The Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) says of the pastor’s office, “The office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” The meaning of the term pastor in the 2000 BFM is not in question, though some try to make it unclear. However, three of those who served on the 2000 BFM committee clearly understood what the word “pastor” meant to those who worked on the statement. “Drs. Albert Mohler, Chuck Kelley, and Richard Land released a statement clarifying that when they wrote “pastor” 22 years earlier to address the handful of SBC women who had begun to claim that title, they’d meant simply ‘pastor.’ Any pastor.” Add to this, Max Barnett, who also served on the 2000 BFM committee, told me that he understood it as did those mentioned; he said, “the term pastor simply meant pastor.” Max and I serve together at Trinity Baptist Church.
At Trinity Baptist Church, Norman, OK, we use the title pastor for positions other than the pastor (in single-pastor churches) and senior pastor (in multi-pastor churches). We do not use it for every position occupied by a male. It is also never used for any position occupied by a female.
When we use it of a male, he must meet all the biblical, moral, and functional qualifications required in Scripture of a pastor; there are no exceptions. Consequently, we can have men serving in leadership positions, even staff, who are not designated as pastors. Further, we may have men in our church who meet the biblical qualifications of a pastor, but we are not obligated to designate them as a pastor.
The term pastor is explicitly reserved for the service of some men in the local church (1 Tim 3:1–7; 1 Tim 2: 9–15). Additionally, while the terms pastor, elder, and overseer are not synonyms, they are used interchangeably for the same person or office. By this, we are made aware of the breadth of the office that typically in Southern Baptist life, we refer to as pastor (Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 3:1, 5:17; 1 Pet 5:1–4.) Using these terms for the local church leaders refers only to men.
Resultantly, the qualifications remain the same whether one is called pastor or pastor with a preceding adjective such as senior, assistant, executive, or associate. If a person serves in our church but does not meet all the biblical qualifications of the office of pastor, we do not designate him as pastor. We can choose from many other terms, such as director, coordinator, or leader, without calling the person a pastor if they do not meet the qualifications of a pastor or require the designation.
To separate the term pastor from the inspired biblical qualifications of this inspired designation is biblically unjustifiable and ultimately vulgarizes the sacred Scripture and this ordained term.
Accordingly, I do not believe the specific issue facing the SBC is whether or not an adjective can precede the term pastor, but rather, whether the person bearing that title is biblically qualified to be called pastor. To say it another way, the adjective before pastor may be somewhat flexible, but the noun pastor, with its associated requirements, is not.
The question we should raise is, why use the term pastor as a designation that betrays, confuses, or even contradicts the biblical meaning of the term? Why not instead use different titles, which leave the biblical criteria for holding the biblical office of pastor clear and undisputed?
Whatever the goal in allowing those not Scripturally qualified to become pastors, even if it is to be more inclusive, the unavoidable result is the Bible’s clear teaching is ignored and the Word of God is disparaged.