Shortly after the discovery of fire and just before the end of the last ice age, I was a student at Harding. In one of our ministry classes, we were supposed to write a book review on a certain preaching textbook. I remember in my paper, critiquing the fact that the author used the term “pastor” when referring to the “minister.” Ugh, I had so much yet to learn.

October is “Pastor Appreciation month.”

Just visit any Christian bookstore or turn on your local Christian radio station, everyone, everyone else that is, is talking about it. If you are one of the folks who never gets to sit with your spouse during Sunday morning’s worship service, never gets a three-day weekend, has “elders’” meetings before Sunday School, often neglects your children from working 60-70 hours a week while being on call 24 hours a day, and you have about 200 volunteers deciding too much of your future, this month’s special recognition of “pastors” holds some significance.

Our “non-denominational denomination” needs to realize that “Pastor” isn’t a denominational term. It isn’t copyrighted, no one owns the word “Pastor.”

After over 20 years in ministry, I can tell you, it gets old when the mayor introduces you during a prayer breakfast, or when you read a book to an elementary classroom and you are introduced, or when you perform a funeral and you are introduced, it gets old saying, “Technically, I’m not the pastor…” Not only does it get old, it’s kind of silly and pointless.

Why do so many of our congregations struggle to identify our pulpit-filling, teaching, counseling, leader, and “face of our congregation” as a “pastor?” It seems to be more about power and control than it does Biblical interpretation. We seem to like to keep our “preachers” under the authority of the elders more than we want to empower our preachers to unleash all of their God-given gifts. We’d rather emasculate our preachers than risk having them, potentially, become too powerful to control.

Why is that we have to have at least two men to have an “eldership,” but we can have a congregation with a “preacher” without any elders if there are none “qualified” to serve as elders? How have we overlooked the fact that Paul gives instructions to the “evangelist” for the evangelist to select the elders in 1st Timothy? Because we are inconsistent. We split hairs, and in doing so, we split heads and break hearts.

There’s nothing in the Scriptures forbidding us from identifying the “minister” as the pastor or “a” pastor. Do the passages in the Bible regarding this topic require a plurality of elders, pastors, or shepherds? I actually prefer the term Shepherd to elder, and words do have meaning in our minds. I’m not interested in arguing over the “number” of those who serves, as much as I am for standing up for the folks whom God says are a “gift” to the body in Ephesians 4:11 ff..

May we all come to a better understanding of the role of those who preach, teach, guide, protect, counsel and pastor our flocks, and may we express our appreciation for those who serve our congregations as they follow God’s calling. May we do so with honor and integrity, and may we do so with sincere hearts. May we empower our servant-leaders to dream big dreams for God’s Kingdom, and to lead us to love God and our neighbors wholeheartedly.

craigcottongim@gmail.com