Wednesday, October 6, 2010

On Elders/Overseers/Pastors in the Bible

My friend Alan has hinted several times that I should write about what I believe the pastoral role is from a biblical perspective. I don't think Alan worded it quite like that, but nevertheless I am going to try to tackle the issue.

We know from scripture that the terms "elder," "overseer," and "pastor" are used somewhat interchangeably to refer to a specific leadership role in the church. Even as I write that, I hesitate to use the term "leadership" because we almost immediately place our traditional and/or modern ideas of leadership onto what the bible is saying. Part of what I want to analyze is what type of leadership we are talking about. We've probably all seen some pastors lead from a sort of C.E.O. role. That clearly isn't biblical. So what is biblical? Who are elders/overseers/pastors? What do they do? How are they different from others in the church family? Why are they important?

These are the types of questions I hope to both ask and answer (with your help) over the next few weeks in a series of posts.

We are obviously going to be looking in scripture for our information. As much as I can, I hope to avoid cultural, traditional, and corporate influence upon this discussion of who elders/overseers/pastors are and what they do.

The method I'm going to follow is to look at specific verses/passages one-by-one to see what they say. I'm going to do this rather than ask a specific question and then find all the passages that deal with that question. The reason for this is that I want to avoid proof-texting as much as possible. Therefore, the method will be to look at one passage at a time until we've dealt with all important passages.

I plan to deal with passages that focus specifically on elders/overseers/pastors. Each verse or passage will contain the Greek word for elder (πρεσβυτερος), overseer (επισκοπoς), or pastor (ποιμενας).

I'm leaving out passages that do not specifically mention this role. Therefore, I may disregard some passages that some folks think are important. For example, I'm not going to address Hebrews 13:7 and 13:17. The reason is simple: elders/overseers/pastors are not mentioned. We read in those verses of "leaders," but we do not know that this is referring to elders/overseers/pastors. Another verse I'm ignoring is I Corinthians 9:14 because it does not apply to elders/overseers/pastors (only to traveling apostles and evangelists).

The first thing I want to do is put together a list of the verses/passages I'll be looking at. I've decided to blog about them in a somewhat subjective order. Instead of going in order according to the canon, I'm going to go through them so that those of most importance come first. In this way, a key passage like I Peter 5:1-6 will come toward the beginning instead of the end.

This is where I need your help! Below are the passages I'll be looking at. I'm sure that I have left out some important ones. Please comment by telling me of other passages that are important and need to be addressed. Thanks.

This is the list so far (this is not the order I will address the passages in; rather, this is simply my working list thus far in scriptural order):


What have I left out? I want to be thorough is this discussion. Thanks for the help.

12 comments:

Alan Knox said...

Eric,

This should be very interesting! I think you've picked all the major passages. I can't think of any other NT passages that mentions pastors (it looks like you're using the verbal form as well), elders, or overseers.

How do you think "leaders" in the NT (such as in Hebrews 13:7, Hebrews 13:17, and 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13) relate to elders/pastors/overseers?

-Alan

Eric said...

Alan,

As for "leaders," I'm not sure how these relate to elders/overseers/pastors. It's an interesting question. Maybe you should blog about it.

I suppose there is some overlap between elders and leaders, but I think we need to be careful that we don't automatically assume that they refer to the same people. For example, I don't believe women should be elders, but I could certainly see them in some sort of leadership role. We probably should all serve as some sort of servant-leaders in the church, especially in our areas of spiritual gifting.

micah7 said...

1 Thess 5:12

Eric said...

Micah,

That is an interesting verse. It seems like it probably refers to elders/pastors, but the verse doesn't say so. It may refer to them but to others also. Since we can't be certain, I'm not going to use it for this series. However, maybe you could blog about it. I would like to read that.

I hope you are doing well. How is work going? What about classes?

Alan Knox said...

Eric,

One more quick thing: Hebrews 12:15 uses the verb form of the noun usually translated "overseer". Since you're using the verb form of the noun "shepherd/pastor," I thought you might want to look at that one also. You'll probably decide not to include it in your series, but its an interesting passage to consider when thinking about "overseers."

-Alan

Eric said...

Alan,

I may use that one. I think it clearly shows that we all have some responsibility for oversight of one another's spiritual lives - it doesn't fall to simply the overseers.

micah7 said...

All is well, but I am very busy studying for my Hermeneutics midterm and preparing to write another paper so I really don't have time for that kind of research style blogging right now.

Eric said...

Micah,

I'm glad you are doing well. I'm not surprised about the busyness. Those papers are no "stroll in the park." No worries on the blogging. I hope you get a Fall Break that can be a real break instead of studying in the entire time.

micah7 said...

This is my fall break and I'm busier than ever!

Eric said...

Micah,

I can sympathize. At least there is an end to the semester!

Jacob said...

1 Pet 2:25 - It's speaking of Christ, not men, but the fact that the same word groups are used is not irrelevant.

It seems to me that the author of Hebrews uses the participle "leaders" in the same way and instead of the term "overseer" or "elder." They are the ones who "spoke the word of God to you" and he encourages them to "imitate their faith." They should be submitted to, are "keeping watch" over their souls, and must give an account for it. Leaving 13:7 and 13:17 out of such a discussion would be a big omission.

Given the parallel argument between 1 Cor 9:9 and 1 Tim 5:18, that passage might in fact be applicable to the discussion.

Eric said...

Jacob,

Thanks for the feedback. It is difficult to know what to do with some of the passages that seem like they might refer to elders, but we just can't be certain. I think what I may do is first deal with the passages that directly mention elders/overseers/pastors, and then do another related series that deals with passages that may apply.

Thanks again.