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Office of Pastor, Elder, Bishop, Overseer

Biblical References: Acts 20:28-32; I Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5-9; I Peter 5:1-4

Special Note: “Pastor”, “Elder” and “Bishop” all refer to the same office. These terms are used interchangeably and usually qualified/implied with the use of the word “overseer”. Although the term pastor is commonly used today as the title of the spiritual overseer of a congregation, it was probably not intended in Scripture to be a title but to be descriptive of what the office does.

The first responsibility God has given the overseer is to watch over the flock. Acts 20:28a states, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers”; and Hebrews 13:17b says, “They keep watch over you.” The idea is one of spiritual alertness, being on watch, being ready.

Overseers watch for the souls of those entrusted to them in the Lord. They know that to protect them, constant attention is necessary.

A second responsibility of the overseer is to shepherd the flock of God as instructed in 1 Peter 5:2. To shepherd carries the idea of tending, caring for, feeding, protecting, and leading. All these tasks are involved in the overseer’s service of ministry to the spiritual flock of God. Responsibility is not a compulsion but something that the overseer has entered into willingly.

In Acts 20:27-30 overseers are told to shepherd the flock of God, by declaring the whole counsel of the Word of God (v. 27). The reason is because there will arise false teachers who will seek to lead many astray (vv. 29-30). The importance of shepherding is revealed by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15, when he instructs leaders to confront personally those who are idle, timid, or weak.

First Peter 5:2-3 also addresses the issue of attitude and motivation of the overseer when it commands spiritual leaders to be “eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” “Eager” carries the idea of ready and willing. The point is that the overseer should be quick to serve but careful to curb the desire to rule in an autocratic or dictatorial manner. There is always the temptation to abuse authority. The key is to maintain balance in this area of the ministry. The overseer clearly is to direct, lead, guide, even rule (Hebrews 13:7 Hebrews 13:17). However, the overseer must always follow the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, a pastor, elder, or overseer is a shepherd leader, a servant leader who sets a humble example for the flock to follow.