures for changes that could be made going forward. In this post, we’re specifically discussing if the modern-day pastor as it exists today, in America, is even biblical and if not, what we should do about it. 

What Is A Pastor?

The Greek word translated as “pastor” in the New Testament is poimēn (ποιμεν), which refers to a “herdsman” or “shepherd” who tends to a flock, such as sheep or oxen. The role of a shepherd is to watch over the flock, attend to the needs of each individual sheep, and lead them to food and shelter. This involves tasks like leading them to green pastures, cleaning and shearing them on a regular basis, checking for and removing harmful parasites, and even hand feeding those who require it. 


Importantly, the shepherd’s role is one of service, not authoritative rule. As Jesus told his disciples, whoever desired to become a leader among them, must be their servant (Matt. 20:26).The shepherd has no special authority or rights over the sheep, but rather he sways them by providing for their needs. Eventually, they begin to recognize and trust his voice and they begin to feel safer, viewing him as a leader. The sheep follow the shepherd because the shepherd can supply them with food and safety—not because the shepherd commands or is deserving of obedience. 


In line with the meaning of “shepherd,” poimēn can also be used metaphorically to refer to a captain, chief, or leader. When Paul stated that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost” (protos) (1 Timothy 1:15), he was likely referring to his role as a shepherd, rather than labeling himself “the worst sinner” as some have interpreted, which doesn’t make any sense. 


Being a leader, who was also previously a blasphemer, persecutor, and violent person, Paul was an example of God’s mercy and patience to others who would follow in his footsteps and believe in the Lord for eternal life (1 Tim. 1:16). As a shepherd, one of his primary duties was to lead Gentiles to God and guide them into his kingdom, which he accomplished through preaching the Word. Additionally, Paul cared for the needs of those in his charge (1 Cor. 16:1-4) and defended them spiritually from predators (Acts 20:28-31; Gal. 5:7-12; Gal 1). 


This metaphorical use of “shepherd” is applied to leaders in the church. The church pastor, like the shepherd in the field, is called to feed, protect, and tend to the flock under their care, without exercising domineering authority, or expecting special honor. In the next section, we’ll look at what the Bible says about pastors.

Scriptures Concerning Pastors

The biblical role of a pastor is clearly outlined through various Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments. 


“Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer. 3:15)

“The shepherds are senseless and do not inquire of the LORD; so they do not prosper and all their flock is scattered.” (Jer. 10:21)

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. 3 “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord. (Jer. 23:1-4)

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:1-4)

Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth 2 before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us. Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:1-3)

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:10-11)

King of Assyria, your shepherds slumber; your nobles lie down to rest.Your people are scattered on the mountains with no one to gather them. (Nahum 3:18)

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:1-5)

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (John 10:11-13)

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, (Hebrews 13:20)

“For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:25)

“The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 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. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

7 “‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.“ (Ezekiel 34:1-10)


This scriptural foundation portrays the pastor’s role as one of service, leadership, and accountability, rather than one of mere authority. In addition to caring for the sheep’s needs and strengthening them when they’re injured or weak, a pastor’s job is to inquire of the Lord and lead God’s people with knowledge and understanding. In the event that sheep go astray, they must seek them out to try and bring them back. 


But how should this look in practice? Well, Jesus, the humble and selfless Savior, is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). He dedicated most of his ministry to teaching (Mark 4;1; Mark 6:34), feeding (Matt. 14:15-21) and healing (Matt. 12:9; Matt. 14:14; Lk 8:42:48), as well as making disciples and sending them out to do the same. 


When he laid down his life, and died on the cross (Jn. 10:15), paying the price for the sin of the  world, he protected the sheep against death, the ultimate predator. His sacrifice gave all people everywhere a chance to be reconciled with their Creator, the God of Abraham, and to receive eternal life through trusting in him. Christ, the Good Shepherd (Jn. 10:11), has set the example for all pastors who care for God’s flock.

Are Modern-Day Pastors Like Biblical Pastors?

May the Lord bless the few who follow in his footsteps, but unfortunately, many pastors today don’t look a thing like Jesus. I’m sorry, but this is the truth. It’s only “criticism” if you take offense to it. And if you feel offended by my words, maybe you should take some time to reflect if they refer to you.


But like a shepherd, a pastor should protect and care for the individual and collective needs of the people under their care. But today, we seem to have it backwards. The people instead cater to the needs of the pastor they’ve glorified and exalted, who probably doesn’t even know they exist, let alone know their names. 


In case you’re wondering, yes, I used to adhere to this type of church model—that is, until I saw how a congregation could start to go astray and become ineffective because of faulty leadership on the part of one person. Not only do I mean unbiblical teachings, but also practices that lack God’s wisdom or common sense, and the people just go along with it without questioning anything, because hey, ”it’s what the pastor wants.”


There is absolutely no reason for one person, man or woman, to sit above everyone else in a congregation, with a “highest power” and a final say-so above all. The only one who should be elevated to such a high position in the church, is the Lord, himself and his Word. He’s the only one qualified and deserving. While some will argue that “James” was “the leader” of the Jerusalem church, nothing in Scripture explicitly states that this was the case. It’s more reasonable to assume that he was either one of the apostles, elders, or both (Acts 15:23; Gal. 1:19). The idea that he was something more, comes from the book of Acts.


During a period of discussion, James simply proposed an idea, summing up what everyone else was probably thinking, but the apostles, elders, the Holy Spirit, and the rest of the church agreed with it (Acts 15:22-29). He didn’t decide alone. Similarly, King David, a shepherd himself, would seek the counsel of the leaders of Israel and sometimes the people when making decisions, and then implement them together under his leadership (1 Chr. 13:1-6). However, when he chose to make a decision on his own and ignore wise advice, he brought a disastrous and deadly plague upon the people (1 Chr. 21:1-6).


