What is a pastor or elder? Who may serve in the office of elder in the local church? These two questions are very important in the life of the local church because God has organized his local churches in a particular way for His glory and the advance of His gospel. The local church is very important, so the local church’s structure and leadership is very important. The New Testament, particularly in Ephesians 4, 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1 teach that elders teach and govern local congregations in order to equip local believers for the work of Christian ministry. Now, not as many people use the language of “elder” in our culture today. The term “elder” or “pastor” refer to this same office. “Elder” comes from the Greek. “Pastor” comes from the Latin, meaning “shepherd.” Elder, pastor, overseer, and bishop are all different terms referring to the same New Testament office: the local church pastor. Contrary to what you may see in some denominations, there isn’t a hierarchy between a pastor and a bishop. In Scripture, bishop and pastor refer to the same office—the office of elder. In the local church, there are elders, deacons, and the congregation. Christ has given the local church a certain structure in which Christians live together in submission to our Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. So, I have 5 points about pastors:
1) In the New Testament, you don’t see a local church that only has one elder or pastor. You see this issue today in many Baptist churches, although Baptists historically didn’t hold to this idea. In the New Testament, every local church had multiple pastors, a plurality of elders, to lead and to teach. The local church shouldn’t be led by a single pastor and a board of deacons. These deacons are working as elders, when many of them aren’t qualified to do so. Pastors shepherd, deacons don’t shepherd. Pastors govern, deacons don’t govern. Hebrews 13 commands Christians to submit to their pastors because local pastors will have to give an account for their congregation on the Last Day.
2) Every local church should have multiple pastors who all have equal authority and an equal vote on the elder board. You may have only one elder who does a majority of the preaching—no problem. That man doesn’t have more pastoral authority than the other pastors. Some pastors may be staff and some may be lay pastors. There is parity, or equality, amongst all the elders.
3) Paul teaches in 1 Timothy 2–3 that only qualified men may serve in the office of elder or pastor. This point is not a popular one in the egalitarian West, but Christians submit themselves to the authority of God’s Word, not cultural whims. Paul doesn’t ground pastors being only qualified men in his cultural setting in 1stcentury Ephesus or Palestine. Paul grounds his command that elders be only qualified men in creation itself. Paul points to the creation account before sin, as well as to Eve’s role in the fall in Genesis 3, to ground his command. Paul isn’t arguing that men are more important or are smarter. He grounds his command in God giving different roles to men and women in creation itself.
4) Pastors or elders lead the congregation primarily through faithful teaching. Pastors or elders rule and govern, but we can’t go beyond what Scripture commands. I can’t command my congregation to do anything that goes beyond Scripture. I don’t have that authority. I exhort, encourage, and correct from the Scriptures because that’s my authority in governing and ruling. I’m not a dictator, which is why it’s wise to have many pastors in a congregation so one man can’t turn it into a dictatorship.
5) 1 Timothy 3–5 and Titus 1 teach that men who serve as pastors or overseers must be qualified according to the Scriptures. The overwhelming emphasis of these qualifications are moral or character qualities. The pastor or elder must be able to teach, yes, but he must live a holy life that’s worthy of imitation by the congregation. He must model what he teaches. James 1 teaches that they’ll be held to a stricter standard of judgment for their teaching and leadership in the congregation.
Many local churches want a pastor who’s charismatic or entertaining in his teaching, but who’s not qualified in character. Paul puts the overwhelming emphasis on an elder’s character qualifications, not his charisma in teaching. This means, then, that local churches should know the man well before they make him a pastor, not just hire him from a resume or online sermons. The primary means of getting new pastors, according to Scripture, is through local churches raising up qualified men from their midst and making them pastors.
Pastors are a gift to God’s church. Pastors are qualified men who serve as under-shepherds, teaching and leading their own congregations for the glory of our Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and the good of his saints.