Elders. Pastors. Overseers. Bishops. They have been called by many titles. Sometimes, the titles are used interchangeably; sometimes they are distinct. (For the purpose of the blog post, I will assume that elder, pastor, and overseer (bishop) refer to the same person in Scripture. Perhaps, if someone disagrees with this point, they could write a post to that effect. However, defending the position that I am suggesting is beyond the scope of this series.)
Teacher. Administrator. Motivator. CEO. Cheerleader. Officer. Shepherd. Authoritarian. Their functions and responsibilities vary as much as their titles.
Single. Multiple. Senior. First among equals. Equal. The number and relationship between elders is also highly discussed and debated.
The functions and roles of elders usually falls under the umbrella of ecclesiology (the study of the church). These functions and roles have been discussed, debated, and disagreed upon from the earliest writings that followed the New Testament. But, it appears that although pastors/elders/bishops were part of the church from very early in its existence (Acts 11; 14; 15; 16; James 5), the disagreements concerning pastors/elders/bishops were not as important as other disagreements in the early church, because the early creeds and confessions did not include any information about leadership among the church. However, beginning with the Reformation, almost every creed and confession included instructions concerning leadership.
As with many aspects of ecclesiology, the study of Christian leadership usually begins with current practices and beliefs which are then justified or clarified through Scripture. For example, roles such as leadership, teaching, overseeing, shepherding, and administrating are usually included within the roles of elders. Each role is then compared to Scripture and shown to be a function of an elder. However, this is not always the whole story.
As I move through this series, examining the scriptural teachings concerning the characteristics and functions of elders, I also plan to compare them with the characteristics and functions of all believers. Primarily, I hope to examine Scriptures to determine what characteristics, roles, or functions are unique to the leadership among the church. Hopefully, this will be an interesting study that will fuel some thought-provoking discussions.
As I’ve said previously, if you disagree with me, you may voice your disagreements in comments on this blog. I welcome discussion and criticism. I ask only that you attempt to offer your disagreements with the same humility and gentleness that I am attempting to offer my conclusions. Am I always right? No. I recognize this, and so I welcome the input of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I also ask that you take the context of Scripture into account before you offer a proof-text. Context is very important. We can prove anything we want from Scripture if we do not consider the context. However, that would not be beneficial to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Thank you in advance for your comments, challenges, and encouragement.
Series on Elders
1. Elders (Part 1) – Introduction
2. Elders (Part 2) – Character
3. Elders (Part 3) – Leadership
4. Elders (Part 4) – Teaching
5. Elders (Part 5) – Shepherding
6. Elders (Part 6) – Overseeing
7. Elders (Part 7) – Conclusion