“Without deliberation, plans go wrong; but with many advisers, they succeed” (Prov. 15:22 CJB). Proverbs 11:14 says, “Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers.” (NLT) The Word promotes a plurality of counselors and there has long been a multitude of overseers leading God’s people in the Bible. Therefore, there’s no reason that one should stand out above the rest. 


Furthermore, a pastor is not merely someone who speaks at a podium once or twice a week and interprets a Bible passage for a crowd. A church pastor is someone who gets up-close and personal, tending to the physical and spiritual needs of the people, and teaching through leading by example (1 Tim. 4:12). They demonstrate God’s command to love one another, not just through words but also through actions, just as Christ did.


12 Then, when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done for you? 13 You call Me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’; and you are correct, for so I am. 14 So if I, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I gave you an example, so that you also would do just as I did for you. (Acts 4:36 NIV)


Christ is both Teacher and Lord—all the same he is Pastor and Teacher (Eph. 4:11). He instructed his disciples not to be hypocrites, to seek the Holy Spirit, and to treat others as they would like to be treated. He warned against false teachers, encouraged mercy towards others, and promoted peace-making. He exemplified feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and forgiveness to others and taught the importance of avoiding oaths and retaliation. 


He didn’t delve into the concept of “divine election,” the pursuit of your best life now, or the complexities of theological terms like antinomianism. He solely focused on teaching and embodying the Word of God, leading by example in living according to God’s principles. This is the kind of teaching God is looking for—not something that comes from a seminary degree. Considering this, how many “pastors” of today do you see as resembling Christ?


The role of a pastor in America often strays significantly from the biblical model. In some churches, pastors have taken on administrative and executive tasks that surpass the scriptural emphasis on shepherding the flock. The hierarchical structure and CEO-like responsibilities of many American pastors contrast sharply with the servant leadership and shared authority found in the New Testament. 


Additionally, the weighty salaries, celebrity status, and business-focused approach of some present-day pastors appear contradictory to the humble, self-sacrificial example set by Jesus and the early church leaders. Though we may be fond of our tradition, a closer look at Scripture reveals a vision of pastoral ministry that differs greatly from the modern American pastoral role. Therefore, we can conclude that the present-day “pastor” role, in general, is not in line with the Bible. 


Here’s why this is important: we shouldn’t anticipate perfection from pastors, teachers, preachers, or anyone else for that matter. We all err and I don’t see the point in airing all our dirty laundry in public, famous or not. Our forgiveness, salvation and approval come solely from the Lord. Besides, if we all honestly did that, the odor would be so unbearable, we’d all pass out. 


But if you decide to elevate yourself or let others elevate you to a prominent position among God’s people, it’s important to consider that because the human mind is rather simple, people will generally expect perfection from you, which you must be able to deliver—in other words, you need to be darn near flawless. Trouble is, no matter how good one thinks they are on the surface, the truth is that we’ll always have faults—past, present, future, or hidden. Therefore, none is qualified to sit above all except Christ.


To clarify, although we all mess up, and so falling short of God’s standards shouldn’t automatically disqualify someone from church leadership, it’s still vital that any leader over God’s people be honest, trustworthy, free from credible accusations, and able to lead by example. So when they no longer meet those requirements, they and those equal in authority around them must ensure they relinquish their leadership position then—not decades later.  The shepherd is appointed by God to watch over his flock and care for them without harming them, and no one should put that at risk for pride, status, or to avoid scrutiny or shame.


The good news is that God forgives. The bad news is that people generally don’t and even if they do, it won’t be easy. Plus, you can be certain that it won’t happen without outsiders tarnishing the church’s reputation and God’s name. But the main point is this: although it’s biblical to have leaders, to elevate one human being in the church above all others is a mistake and can cause a lot of issues as we see in the case with Evans and Morris and multiple celebrity pastors before them.  


USA Today quotes Deborah Whitehead, a religious studies professor at the University of Colorado Boulder as saying,“It’s a familiar pattern in American Christianity – popular pastors spread their faith, invite scrutiny and often face fallout for their indiscretions.” She stated, “One of the perils of celebrity is that you have this high profile status and a lot of the fame and fortune that comes with that and as well as additional publicity for your mistakes,” Whitehead said. “It can definitely generate controversy around the faith.”

This couldn’t be more true and applies to both celebrity as well as non-celebrity pastors. A single “CEO-like” pastor can result in others having unrealistic expectations with some believing the renowned pastor is flawless, reminiscent of how some perceive their favorite celebrities. This situation can result in abuse of power and physical abuse with victims being too afraid to speak out because of the leader’s significant role. 

So what is the solution? The key to solving the problem is to stop following traditions that elevate mankind and start following the teachings of Scripture that exalt God. Ultimately, the issue is that the modern “office” of “pastor” shouldn’t exist in the church to begin with. Where could it have originated from other than human pride, like many other things? It doesn’t come from seeking structure and organization—-it comes from seeking titles and elevation. 


God’s universal church consists of a number of leadership teams (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5), among which a pastor is only one part (Eph. 4:11). The only “head pastor” is Jesus Christ. Perhaps if we didn’t place “pastors” on pedestals, there would be no reason for them to “step down” in the first place. Then, there would be no need for scoffers to feel satisfaction yet again. There would be no pressure to hide harmful sins committed to try and keep up an image, and there would be no need to try and convince the world yet again how God and the church are not a joke. 


Unless otherwise noted, THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


About Miranda Turner
Miranda Turner is an author, blogger, and podcaster. In her writings, she discusses God, the Bible, and anything else related to glorifying the Lord. Find out more at You can read more about the author here.

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