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Ministers in the church.

Who? What? ÖMe?

Frank Gough+


1. What is the definition of a Priest?

o What does a Priest do?

2. What is the definition of a Pastor?

o What is it that a Pastor does?

3. What is the definition of a Christian Minister?

o What is it that a Christian Minister does?

I want to address these three things: Priest, Pastor, and Minister. I want to talk about what they are, and I want to talk about what they are not. Letís start with the term ďCHRISTIAN MINISTERĒ. First off, we need to define our term. The word MINISTER as a noun comes from the Middle English ministre, which in turn is from Latin minister, meaning servant.

My Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines the term MINISTER this way:

1 one who gives aid or service in the name of Jesus Christ, such as someone who ministers to the sick; or  2 a : one who officiates or assists the officiant in church worship  b : a clergyman especially of a Protestant communion who is not a priest or presbyter; (emphasis mine)   c : the assistant to the rector (or priest-in charge) of a Catholic house, especially of the Jesuit order.

Letís look in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?

 A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Q. What is the ministry of the laity? 

A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; 1. to bear witness to him wherever they may be and, 2. according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christís work of reconciliation in the world; and  3. to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.

The Ministry of lay persons is to bear witness, in what you say and do, to Jesus. It means that wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, the life and actions of a lay person in the church should always show to others the presence of Christ, and according to the gifts, the Spiritual Gifts God has given you, you should be carrying on Christís ministry, his servanthood, in the world. You know, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, sheltering the homeless, things like that.

What? Surprised? OH! I get it! You thought all that was the job of the hired minister, you thought it was the job of the Pastor! Especially all that ďVisitingĒ part. Thatís why you hired the Pastor in the 1st place: to do the job, so that you wouldnít have to.

OK. Lets talk, then, about the job of a Pastor.  The word PASTOR is from the Middle English pastour, which in turn is from Middle French & from Late Latin pastor; meaning herdsman or shepherd, and is taken from the early Latin verb pascere, to feed.

We tend to think of a pastor in terms of a shepherd. Thatís okay. But then we have this warm-fuzzy idea of what a shepherd is and does. A shepherd is a person who is entrusted with leading a flock of animals, usually sheep, from one grazing area to another. He leads the sheep from place to place for the purpose of feeding them.

But thereís more. While the shepherd is doing that, he is also trying to make sure that the herd is not set upon and scattered by wolves. And on the way he is trying to make sure that the sheep donít wander away from the safe path or get themselves into places or areas that are dangerous for them. If a sheep wanders away from the safe path, the Pastor will go and find that sheep, and try to bring that sheep back into a place or path of safety.

Have you ever seen that warm-fuzzy picture that depicts the Good Shepherd carrying a little lamb either in his arms or across his shoulders? Do you know why he was carrying it, instead of having it walk like the rest of the sheep?

When a lamb develops the habit of repeatedly wandering off, the shepherd will find the lamb, and deliberately break one of itís legs

. The shepherd must then carry the lamb for a couple of weeks. During that couple of weeks, the lamb, because of itís being so close to the shepherd for that period of time, it develops a bond with the shepherd, and usually will never wander off again. It wants to be close to the shepherd. If the lamb or sheep continues to wander off, it is usually slaughtered and eaten.

And another thing. You know that big stick a shepherd carries? Itís not for hitting or driving off wolves. Most shepherds used either a sling and stones, or a bow and arrows for driving off predators. No, the big stick, or staff of a shepherd, was used for, how can I say this, for ďguidingĒ the sheep. Itís to keep the sheep moving in the right direction.

But the pastorís primary job, is to lead or herd the sheep to where they need to go in order that they can be properly fed. His chief responsibility is to feed the sheep, by presenting to them good grazing.

Have you ever spent any time watching a baby eat? I have. It fascinated me to feed my children. You get a jar of baby food and a rubber-coated spoon. You put a spoonful of strained peas or whatever into their mouths. They swallow half, and then spit half out. You scrape the part they rejected off their chin, put it gently back into their mouths. Once again they swallow half, and spit half back out.

