10 Key Bible Verses on Pastoral Ministry

This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.

All commentary notes adapted from the ESV Study Bible.

1. 1 Peter 5:1–3

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. Read More

The most common NT term for church leaders is elders. Apparently elders served as leaders in all the churches, including those in the northern part of Asia Minor, showing that this was the typical form of leadership in NT churches. Peter, who is an apostle (1 Pet. 1:1), also serves as a fellow elder and an authoritative witness of Christ’s ministry, especially his sufferings. Peter often reminds those to whom he writes that suffering precedes glory (cf. 1 Pet.1:6–7, 1 Pet. 1:11, 21; 1 Pet. 2:4, 7, 1 Pet. 1:19–20; 1 Pet. 3:13–14, 18; 1 Pet. 4:6, 13; 1 Pet. 5:4, 6, 10).

Elders (v. 1) are entrusted with the responsibility to shepherd the flock (Gk. poimainō, “to tend sheep; to act as a shepherd”; cf. John 21:16; Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11), from which the English verb and noun “pastor” is derived (Latin pastor means “shepherd”). Elders are also entrusted with exercising oversight (translating Gk. episkopeō), which is the verb form of the noun “overseer” (Gk. episkopos), which is another title for those who serve as elders (cf. Acts 20:28). The terms “shepherd” and “exercising oversight” emphasize the function of elders (i.e., they are to feed and watch over “the flock”), while the title “elder” focuses on the office. Peter now gives three exhortations to elders as to how they are to carry out the responsibilities entrusted to them: (1) elders are to “shepherd” the church gladly or willingly, in accord with God’s will, instead of doing it out of a sense of compulsion; (2) they are to do the work eagerly and not out of greed or for shameful gain (Gk. aischrokerdōs, “in fondness for dishonest gain, greedily”); (3) they are to serve as examples to the congregation, and not use their place of leadership as a means to be domineering.

2. 1 Timothy 3:1–7

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. Read More

Qualifications for Overseers. After dealing with issues that arise from corporate worship, including the barring of women from the role of teaching and authority over the assembled congregation, Paul now discusses who should exercise these roles. Paul does not give a job description of the pastor but instead describes the character of one who would serve in this office. The list of qualities is not intended to be exhaustive but pictures a person of mature Christian character, one whose faith has had tangible impact on his behavior (unlike Paul’s opponents).

The terms overseer, “elder,” and “pastor” (or “shepherd”) are all used in the NT to refer to the same office. In Titus 1:5–9 “elder” and “overseer” are used interchangeably. In Acts 20:28 Paul tells the Ephesian elders (Gk. presbyteros, Acts 20:17) that “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [Gk. episkopos], to care for [Gk. poimainō, “to pastor, serve as shepherd of”] the church of God.” Peter also writes, “I exhort the elders [Gk. presbyteros] among you, as a fellow elder . . . : shepherd [Gk. poimainō, “to pastor”] the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight” (1 Pet. 5:1–2). Paul commends the role of serving the church in this way as a noble task. “Overseer” stresses the role of watching over the congregation (see Heb. 13:17).

Above reproach heads the list as the key qualification for an overseer; it is then expounded by the words and phrases that follow in these verses. The meaning of husband of one wife (Gk. mias gynaikos andra) is widely debated. The Greek phrase is not common, and there are few other instances for comparison. The phrase literally states, “of one woman [wife] man [husband].” (1) Many commentators understand the phrase to mean “having the character of a one-woman man,” that is, “faithful to his wife.” In support of this view is the fact that a similar phrase is used in 1 Tim. 5:9 as a qualification for widows (Gk. henos andros gynē; “one-man woman,” i.e., “wife of one husband”), and in that verse it seems to refer to the trait of faithfulness, for a prohibition of remarriage after the death of a spouse would be in contradiction to Paul’s advice to young widows in 1 Tim. 5:14. Interpreters who hold this first view conclude that the wording of 1 Tim. 3:2 is too specific to be simply a requirement of marriage and not specific enough to be simply a reference to divorce or remarriage after divorce. In the context of this passage, the phrase therefore prohibits any kind of marital unfaithfulness. (2) Another view is that “husband of one wife” means polygamists cannot be elders. Interpreters who hold this view note that there is evidence of polygamy being practiced in some Jewish circles at the time. On this view, the phrase means “at the present time the husband of one wife,” in line with other qualifications which refer to present character. On either of these views, Paul is not prohibiting all second marriages; that is, he is not prohibiting from the eldership a man whose wife has died and who has remarried, or a man who has been divorced and who has remarried (these cases should be evaluated on an individual basis). (3) A third view is that Paul is absolutely requiring that an elder be someone who has never had more than one wife. But that does not fit the context as well, with its emphasis on present character. On any of these views, Paul is speaking of the ordinary cases and is not absolutely requiring marriage or children (cf. 1 Tim. 3: 4) but is giving a picture of the typical approved overseer as a faithful husband and father. able to teach. This is the one requirement in this list that is not necessarily required of all believers. It is also not required of deacons. Thus, it is a distinguishing skill required of the pastor/elder. It yields the only reference in this list to his actual duties.

The management of one’s own household is highlighted as a qualification for eldership by the greater amount of discussion given to it. The home is the proving ground of Christian character and therefore the preparation field for ministry. This makes further sense in light of the picture of the church as “the household of God” (v. 15).

