Shepherd. Elder. Overseer.
These three words describe the job description of those who serve as pastors. We are not only talking about those who serve as the pastor of local churches, but all of those who serve as spiritual leaders of groups of believers.
In Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5, we see the three terms of shepherd, elder and overseer used interchangeably to describe the way in which these spiritual leaders lead. The word “pastor” is actually a derivative of the Latin word for shepherd.
The truth of the matter is that God wants all of his people to lead others in these ways. The pastors simply lead by example. They realize that they are accountable to Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, for the ways in which they lead. We are all accountable to Him.
1 Peter 5:1-4
1 Therefore, as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of the Messiah and also a participant in the glory about to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you: 2 Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
Shepherd — pastors show care. The Greek word for shepherd is poimen. Shepherds care for their sheep, and this is more than just an emotional feeling of caring. Shepherds care in practical ways: feeding, protecting, leading and bandaging wounds. Shepherds go after the lost sheep. Similarly, spiritual leaders care in practical ways for the flock of people entrusted to them:
- teaching the Bible
- caring for spiritual needs
- praying with people
- showing compassion and mercy
- guiding spiritually
- protecting from danger
- going after the lost
Elder — pastors provide wisdom. The Greek word for elder is presbuteros. Elders have insights and experience to share and they provide wisdom to those who desire it. Certainly living a number of years gives a pastor wisdom to share. But the truth is that even a young spiritual leader can share deep insights and wisdom when he shares wisdom in line with the Word of God. The Bible is the source of the elder’s wisdom. Not surprising, then, that the group of believers (church, small group) that are served by the pastor will look to him for timeless, true, Christ-honoring spiritual wisdom.
Overseer — pastors provide spiritual leadership. The Greek word for overseer is episcopos. An overseer is one who quite naturally “sees over” things. There is a level of administration, oversight, and leadership that is the responsibility of the pastor. And while we are grateful for the wisdom learned from business, military and government leaders, there are some things that are distinctly different about spiritual leadership, so we should always evaluate leadership principles in light of the example of Jesus and the teaching of the Word of God. Pastors lead groups of people forward spiritually. As Henry Blackaby says, “Spiritual leadership is moving people onto God’s agenda.” That is the task of the pastor, leading his people individually and corporately onto God’s agenda.
Shepherd. Elder. Overseer. These three words describe the job of every spiritual leader, no matter their occupation, and how God wants to use us all to lead others in the way of Christ.