Last Friday, we looked at how three words are used to describe the same office in the local church. I want to look briefly at each word and why they are so important in describing the what these men do for the local church.
A pastor is a shepherd. This word is used throughout the Scriptures to describe the kind of leadership God is looking for among His people. He even describes Himself as a shepherd (Psalm 23; Isaiah 40:11). The shepherd in the NT church is watching out over souls (Hebrews 13:17; Acts 20:28) because wolves come in among God’s church attempting to destroy and steal. These wolves teach false doctrines and are very deceptive in leading souls away from sound doctrine. Sheep easily wander and they need a shepherd.
The word bishop in some versions is the same as overseer in other versions. These men are looking over the local congregation among whom God has appointed them to serve. That may mean they are helping to oversee that the needy among them are cared for properly (Acts 11:29-30). The elders may oversee tense situations and try to diffuse them as they did in Jerusalem (Acts 21:18-26). As shepherds (pastors) they are overseeing that the flock of God is properly fed, so they will make sure the teaching and preaching offered is not only Biblical but also helpful for the growth of each member of the congregation. Sometimes they may have to oversee the discipline of an unruly brother or sister.
On a side note, there is no leadership in between the elders (overseers) of the local church and Jesus Christ. Men in their flawed wisdom have designed denominational structures that have no basis in Scripture and it has taken away from the simplicity of the New Testament pattern.
Elders by definition are older. They are seasoned men, both in life and in usage of the word of God. According to the requirements of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, these men are not to be novices. They have to be well equipped and able to teach God’s word, and also able to patiently confront those who contradict sound teaching. These men are married and have raised families, and have shepherded their own children to faith in Jesus. Peter commands the elders to live as examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:1-4), so their lives must have demonstrated over time that they are worthy of our followership.
Elders, Pastors, Overseers…three words for the same men who lead local churches. Wise, experienced men who love Jesus and His word. They also love God’s people and want nothing more than to see them all go to heaven.