(1 Tim. 3:1-3; 5:17; Eph. 4:11; Titus 1:5-9;
Heb. 13: 1,17)


 Paul’s term for the Pastor of a local church is “overseer” episcopas (3:1) This was the Greek term for anyone in charge of something, whether he was over a city or over a work crew.  The Jewish equivalent was “elder” presbuteros, the OT term for leaders and the term used in the First Century for the rulers of the synagogues. The third term used is “pastor” the word for a shepherd of the sheep.

The Three Titles for one office
(Acts 20:17,18, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-2: Titus 1:5,7)

 In Acts 20 Paul tells the elders (17) to pastor (27) the church over which God has made them the overseers (28). Peter uses the same three terms for one office in 1 Pet. 5:1-2, and in Titus 1 Paul uses elder (v5) and overseer (v7) interchangeably.

The Organized Church
 God has given His churches the mission of winning the lost (evangelism) and growing the saved (edification). To accomplish objectives and put the whole team to work an organization must be organized. All through their history they had officers such as priests, levites, prophets, kings, etc. God’s principle for this is 1 Cor. 14:40, “Let all things be done decently and in an orderly way.” The church is not a mob, it is an organized assembly (Numbers) Administration has been well defined as “Getting things done through people.”

The Authority of the Pastor (Elder/Overseer)

1 Tim. 5:17
“The elders who rule well are worthy of double pay, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.”
 The NIV translates rule (KJV), “Directs the affairs.” The Pastor (elder) is responsible to God of the leadership of the church he pastors. The literal meaning is “to stand before” and The Abbott & Smith Lexicon says it means someone placed over something or someone. Just as a parent is to be in charge at home so is the Pastor to be in charge at the church. We would use the words manage or direct.

The High Office of Pastor
Eph. 4:11
“The gifts He (God) gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastor-teachers.” (NRSV)

(The one permanent officer named after the Apostles and Prophets of the NT era was the Pastor-teacher. Evangelists were probably those who traveled from area to area preaching the gospel. This is the only time the word Pastor is used as a NT office, but the idea of the elder or overseer as pastors is in Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-2.

 This also came from the OT, where God is seen as the Shepherd of His people (Psalm 23). It was used only once for a Hebrew prophet (Jer. 17:16) However, God called His kings and all leaders the shepherds of His people (Ezek. 34; Jer. 23, 25:34-38) etc).
The fact that God called Himself and His kings the Shepherds (Pastors) of His people is important because He and His rulers not only met the needs of the people but were in charge of them, just as the eastern shepherd was in charge of the sheep.

The Lovely Title 
This term is highly appropriate because it puts a loving, personal touch on the terms elder and bishop. (Too many Pastors in our day are seen as “CEO’s” of the church organization, who don’t have time from the individual needs of their members.) Paul in 1 Timothy 3 tells Timothy a Bishop must “take care of” the church and this word points to tending wounds and meeting needs. And from Jesus, who, as God, called Himself the good Shepherd (Jn. 10; See 1 Peter 5, Heb. 13) .  

What About Plural Elders?

1. Presbyterians believe the NT teaches plural elders in each church. Therefore they make their Pastors a preaching and teaching elder and others their administrative elders.  They make administrative decisions for the local church under the  denominational elder board above the local level.

2. The NT does speaks most of the time about elders (plural). An example is when James tells Christians, “Call for the elders of the church to pray.” (James 5:14) Baptists would say the word “church” in places like this refers to all the congregations (churches) in that area. The Pastors or elders (plural) meant all the individual pastors in that area, one per church.

4.  When it comes to Baptists the difference is in name only since their deacons serve much the same function as Presbyterian elders and their church’s pastor. Whichever view is correct the NT makes it clear that NT Pastors were over and not under the administrative board, deacons or elders.


