The Invisible Pastor: What We Learn from the Scarcity of Identified Pastors in the NT

John Piper’s popular work, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, urges pastors to be devoted fully to Jesus Christ, not to their professional or public image. Howard Snyder addressed this same issue almost 50 years ago when he asked the question, “Must the Pastor Be a Superstar?” Yet, in American culture, there is still a noticeable tendency for pastors to be recognized and for their churches to be identified with their ministries. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the New Testament’s attitude toward the visibility and celebration of pastors, in order to determine how pastors should biblically consider their role. The paper will first establish a criteria for identifying actual pastors based on terminology and pastoral duties. It will then apply this criteria to the possible candidates who fulfill the pastoral role in the NT, so that what we may discern about their ministries may be analyzed. However, this research will show that, though there are those who exercise some of the pastoral gifts, it is quite difficult to absolutely identify but a few people who are called pastors or elders or presbyters in the NT. In other words, the pastors in the NT are virtually invisible.

After the scarcity of clearly identifiable NT pastors has been established, other factors will be considered that demonstrate a lack of attention paid to individual pastors. For example, the NT letters addressed to churches are directed to the “church” or to “saints” or “brothers.” In fact, the first instance of a letter addressed to someone called a presbyter by name does not appear until Ignatius’s letter to the Magnesians (Mag. 3.1). Furthermore, this lack of identification of NT pastors is in the context of the fact that pastors were ubiquitously serving the early church. Timothy and Titus were told to establish them (2 Tim 2:2; Titus 1:5) and Paul gives detailed instructions for their qualifications (1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9). Paul calls them together at Miletus (Acts 20:17–38). Peter writes to them far and wide (1 Pet 5:1–4). And the office continues till this day.

The paper will conclude with the implications for pastors, given their virtual invisibility in the NT. For instance, the invisibility of pastors argues for a shared approach to pastoral ministry among fellow elders, none of whom overshadow the others. The invisible pastor also encourages a decentralized mode of service, since the pastor is not the center of attention, carrying all of the work of the ministry on his own shoulders. Moreover, invisible pastors do not spend their time trying to be seen and known, but are content to serve Christ faithfully, even if nobody else cares except the Lord whom they serve.

2 thoughts on “The Invisible Pastor: What We Learn from the Scarcity of Identified Pastors in the NT”

  1. I appreciate the committemnt
    I appreciate the committemnt here to non-celebrity fellow elders laboring faithfully, but the proposal seems to fall short in its goal. The writer misses Phil 1:1 and the “overseers” in the salutation….

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