The terms elders, bishop (also translated as overseers) and pastors, are interchangeable. All three refer to the same office, with each providing a different emphasis:
- Elder emphasizes who the man is, his office or title
- Bishop (overseer) emphasizes what he does in overseeing the affairs of the church
- Pastor (literally: shepherd) refers to an elder who’s uniquely given a heart to tend to, care for, and feed God’s flock.
The Pastor’s Responsibility
The Greek word for pastor is poimen, occurring eighteen times in the New Testament. Seventeen times it’s translated as shepherd, and only one time translated as pastor:
[Jesus] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.Ephesians 4:11-12
Despite the attention pastors receive, this is the only place they’re mentioned in the New Testament!
The Importance of Teaching for Pastors
The Greek construction of the words pastors and teachers indicates the two terms go together; in English they could be hyphenated as pastor-teacher emphasizing the pastor’s ministry of shepherding and teaching:
“The phrase is best understood in context as a single office of leadership with the word translated ‘and’ meaning ‘in particular.’ Since pastor means shepherd, the terms go together defining the shepherding teacher.”John MacArthur’s Commentary
Not all elders labor in teaching:
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.1 Timothy 5:17
The word “especially” shows some elders will give themselves to teaching, and these are the pastors-teachers. Other elders will hall elders labor in teaching, but some will have that ministry separate from the other elders and that’s the pastor-teacher.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.2 Timothy 3:16-17
Consider the relationship between Ephesians 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:17. If pastor-teachers have the responsibility of equipping the saints, and Scripture is what they’re equipped with to do every good work, then pastors shepherd (or feed) God’s flock by teaching them Scripture. This explains why the one time pastors are mentioned in Scripture, they’re tied to or united with the word teaching. Pastors (shepherds) best tend to and care for God’s flock by feeding them God’s Word.
Are Pastors Prophets?
If someone asked me what verses most accurately describes what it feels like when I’m studying the Bible (as opposed to simply reading it) I would say:
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.1 Peter 1:10-11
The prophets are pictured as straining to see the truth contained in God’s Word; they’re striving to understand what God has written so they can proclaim it to the people. I’ve always thought of the prophets almost like individuals standing in a dark room with very little light trying to clearly see what’s on the other side.
I don’t consider myself a prophet (as it’s listed as a separate office in Ephesians 4:11); however, prophecy is still part of the preaching of God’s Word according:
He who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.1 Corinthians 14:3
The Amplified reads: “The one who prophesies [who interprets the divine will and purpose in inspired PREACHING AND TEACHING] speaks edification…” Unfortunately, we tend to think of prophecy as only predicting (foretelling) the future, but it’s much better to think of prophecy as proclaiming (forth telling) the Word of God.
This looks to one of the biggest changes preaching. Instead of focusing on explaining what verses mean (basically providing a running commentary), my desire is for people to feel like God is speaking to them through His Word. My desire is prophecy takes place. My prayer throughout the week is for people to hear from God through the Scriptures. My prayer throughout the week is always something like, “Father what do You want to say to Your people?” Of all the feedback I could receive regarding sermons, nothing is more encouraging than, “I felt like God was speaking to me while you were preaching.”
The Importance of Shepherding (Overseeing)
Since pastor means “shepherd,” Ephesians 4:12 combines the pastor’s dual responsibility of shepherding and teaching.
When I received a youth pastor position at Grace Baptist my pastor and mentor, Joe Gruchacz, placed a strong emphasis on shepherding. He counseled, discipled, and followed up with people. he functioned as much as an overseer as a teacher. Paul told the Ephesian elders:
Take heed…to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church.Acts 20:28
Peter also told elders to:
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers.1 Peter 5:2
Pastors are supposed to oversee or shepherd in addition to teaching. When Woodland Christian Church hired our associate pastor, he took on the majority of counseling and discipling so I could focus on teaching and preaching. This allowed the dual responsibilities, teaching and shepherding (or overseeing), to be covered.