The Deacon Servants (3:8; Phil.1:1-2)
 In verse 8 Paul mentions another group of officers called deacons. The only other place this office is mentioned is in Philippians one unless the lady Phoebe in Romans 16 is a church officer. (Since most Baptists do not believe in women serving as deacons they translate this term there as “servant”.
A Waiter or Household Servant
 The Greek word DIAKONOS is not translated in our English versions, the Greek word is pronounced in English- deacon. The translation would be “servants” or “church helpers” (CEV)  Deacon is one of many terms from servant and it   means a person who waits on tables, a waiter or waitress. (Thayer’s Lexigon, etc.) In Greek society it was used mainly for a household servant who took care of things like cleaning, cooking, setting the table, serving food, etc.  It is used this way in the Bible for:

1) The waiters at the wedding in Cana (Jn.2)
2) For Martha preparing and serving food (Jn. 12) 
3) For servants of a king (Matt. 22:13).  

The General NT Use

 The NT uses many of the Greek terms for servants to describe the things we do in God’s service. One of them is DIAKONOS.  It is used for Jesus (Matt. 20:28); for Paul (Col. 1:25); for all Christians (Eph. 4:ll-12) and even for the servants of Satan (2 Cor. 11:15). The idea remains that the DIAKONOS, like the maid or cook in a house, does what needs to be done to make the household run well. Nowhere does it imply leadership or being “over” something or someone. 

The Omission in Titus
When Paul at the same time he wrote 1st Timothy wrote Titus and told him to appoint pastors in Crete he didn’t mention the office of deacon.    

What about Phoebe?
The word appears in Romans 16:1, where Paul calls a woman named Phoebe, “A deacon of the church in Cenchrea”. Baptists take this to mean she was not an office holder, a deaconess, but simply a servant. The church from 100-300 AD, however took this as an office and used women deacons to minister to the needs of women in the church. Several of our first Baptist churches in the 1600’s did the same.

Acts 6
 When men were needed to distribute food to widows, seven were selected and their task was called “serving (DIAKONOS) tables”. Acts 6 for serving tables. These men were not deacons in a formal, official sense, like we find in Philippians and First Timothy. This was a one time act but it no doubt gave birth to the idea that Pastors need others to help free them to do the work of preaching, pastoral care, administration and evangelism. These helpers of the Pastors came to be known as “household helpers”-deacons.

Practical Ministry to Church Families
   The best and most Biblical use of deacons is to see them as ministers to the physical and spiritual needs of ministers. But for practical reasons a church might also have them oversee the financial bookkeeping records and the care and maintenance of church property.

 1) This is the meaning of the term.
2) This is the way most Protestants interpret the office. Baptist, the Church of God and the Assemblies of God are the only denominations that give deacons administrative power. Lutherans allow deacons in local churches but few choose to have them. Methodists recently re-activated the office and use deacons to minister to the physical needs of members.


 1) Baptist believe the ultimate authority in the local church, under God, is the congregation. In Matt. 18 the church excommunicates members. In Acts 6 the church chose helpers. In Acts 15 the church wrote regulations to Gentile believers.

2) Knowing that a large group cannot micro-manage its affairs and knowing that someone must be in charge, Baptists, in practice have given the reigns to their deacons.

3) The problem with this is that they elect deacons by popular vote from the floor of the church. No thought is given to a man’s spiritual gifts and a person is who popular, or visible, or teaches a large class, or has a big family; or who politics for the job, can be elected. For every other task in the church, including those who clean the kitchen, they must be screened and nominated by the nominating committee. But for the most important task, for the office that ends up directing the affairs, there is no screening. This is perhaps the most foolish thing Baptists do.
4) When a new Pastor comes he is forced to run his ideas past the deacons and most new ideas involve change and nobody likes change except babies and they cry while you do it. Even if most deacons agree with a Pastor’s new ideas, they will not stand with him if a vocal or influential minority are against him as they were against the pastor before him and the one before that.

5) If a pastor tries to work around this small group he becomes the target of their criticism. This is why the average stay of a Southern Baptist pastor is 2 years (24 months) and around 15% leave with no church to Pastor. This is why Baptists are known for conflicts; why most of our churches are not growing and are doing the same old things in the same old ways.

  In conversations with many Pastors with bad experiences, most will tell you it was not the few who gave them trouble that hurt the most, but their friends in the church who did not stand with them. This feeling of loneliness and isolation is almost unbearable.

