Positional Paper 1: Elders/Pastors


Biblical Guidance/Our Position

Within the pages of the New Testament the terms “elders”, “overseers” and pastor are interchangeable and designate the primary spiritual leaders of the local church who do the work of pastoring or shepherding God’s flock (Titus 1:5, 7; Acts 20: 17, 28).   The term “elder” emphasizes maturity, the term “overseer” emphasizes the leadership responsibility, and the term “pastor” emphasizes the heart of a shepherd.  The local church should have a plurality of elders, (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14) who are equal in authority, although the scope of their ministry may be different.  Their authority is to be expressed in loving, Christ-like leadership and not lording over the flock (1 Peter 5:3; Hebrews 13:17). God has designated men as elder/pastors (see “Gender Issues in Church Leadership” document).  Leading the elders is a senior elder who is first among equals and is responsible to help train the elders who then, train additional leaders (1 Tim. 5:17).

The Elders have final responsibility before God for prayer ministry (James 5:14), ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4) including teaching and protecting the church’s doctrine (Acts 20:27-31; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:9), the administration of the church (1 Tim. 3:5), and shepherding the flock (1 Peter 5:2) by guiding them in the way of Biblical truth, and by protecting them from false teachers and diseased doctrine (Acts 20:28-31) .

Because the role of a pastor or elder is such an enormous responsibility (Heb. 13:17, James 3:1) the Lord gives the Church qualifications that must be met over a long period of time before a man can be considered to fulfill the role of pastor/elder.  In John 21, Jesus appears to Peter, after Peter had given up on himself, and Jesus asks him three times, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  Peter responds, “Yes” and Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.”  In essence Jesus is telling Peter to pastor His people, but notice that Jesus reaffirms Peter’s role in the ministry after Peter reaffirms his love and loyalty to Jesus.  Therefore, the most important ingredient, the most obvious qualification for pastoral work is a deep love and loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

In addition to love and loyalty to Jesus, the Bible lays out the qualifications for pastors/elders in two key places (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).  Elders must be blameless in character (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), able to teach Scripture (1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17), and refute those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). An elder must be the “husband of one wife” (1 Tim.3:2; 3:12). We believe this qualification does not exclude an unmarried person, someone remarried after the death of a spouse, nor necessarily one who has divorced and remarried. The phrase describes a reputation as a “faithful” husband or a “one-wife kind of man” (see Divorce and Remarriage document).

Elders are public leaders, and so valid accusation of blame should only be accepted by two or three witnesses and result in public rebuke (1 Tim. 5:19-20).

In Scripture, elders were selected by the original church planter (Acts 14:23) or by other elders (Titus 1:5), with recognition from the congregation for its leaders (Acts 6:3; 15:22-23). Scripture does not describe how elders should organize themselves, which gives the local church freedom to determine how best to organize themselves to meet the specific needs of the local body of Christ.

For further reading we recommend:

Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch

Pastoral Theology by Thomas C. Oden

Vintage Church by Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears

1 Comment

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One response to “Positional Paper 1: Elders/Pastors

  1. Travis, great work. I would be inclined to clarify the “first amongst equals” idea as this, in my experience, is most commonly misunderstood aspect of elder/pastor boards.

    I argue that the pastor/teacher role in Ephesians 4:11 has the most responsibility, and therefore has the most authority because it is authority form the Word. They are the Preaching/Lead Elder. This doesn’t mean that they are more important or “in charge”, it simply means that they are given the mantle of leading the elder board and the church through the Word.

    Clearly this model has come from the Jewish tradition. The Sanhedrin and Synagogue employed this form of polity where we see the High Priest and Chief Ruler who are the ones responsible for reading the Torah and directing the other leaders. Not all the council members were high priests, but the high priest was a council member. They are equal but only one had the office of oversight.

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