Itís just like spiritually feeding people in church. You give them a good serving of spiritual food, and they spit half of it out. So later on you have to feed them the same thing again, and again, Öetcetera.

But babies donít just eat while youíre spooning the Gerber Baby Food into their mouths. They are ALWAYS putting things into their mouths. And teaching a little baby to eat on its own is a fascinating thing.

But one of the things you have to teach a little one, as they learn how to eat for themselves, is you have to teach them to carefully examine their food first, and to know what theyíre putting in their mouth, before they eat it. If they donít learn to examine what theyíre eating then it would be possible for them to get something in their body that would be damaging and detrimental to them.

The same thing is true on the part of a Christian. Christians need to be very, very careful about what they eat in terms of spiritual food.

Donít be gullible. Donít receive and believe everything you hear just because the person who says it claims that he or she is of God or wears a slave collar like as an Anglican or Roman priest does.

I keep telling you to check out what I say to you. Compare it with what you read in Holy Scripture. Of course, that presupposes that you actually READ Holy Scripture from time to time.

In other words, donít check your brain at the door when you come into church; into any church.

Now letís talk about our third term. Weíve looked briefly at what it means to be a Christian Minister, and weíve looked briefly at what it means to be a Pastor or Shepherd. Letís look, again only briefly, at what it means to be a Priest.


Etymology: Middle English preist, from Old English prEost, ultimately from Late Latin presbyter :

It means ďone authorized or endowed to perform the sacred rites of a religion especially as a mediatory agent or representative between humans and God; specifically : an Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, or Roman Catholic clergyman, ranking below a bishop and above a deacon.Ē

Lets go back to the Book of Common Prayer.

Q. What is the ministry of a priest or presbyter?

A. The ministry of a priest is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as

1. pastor to the people;

2. to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church;

3. to proclaim the Gospel;

4. to administer the sacraments; and

5. to bless and declare pardon in the name of God.

Letís recap that description. A priest is to:

* be pastor to the people; (we talked about that)

* to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church; (Thatís to plan for the life, governance, and continuance of the Church)

* to proclaim the Gospel; (thatís primarily preaching, but itís also teaching Godís Word)

* to administer the sacraments; (thatís the administration of Baptism, celebration of Holy Eucharist, anointing of the sick and the dying, etcetera), and

* to bless and declare pardon in the name of God. (thatís the blessing of marriages, and of new birth, the blessing of a penitent, etcetera, and hearing a personís confession of sin, and declaring the absolution of their sins.)

Notice that it does not say anything about being a Christian Minister, those things we looked at on page 855. Thatís the job of every Christian, and although that does include the priest, (I would hope), being a Christian Minister is NOT necessarily a priestly function, nor is part of the job of being a Pastor.

OK, letís look very briefly at what the Bible says about a Priest. If we look in Exodus at the establishment of the Aaronic priesthood, that is, the priests of God to the Hebrew peoples the ministry of the priests in the Old Testament was to draw near to God, for the purpose of representing the people before God, and then to represent God before the people.

This word REPRESENT is a compilation of 2 words: re = to do again; and present = show, reveal, or make manifest. In essence what it means is to reproduce.

Godís intention for the priesthood was for them to come near to himself and experience him personally: and then to reproduce that reality and experience of Godís character and nature to the people.

For a priest, the reproduction of that reality and experience comes in teaching and equipping the people of God to experience the reality of God for themselves. It is helping them to see and recognize the gifts God has given them. It is teaching them and helping them to learn how to begin to use those gifts of the Holy Spirit for themselves, and for the benefit of others. The job or role of a priest is equipping the People of God to continue the Ministry of God in Christ Jesus.

What is my job as your Priest? You can find it here in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer on page 856. My job is to train and equip you for the Ministry to which you are called by God.

You, as a Christian, are therefore called:

  • to bear witness to Jesus Christ wherever you may be, and,
  • according to the gifts given you, to carry on Christís work of reconciliation in the world; and
  • to take your place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.
  • SO. Welcome to the Ministry.