 Thus the sad truth is, the tail wags the dog, and a tiny minority is in charge. The church is managed by objections rather than objectives. The people in the pews do not like it this way but they don’t know what to do. Often they are hoping and looking for a Pastor who will “stand up to these people” and lead the church. Sadly, Pastors who do don’t stay very long unless they are in a good location, the church is growing and the offerings are above budget. Sadly this is more a matter of location than Pastoral ability and commitment.

The Pastor in not to direct the church alone as a dictator. He needs advisers not just to carry out his plans but to help him make decisions that are in the best interests of the church (Proverbs 11:14, 24:6, etc) This is why God has placed people in every local church with the spiritual gift of administration or leadership (Rom. 12:8)
Proverbs 11:14
“A city without wise leaders will end up in ruin. A city with wise leaders will be kept safe.” (CEV)
Proverbs 24:6
“Battles are won by listening to advice and making a lot of plans.” (CEV)

The Need for a Team
 In 99% of God’s churches, from all denominations, the local church is not run by one man. This has to be the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.  Pastors in most huge mega-churches adopt this leadership style, and it seems to work. But few Pastors want that kind of responsibility or can handle it.   Advisers help bring victory in nations, in business, and in churches. Moses wisely followed his father-in-law’s advice and elected some capable men to help him lead Israel to Canaan (Ex. 18) 

The Composition of the Team
 The Methodist Church seems to have the best organizational structure on the local level. The Pastor, ministerial staff and the program leaders work together to harmonize the different programs and to aid each program in the accomplishing of its mission. Every program and every committee, if we follow the NT, should be responsible to the Pastor and the Leadership team. To the ministerial staff, program leaders and committees I would add congregational representatives, perhaps 1 man and 1 woman elected for and by the 24-35; 36-46; 47-60; 61+ adult age groups. The

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3 Comments on “”

  1. Hot Tub,

    If only the ‘Methodist Model’ you described worked so well. I was a member of a UMC congregation for several years, and actually served on the ‘pastor-parish relations’ committee. The average appointment for UMC pastors lasts for about 4 years, and is made by the Bishop. The pastor, congregation, and PPRC may have some input, but ultimately it is the Bishop’s decision. EVERY ordained elder in good standing in the entire UMC is GUARANTEED an appointment. Pastors may be appointed to churches they have no desire, or feel no call, to serve. Churches may receive a pastoral appointment with NO input (even from the congregational leaders). The actual process is more political than anyone cares to admit, and it is interesting how much more influence the ‘affluent’ churches have in regards to their appointments than other churches. All that being said, UMC pastors want postive reports from their PPR committees, and their decisions are often influenced by ‘certain’ members of the congregation.

    I have since returned to my baptist roots and am a member at an elder-led, New Testament church much as you describe in your post. It is about 5 years old, has 4 elders (one of them serves as the senior pastor, the other three are congregational leaders of various ages) who provide leadership and direction for the church. As the church grows, more elders could be added, and there is a provision for deacons to be appointed as needed (but not required). The congregation does not have the power to remove the pastor, or the other elders, by vote. The senior pastor works with the other elders to make decisions regarding the church, and wisely seeks input (but not approval) from members of the church.

    I could go on, but let me say that there is very little discord and the level of church unity is amazing. There is freedom to disagree over ‘non-essential’ doctrines, but the essential doctrinal requirements are made clear and all members are expected to embrace them. Church discipline is active, and members are expected to become involved in some ministry (and a large number do so). The church continues to grow, and is very missional,

    My point is that the church you described works in the 21st century, just as well as it did during the first century.

    Good post . . .


  2. Bob Marcaurelle Says:

    Darryl, Thanks for the insight. Everything works well on paper doesn’t it, but in the end it is the spiritual integrity of the people andthe leadership that counts. I know something is wrong in Baptist life, but I do not know how to fix it. The idea of your “elders” serving on a NT model seems to be the best solution. Making elders glorified deacons only give more power to the malignant minority. Be well. Bob

  3. >>Paul’s term for the Pastor of a local church is “overseer” episcopas (3:1)

    yeah per your own misinterpretation.. pastors are just one one of the elders,– elders are the apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists, healers in the local church

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