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3. Hebrews 13:7

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Read More

leaders. See also Hebrews 13:17; the repetition may indicate some disharmony in the church. Those who spoke the word of God (likely referring to doctrinal instruction; see Hebrews 6:2) are especially significant in their positive model of faith. The primary role of leaders is to preach and teach God’s Word, and their lives should reflect the Word that is taught.

4. 1 Timothy 5:17

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. Read More

rule. The role of elder (pastor) involves authority, particularly in preaching and teaching. Labor (Gk. kopiaō), translated “toil” in 4:10, implies hard work that makes a person tired. Such exertion in “preaching and teaching” calls for double honor, which could include financial remuneration (5:18). “Double” could imply ample provision, or financial provision in addition to proper respect. worthy. Paul does not actually require that pastors be paid a double amount, but Paul clearly indicates that pastors should receive generous remuneration.

5. Acts 20:28

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. Read More

Pay careful attention to yourselves. Spiritual leaders need first of all to guard their own spiritual and moral purity. the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. The last part of this phrase refers to the blood of Christ poured out in his atoning death on the cross (cf. Rom. 3:25; 5:9; Eph. 1:7; etc.). The reference to God in the first part of this phrase (“the church of God”) most likely is a reference to Christ as the head of the church and as “God the Son,” the second person of the Trinity. Alternatively, if God the Father is in view in the phrase “the church of God,” then “his own blood” is a reference to the blood of God’s “own,” that is, of “God’s own Son” (which would be a legitimate alternative reading of the Greek).

6. Titus 1:5–9 (commentary from v. 6 and v. 9)

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. Read More

Above reproach (repeated in Titus 1:7) summarizes the main point, which the rest of the list (vv. 6–9) fills out: there should be no legitimate accusation that could be brought against the elder that would bring disrepute on the gospel or the church; his life should be seen as worthy of imitation. husband of one wife. His children are believers can also be rendered “his children are faithful” (Gk. pistos). The primary argument for rendering it as “believers” is that in the letters to Timothy and Titus, this word almost always refers to saving faith. Those who think it should be rendered “faithful” would argue that no father can guarantee the conversion of his own children, but he can ordinarily ensure that they act in a “faithful” way. Also, the parallel passage in 1 Timothy 3 says only that the children must be well-behaved, not that their conversion is a requirement for their father to be an overseer. The concern in the passage is that the children behave appropriately and are not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. The word “children” (plural of Gk. teknon) would apply only to children living at home and still under their father’s authority.

able to give instruction. It was common in the ancient world to emphasize one item in a list by placing it at the beginning or end and giving it more attention than the other items. The ability to teach is the distinguishing mark of a pastor or elder. This includes both teaching what is right and refuting error. The reason for this emphasis is clear from what follows (vv. 10–16). sound doctrine.

7. 1 Thessalonians 5:12–13

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. Read More

respect those who labor . . . admonish you. The young Thessalonian community was not adequately appreciating and respecting its leaders. are over you. The Greek term proistēmi here means “rule, direct, be at the head of,” and would refer to the elders in the church. Be at peace among yourselves may suggest (though not necessarily) that there were tensions within the community.

8. 1 Timothy 4:1–2

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared . . . . Read More

The consciences of the false teachers have been seared (that is, desensitized and rendered ineffective) by their rebellion against the gospel. Cf. “good conscience.”

9. James 5:13–14

*Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. Read More

There is another ABA pattern in these verses. James begins with those suffering (A), then addresses the cheerful (B), and concludes with those who are sick (A). He alludes back to 1:2, where the one under trial was to “count it all joy.” Though “sick” (Gk. astheneō) can also mean “to be weak” (even spiritually weak, as in Rom. 14:1), when used (as it is here) without any qualifiers, it usually refers to physical sickness. Elders were pastors and overseers (cf. Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7; 1 Pet. 5:1–2), known for wisdom and maturity, who functioned as leaders in the churches. This provides evidence for a plurality of elders in all the churches to which James was writing, for he simply assumes a sick person could call for “the elders of the church.” Some think that anointing . . . with oil was medicinal or sacramental (as in Roman Catholic extreme unction at death), but it is best seen as a symbol representing the healing power of the Holy Spirit to come upon the sick person (cf. the use of “anointing” for symbolic consecration to God’s use and service, both in the OT [Ex. 28:41] and in the NT [Luke 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38; 2 Cor. 1:21; Heb. 1:9]). In the name of the Lord means it is God, not the oil, that heals.

10. Romans 12:3–8

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Read More

The diversity and unity of the church is illustrated by comparison to the human body. Just as the human body is one with many members (lit., body parts, limbs), so the church is united though it is composed of many members. On the theme of the church as the body of Christ, see also 1 Corinthians 12 and Eph. 4:4, 12–16.

The variety of the body is evident from the various gifts God has given the church. in proportion to our faith. Paul instructs prophets to speak only when they have faith or confidence that the Holy Spirit is truly revealing something to them, and not to exceed the faith that God has given them by trying to impress others.

Christians should concentrate upon and give their energies to the gifts God has given them, whether in serving others, teaching God’s Word patiently, or in exhortation and encouragement in the things of God. Thus Paul spotlights three attitudes necessary in exercising particular gifts: (1) those who have a special gift of helping others financially should never give grudgingly but always generously; (2) those who lead often have no one to whom they are accountable, and hence they must beware of laziness; (3) those who show mercy to the hurting must not grow weary but continue to minister with gladness.

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