Q & A: Is there a difference between a pastor and an elder?

Q: Is there a difference between a pastor and an elder?

A: The Biblical record introduces us to three positions of spiritual executive servant leadership: elders (presbuterous, Acts 14:23; 15:6, etc.), overseers (episkopous, Acts 20:28, etc.), and pastors and teachers (poimenas kai didaskalous, Eph. 4:11, etc.).

Elders are specifically identified as those who are active in preaching and teaching (1 Tim. 5:17) and pray for the sick (Jam. 5:14). They are told in plurality to shepherd the flock (1 Pet. 5:1-2) and to exercise proper oversight (1 Pet. 5:2-4), and are referenced as pastors. Thus an elder is a pastor.

Overseers are called elders (Acts 20:17, 28-30) and are to maintain being and doing qualifications (1 Tim. 3:1-7). Thus an elder is a pastor, and an overseer is an elder.

Pastors and teachers are called elders (Acts 20:28-31; 1 Pet. 5:1-4) and are to be active in preaching and teaching for the equipping of saints (Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 3:16, 4:1-4), are to be on guard to protect the church from false doctrine (Acts 20:28-31; 1 Pet. 5:1-4), are to rule and oversee the church (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 5:1-7), and at least in Timothy’s case, are to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5). Thus an elder is a pastor, and an overseer is an elder, and a pastor is an elder.

Notice first that each role is referenced and equated as the other, and that the titles, while emphasizing different aspects of leadership, all refer to the same persons. Notice second that each role is discussed in plurality.

(from Christopher Cone, “The Plurality Principle” in Practical Aspects of Pastoral Theology (Fort Worth, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2009), 91-92.)

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