Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Elders, Pastors, Bishops, Shepherds

On an email list of which I'm a member, abotsipatrick asked the following:
Do the terms pastor, elder, bishop and overseer refer to the same office or different offices?
Secondly, does Ephesians 4:11 ("and some pastors and teachers") teach that being a pastor is a gift from God that does not require the appointment or ordination of humans?
In this post, I give my response. In my next post, I will give the response of another list member.


Let me encourage you to think in terms of "roles", or "services", first, and then apply that to the concept of "office".

pastor - I encourage you to mentally translate this word as "shepherd". The role of a shepherd is to care for a flock of dumb sheep, making sure they get fed, watered, and are safe, occasionally helping in the process of birthing or other medical service, etc. The shepherd is not a rule-maker, or a tyrant, or a business person, except only insofar as taking care of the business of flock-care requires.

elder - I encourage you to mentally translate this word as "older person". The older people in a group tend to be those who have been wizened by life-experience, and who thus have influence on the direction the group goes. They would tend to make or at least influence the making of whatever rules are needed for the flock's personal safety.

bishop, overseer - same word, different eras of language. I encourage you to mentally translate this word as "overseer", or "supervisor". This is a person who directs, takes charge, assigns tasks, makes sure things work according to the mission statement. They would would tend to make whatever rules are needed for the flock's communal safety.

An ideal, mature leader will have all of these characteristics, such that the roles overlap in one individual. I believe that in the New Testament, the ideal was that the local church leader[s] would fill all of these roles. However, when a leader recognizes that he's not suited to a particular task, he might delegate that task to another, such as how the leaders in the early church (Acts 6) delegated the shepherding role of of physically feeding the community to specially-designated servants, while they focused on the shepherding role of spiritually feeding the community.

Likewise, a local community of believers might have a leadership body containing one person who is very good at the business aspects of running the group - this person would most likely fill the role of bishop/overseer. Another person in the leadership might excel at dispensing wisdom, and might serve as the counselor who is sought out for his answers to life. A third person in the leadership might be an awesome teacher, filling the minds and spirits of the membership with God's food. Or perhaps each of the leaders excels in all three areas, or a mixture.

So to answer your question, yes, the terms all do refer to the same "office" - that of leadership, but they do not necessarily all refer to the same officeholder, the same leader. As Romans 12:4 says:

KJV For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:
let us focus on using whatever gift God has given each of us, and let those with the gifts of shepherding and of wisdom-dispensing and of supervisory capabilities use their gifts to care for, lead, and take care of the community. And let us recognize that it will be rare to find one person with all these characteristics, which is part of the reason a leadership body might be better composed of multiple leaders with differing strengths rather than trying to force-fit a single leader into filling all the roles.

abotsipatrick's second question:

Secondly, does Ephesians 4:11 ("and some pastors and teachers") teach that being a pastor is a gift from God that does not require the appointment or ordination of humans?

Paul writes in Galatians 1:1 that he is "an apostle—not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father". The full text of the verse you reference is:

HCSB Eph 4:11 And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
Yes, being a pastor is a gift from God that does not require the appointment or ordination of humans. Compare Romans 12:

According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy,
use it according to the standard of one’s faith;
if service, in service;
if teaching, in teaching;
if exhorting, in exhortation;
giving, with generosity;
leading, with diligence;
showing mercy, with cheerfulness.
and 1 Corinthians 12:
Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God activates each gift in each person. A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial:
to one is given a message of wisdom
through the Spirit,
to another, a message of knowledge
by the same Spirit,
to another, faith by the same Spirit,
to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit,
10 to another, the performing of miracles,
to another, prophecy,
to another, distinguishing between spirits,
to another, different kinds of languages,
to another, interpretation of languages.
11 But one and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each person as He wills.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it. 28 And God has placed these in the church:
first apostles, second prophets,
third teachers, next miracles,
then gifts of healing, helping,
managing, various kinds of languages.
29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets?
Are all teachers? Do all do miracles?
30 Do all have gifts of healing?
Do all speak in other languages?
Do all interpret?
31 But desire the greater gifts.
God gives each of us one or more gifts, to be used in building up the body. Some of them are miraculous; some are not. Some are given according to what God deems best; some are given according to what we desire (v 31 above) and pursue (1 Cor 14:1) and ask for (1 Cor 14:13).

However, just because a person has a gift, that does not necessarily mean he will be appointed within a particular community to exercise that gift. Paul instructed Titus to appoint people to serve as elders in each town; but he restricted those appointments to people who were suitable for the task. God gives the gift and the overall appointment; Man gives the local appointment.

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