It is very common within the church to hear modern pastors equated with biblical elders. However, are they actually the same thing? In other words, when we look in scripture at elders does it also describe what we see in the modern pastorate?
Instead of finding that the two are similar, the reality is that they are quite different. In fact, they seem to describe two roles that have little to do with one another. Seven differences stand out:
1. Elders come from the body while pastors come from the seminary.
2. Elders are based on character while pastors are based on education/preaching ability.
3. Elders are like others in the body while pastors hold special status (clergy).
4. Elders perform the same tasks as everyone else while pastors do unique tasks.
5. Elders lead by example while pastors lead through decision making.
6. Elders work regular jobs while pastors do not.
7. Elders are nonsalaried while pastors receive a salary.
What we see is that biblical elders and modern pastors have many characteristics that are actually opposite one another.
Are these significant differences a problem? Specifically, is it a problem today that pastors do not resemble biblical elders? Your answer to these questions depends on whether or not you believe God has provided us with information in scripture to know what his church ought to look like and how it should function.
My contention is that God has in fact given us plenty of information to understand what he wants from his church. As we read through the New Testament we find much information about elders. This should inform who elders are today, what role they should play, and how they should function.
In light of this, today's pastoral role is extremely problematic. What can we do about it? I have three ideas:
1. Pray for change.
2. Get involved in simple church plants.
3. Lovingly and graciously talk to other believers about it.
In the end, it is only God who will change the hearts of his people about this issue. Let's pray that he will.