Friday, January 13, 2012

Pastor Or Shepherd?

My favorite TV series of all time is the tragically short-lived Firefly.  It should be no surprise that one of my favorite characters in that show was Shepherd Darius Book.  In fact, I created a sermon around this character.

However, the reason for writing today has more to do with terminology than the theology of Book.  One of the things that was unique to the series was the use of "Shepherd" rather than "Pastor" as the title for religious leaders.  At first I thought it was a very odd change.  But the more I've thought about it the more it makes sense and I really like it.

There is actually a lot of Biblical basis for the title of Shepherd.

Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.  Jeremiah 3:15

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
   He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
   Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
John 21:16

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 
Acts 20:28

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 
1 Peter 5:2

Now the word pastor is actually used in the New Testament, in Ephesians 4:11:  So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers. The word itself actually does mean "shepherd", originating from the Latin pastorem.  So in essence and reality, Pastor and Shepherd mean the same thing.

The reason I prefer the title of Shepherd is because of the imagery.  When you use the word Pastor you conjure an idea of a religious leader and often a specific person.  The title is so ingrained in church history and even bureaucracy that it can seem more of an administrative term than anything else.  I have a lot of respect for many pastors I know, and many people with this designation do amazing work to help people.  But to me "pastor" has lost a little of its original meaning and impact.  It's so common that its essence has been diluted and it is often merely a word and not a source of inspiration.

Which brings me back to "shepherd".  When I hear the word I get a specific mental image of someone guiding and protecting their flock.  Combine that with the verses related to shepherds, sheep, and flocks, and I get a good idea of someone who should be leading a church or a group of believers.  I think I'd prefer to be led by a Shepherd rather than a Pastor because of what the first word seems to mean or imply.  And yes, I know that the effectiveness of the position lies in the person and not the title.  Even so, I think it might be good to change things up a bit and go back to the idea of a Shepherd.  I really doubt most church-goers know where "pastor" originates.

As a leader of Fans For Christ I have become a sort of pastor for the group.  I help organize the group, give sermons, and am looked to as a spiritual leader.  However, I don't want to be called pastor.  Instead, refer to me as "Shepherd Bern." 

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