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What/Who Are Church Elders?

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

New Testament Elders: God’s Shepherds

Part 1: What/Who is an Elder?

What is a church elder?

In this series of posts, I want to explore what the Word of God says about Spiritual Leadership in the Church. As a Church, we are studying through the New Testament letter to Titus. Paul's instructs his young disciple, Titus, to put the churches Crete—which were out of order due to the influence of false teachers— into order. Titus' first task is to get qualified leaders in place...

  • "To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace to you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Savior. This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint Elders in every town as I directed you..." (Titus 1:4-5)

Have you ever wondered what a Pastor does? How does he spend his time? Does he work for the church? Is Sunday his only work day? These are normal questions that many inside and outside the church have. Many of these questions arise simply from not knowing who a pastor is.

Thankfully, we can turn to the Bible and get a pretty clear picture of both who a pastor is, and the job description for a Pastor.

In this series of posts, we will explore what the Bible says about the office of Pastor or Elder. We will look at…

  • What/Who is a Pastor/Elder?

  • Who can be an Elder?

  • What does an Elder do?

    • What being an Elder means.

    • What being an Elder does NOT mean.

  • What is the History of Elders in Church Life?

Up first...

What is a Pastor, or an Elder?

In the New Testament, the office of the Pastor has three titles attached to it; each of the three titles describes the same office, and each of the titles give a little different perspective as to who the Pastor is and what the Pastor does.

1 - The most common and most often used term in the New Testament is Elder (from the Greek word Presbuteros). The term shows up 66 throughout the New Testament, and seems to be used mostly as a title; it communicates that a man is set apart for a special work, installed in a recognized office, and is deserving of respect.

  • There were Elders—Presbuteroi—in...

    • The churches of Jerusalem (Acts 11:30; 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23; 16:4; 21:18)

    • The churches of Galatia (Acts 14:23).

    • The church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17; 1 Tim. 5:17, 19).

    • The churches in Crete (Titus 1:5)

    • The churches of Asia Minor (1 Peter 5:1)

    • Other Jewish assemblies (James 5:14)

2 - The next most common title used is Overseer. This title shows up 5 times throughout the New Testament, and this term seems to describe the function of the Elder. He is to oversee the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Specifically, the pastor is to oversee the health of the souls of those who are members of his church (Heb. 13:17).

  • Acts 20:28 - Overseers installed in the Ephesian Church. .

  • Philippians 1:1 - Paul greets the Overseers and deacons; plural indicates more than one.

  • 1 Tim. 3:2-7 and Titus 1:7-9: Qualifications for Overseers (In Titus, Paul uses Elder and Overseer interchangeably, see 1:5, 7).

  • 1 Peter 2:25 - Christ is described as the Overseer of our souls.

3 - Perhaps the most commonly used term in Baptist life today is the term Pastor — this term is used 1 time in the book of Ephesians (4:11). The term pastor comes from two Greek words in Eph. 4:11 — “Poimenas and Didaskalos”— which means “Shepherd and Teacher.” The way Paul uses these words in Ephesians 4 highlights how the Elder oversees the souls of his people: Through teaching and applying the Word of God.

  • In the context of Ephesians 4, the two terms Paul uses, “Poimenas and Didaskalos,” literally translates Shepherd-Teacher. So, the word Pastor means “to shepherd a flock through teaching.”

So, there we have it: an Elder is a Shepherding Overseer of the people of God.

Up next: Who can be an Elder? Stay tuned...

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