The Office of Pastor

In two earlier chapters, I compared the biblical role of the pastor with that of the average institutional pastor. There is, however, still more to say about the pastor’s ministry.

In order to fully understand what Scripture teaches about the office of pastor, we need to understand three key Greek words. In the Greek language they are (1) poimen, (2) presbuteros and (3) episkopos. They are consecutively translated (1) shepherd or pastor, (2) elder, and (3) overseer or bishop.

The word poimen is found eighteen times in the New Testament and is translated shepherd seventeen times and pastor once. The verb form, poimaino, is found eleven times and is most often translated shepherd.

The Greek word presbuteros is found sixty-six times in the New Testament. Sixty of those times it is translated elder or elders.

Finally, the Greek word episkopos is found five times in the New Testament, and is translated overseer four of those times. The King James Version translates it as bishop.

All three of these words refer to the same position in the church, and they are used interchangeably. Whenever the apostle Paul established churches, he appointed elders ( presbuteros ) whom he left to take care of the local congregations (see Acts 14:23, Tit. 1:5). Their responsibility was to acts as overseers ( episkopos ) and shepherd ( poimaino ) their flocks. For example, in Acts 20:17 we read:

And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders [presbuteros] of the church (emphasis added).

And what did Paul say to those church elders?

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [episkopos], to shepherd [poimaino] the church of God which He purchased with His own blood (Acts. 20:28, emphasis added).

Notice the interchangeable use of the three Greek words. They are not three different offices. Paul told the elders that they were overseers who were to act like shepherds.

Peter wrote in his first epistle:

Therefore, I exhort the elders [presbuteros] among you, as your fellow-elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd [poimaino] the flock of God among you, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:1-4, emphasis added).

Peter told the elders to shepherd their flocks. The verb that is here translated shepherd is translated (in its noun form) as pastor in Ephesians 4:11:

And He [Jesus] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers (emphasis added).

This also leads us to believe that elders and pastors are the same.

Paul also used the words elder (presbuteros) and overseer (episkopos) interchangeably in Titus 1:5-7:

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you….For the overseer must be above reproach (emphasis added).

Thus it cannot be reasonably debated that the office of pastor, elder, and overseer are not all the same office. Anything written about overseers and elders in the New Testament epistles is therefore applicable to pastors.