Quick Facts

  • Pronunciation: poi-mā’n
  • Strongs Concordance: #G4166
    • a herdsman, esp. a shepherd
      • in the parable, he to whose care and control others have committed themselves, and whose precepts they follow
      • metaph.
        • the presiding officer, manager, director, of any assembly: so of Christ the Head
          • of the church of the overseers of the Christian assemblies
          • of kings and princes
  • Appears 18 times in 18 verses in the New Testament
  • Common translations:
    • “shepherd(s)” (14x)
    • “pastor” (1x)

How and where poimēn is used in the New Testament

  1. Matthew 9:36 – “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.”

  2. Matthew 25:32 – “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;”

  3. Matthew 26:31 – “Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.'”

  4. Mark 6:34 – “When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.”

  5. Mark 14:27 – “And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP SHALL BE SCATTERED.'”

  6. Luke 2:8, 15, 18, 20 – “In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. … When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” … And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. … The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.”

  7. John 10:2, 11-12, 14, 16 – “”But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. … “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. … “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, … “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”

  8. Ephesians 4:11 – “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,”

  9. Hebrews 13:20 – “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord,”

  10. 1 Peter 2:25 – “For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.”

My Perspective

The word poimēn is used primarily in the gospels with a few additional references in the epistles. Jesus often used poimēn to describe either himself, or a role that was missing in the lives of people who he was observing. Jesus uses the word of himself on multiple occasions.

When understood alongside of other attributes and characteristics of Christ, such as love, it becomes clear that poimēn, when not speaking of shepherding sheep, but people, is seen as an act of gracious care and concern over a group of people.

Only one time is the word used to describe a saint in the body of Christ and is often translated ‘pastor’ (Ephesians 4:11) Interestingly, for all the use of the word ‘pastor’ throughout churches around the globe, the word only appears this single time in the New Testament .

Unfortunately, the word has become disassociated with it’s roots, and many saints do not make a connection between ‘pastor’ in Ephesians 4:11 and ‘shepherd’ in John 10, Matthew 9, and Mark 6.

I believe that if we’re going to use the term ‘pastor’ in the local church, we should expect that it is based on poimēn as described by Jesus. Furthermore, Ibelieve it’s fair to say that if the attitude and actions of a person claiming to be a poimēn are not consistent with John 10, they should not identify themselves as such, nor should the body of Christ.

Jesus taught and demonstrated what poimēn means. We know that God likewise has given the local church people with the same heart and actions. These are the poimēn among us. Just as those who bear the title are not necessarily true poimēn, so there may also be those in the local church who are true poimēn despite bearing no title or recognition.

Admittedly, I don’t believe that Jesus’s discourse in John 10 was mainly to describe shepherds in the church, but himself and his own role. Nevertheless, scripture is multi-dimensional and is profitable for instruction.

With that in mind, what can we learn about the role of shepherd/pastor within the local church by examining Jesus’s description in John 10?

Here are some attributes present in the shepherd Jesus speaks of (himself):

He knows the sheep

I believe this indicates that the shepherds know the people whom they shepherd. Not as acquaintances, but intimately. The know their stories, their background, their troubles, their victories. By necessity, this means that poimēn invest time into relationships.

The sheep know HIM

I believe this indicates that shepherds are known by others. Relating to one another is a two-way street. We typically reveal to others the same they entrust relationally to us. If shepherds are to be known, they must be people prone to making themselves accessible and vulnerable.

He enters through the gate of Jesus, not over the wall

It is my opinion that ‘entering through the gate’ demonstrates the acknowledgement and respect that the sheep belong to God – not the shepherd. Jesus is the door of the sheepfold. By example, shepherd in the local church should conclude that Jesus is the head of the sheep, not the shepherd. No shepherd can usurp Jesus’s role in the lives of the sheep. Any thing they do for the benefit of the sheep is submitted to the the headship and authority of the Chief Shepherd. They possess no authority of their own.

He leads the sheep.

They go ahead of them Shepherds are not passive. They initiate. They watch for wolves. They lead the sheep. They lead them to nourishment. They do this by example as evidenced by the sheep following their voice.

He watches for and respond to wolves

Shepherds watch out for their sheep. The wolf is not another saint whom the sheep listen to, but influences that are intent on destroying the sheep and or their faith in the chief shepherd.

He doesn’t act as hired help

The shepherds motivation is not financial gain. Their incentive is love for the sheep. When trouble comes, they don’t flee because their concern is for the sheep.

He lays down their lives for the sheep

The good shepherd is willing to die for their sheep. Death can come in many forms. Death to self, ambition, ego, and even physical death. Shepherds will do anything for the health and well-being of the sheep. If Jesus is the example of the shepherd, the only rights a shepherd can claim is to lay down his life for the sheep.

He is followed by the sheep, the sheep follow his voice

The good shepherd is followed by the sheep. They want to follow them. They’re not coerced or commanded to do so, but do so naturally. The sheep respond to the voice of the shepherd. From the teaching and examples of poimēn in John 10 and elsewhere, one cannot conclude that a ‘pastor’ has authoritarian rule over the saints. Shepherds, if sheep don’t follow you, something is likely amiss in one or more of the above attitudes and dispositions. Don’t blame the sheep. Don’t beat the sheep. Love the sheep. Lead the sheep.


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