The Bible uses the terms Elder, Presbyter, Overseer, Bishop, Shepherd and Pastor interchangeably, with the Eldership as the highest office in the church, directly below Christ as the head. A pastor is an elder? Yet we almost always see the preacher, evangelist or minister referred to as the pastor even when he is not an elder in his local church, why is this? Laziness?
1 Timothy 4:14
ESV - 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.
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Christ is indeed “the head of the church, the body” (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18). Within each local church there are those who serve under Christ as leaders. They are referred to with different terms. The Greek term presbuteros is usually translated “elder” or “presbyter.” It emphasizes the age, maturity and experience of the leader. The Greek word episkopos is normally translated “overseer” or “bishop.” It expresses the role of the leader in looking over or administrating the local church. The Greek poimen is translated “shepherd” or “pastor,” and emphasizes the personal care the leader gives to the flock. That these three titles refer to the same office is evident by how they are used interchangeably in several places in Scripture. Acts 20:17 says, “Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders (presbuterous) of the church.” Later he told them, “Guard yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (episkopous). Be shepherds (poimainein) of the church of God...” (Acts 20:28). Thus Paul called the same people “elders,” “overseers” and “shepherds.” Peter did similarly. In 1 Peter 5:1-2 he says, “To the elders (presbuterous) among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds (poimanate) of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers (episkopountes)...” In Titus 1:5-7 Paul writes, “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders (presbuterous) in every town, as I directed you. An elder (the word “elder” is not here in the Greek, but is added because it depends on the previous reference to “elders”) must be blameless... Since an overseer (episkopos) is entrusted with God's work, he must...” Such passages show that elders, overseers and pastors all refer to the same church office, each title emphasizing a different aspect of the leader. In the New Testament, an elder is an overseer is a pastor. Since the word “pastor” is used for church leaders three times, “overseer” is used six times and “elder” sixteen times, we could say that “elder” is the preferred term, and “pastor” the least preferred. However, all three are biblical and acceptable. Now, to actually address your question, why so many who are not functioning as elders in local churches are called “pastor.” There are different practices of church polity, and so not all churches follow the biblical teaching concerning church leaders. In some groups of Christians, the term “pastor” may be more inclusive, extending to anyone who preaches or evangelizes. This might be done out of respect for denominational tradition, not out of a desire to practice biblical principles imprecisely. Many probably do not agree with our views concerning the definitions of biblical terms, and they are doing their best to be faithful to their understanding of Scripture. Surely there are some who covet the title “pastor” because of the respect that comes with it. How many of them do I dare not guess, nor would I presume to be able to read anyone’s motives. I can only look on the outward appearance; only God can look into the heart. You asked if laziness could be a cause. I suppose it could be. It may be easier to use “pastor,” “minister” or some other general term to include all those involved in ministry. While there are times we may need to stand for what we believe is biblical truth, it is usually better to focus on how well we are studying and applying the truths of Scripture ourselves, rather than spending too much energy trying to correct others. I believe that is why Jesus said, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye” (Matthew 7:4-5).
The term Elder is, as you say, interchangeable with Pastor as well as Overseer etc. Therefore a pastor is an elder. It is true that not all elders are pastors, because there are some who have been called to the special role of teaching and preaching the word. A pastor of a church must have these qualities, because he is in the position of looking after the people a local church. I think it is a good description when you think of the role of a shepherd who cares for his sheep and makes sure they have good food (the Word of God). He, like a shepherd, is responsible for his 'sheep'. He has a great deal of responsibility on his shoulders as one day he will have to give an account to God for the way he has cared for them. The term pastor can only be used for the person who is responsible for the spiritual care of a local church. I don't see from the bible that an evangelist for instance, could use the term pastor as he would be moving about from place to place and would not be concerned with one group of God's people.
This is a very interesting question. You know there are quite so many of such itching issues in the Church today, but this is not to say they haven't before. I never knew such issues are equally there like in the United States where the Church has been established for centuries now. For in the west, it is not easy to simply claim to be a Pastor without having gone to Bible College. Society in the West is more informed and not as desperate. On the other hand though, in much of Africa, especially Uganda where I happen to be, the Church is still young and just emerging. It is not yet streamlined and a lot of effort is being put just into working out all such issues. It is therefore quite easy for someone to simply call themselves any titles they wish. Now, to answer your question, you will realize that this challenge, if it is any way, is two fold. 1) People who wish by themselves to be called by a certain title (Pastor) 2) People who are called by such titles by virtue of being active in church. People who wish by themselves to be called by a certain title (Pastor) Sometimes, some people have wished to call themselves titles for their selfish reasons, while others have actually been called by God to be so. To many of such people, the title of Pastor is easily perceivable and quickly paying. For to be a Pastor, most often than not, you will have to possess a flock, a flock in the sense that you can easily feed yourself on it. To be an Evangelist takes long to pay off. To be an Apostle means you will have to plant churches and leave them to others to pastor. To be a Teacher, you really have to be patient for your labors to pay off. Rather, because we are selfish mortal beings, we tend to look at it much in terms of quicker material gain than to simply love to serve the LORD. So many funny characters are currently hiding behind serving the LORD yet they only execute much disservice. The LORD Himself will do the clean up, at the right time. For it is a process, the LORD can't fail (Matthew 13:24-30). Equally so, we should not give up the fight. For the Bible tells us we will know everybody by their fruits (Matthew 7:16-21). But let me also seek to inform you that some people can be gifted twice. Someone could be a Pastor as well as a teacher. For I have come to learn that even to pastor can be done in various ways. There are those who are pastors by way of counseling, others are by way of preaching, encouraging others, etc. You will find that even pastors are gifted differently. The message of John Hagee is far different from that of Ben Hin, or Creflo Dollar, or Robert Kayanja in Uganda. All these are pastors, but each of them is gifted differently. People who are called by such titles by virtue of being active in church. I encountered the LORD when I was still a schoolboy. It was such an excitement that I loved to involve myself in every church activity. I headed the Students Scripture Union during my Ordinary Level studies in one school. I carried on as Prayer Secretary at another school during my Advanced Level studies. At church, I headed the Church Students Union and later alone the Youth Department. By way of being this active, I was readily branded a pastor even as I was yet to be ordained for so. I hadn't even known if I would be so. Later alone, I concluded I didn't love it, for it is so demanding. I loved to be an Evangelist and that is it. But the LORD led me slowly by slowly into being what I am today (pastor). This is not intended to tell you much about myself, but to give you my personal view and experience. The title of pastor is being used the way it is because it is easy for those who wish to misuse it for selfish purposes, but it is also easy to call a person so for those who would view them as being more active in the matters of God. Fair warning...Any body who love to call themselves titles for purposes of their own selfish material gain will surely come to naught. Not just a threat!
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