Bible Question:

Who are the elders? Are they pastors?

Bible Answer:

There are two types of official leaders in a church. The Apostle Paul refers to both of them in Philippians 1:1 when he says,

Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons . . . Philippians 1:1 (NASB)

In God’s plan for the church there are overseers and deacons. But who is an overseer, elder and who is a deacon?

Who Are The Overseers?

It is important to note the church leaders are not listed first in Philippians 1:1 but last. The congregation is mentioned first when it says, “all the saints.” The overseers and deacons are mentioned again in Acts 6:1-4 and 1 Timothy 3 but then they are never referred to again as a group. 1 Timothy 3 is a chapter devoted to the qualifications of the church leaders. The overseers and deacons are included but no other type of leader is mentioned. That is, the church leaders are the elders and deacons.

Elders and Overseers

But what is an overseer? The first clue comes in the book of Titus where we discover that elders are also overseers. These two words are used in the list of qualifications in Titus 1:5 and 7. The elder is mentioned in verse 5 and in verse 7 the name of the elder is changed to overseer. That is, these two words refer to the same person.

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you . . . a bishop must be blameless . . . Titus 1:5 (NASB)

For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward . . . Titus 1:7 (NASB)

The Greek word for elder in verse 5 is presbuteros, and the Greek word for overseer in verse 7 is episkopos. The word “elder” refers to the leader’s character while “overseer” refers to his oversight duties or responsibilities. An overseer is an elder.

Elders and Pastors

In 1 Peter we find another connection and it is between elders and pastors.

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion . . . 1 Peter 5:1-2 (NASB)

Peter is speaking to the elders when he encourages them to pastor or shepherd the flock. The Greek word for pastor or shepherd is poimaino. We also find that these men are to oversee the church. An elder is the person who has two type of responsibilities: oversight and shepherding.

We find episkopos, presbuteros, and poimaino used again in Acts 20.

And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. . . . Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. Acts 20:17, 28 (NASB)

Acts 20:17 tells us that the apostle Paul called for the elders (presbuteros) of Ephesus. Upon arriving in Ephesus, Paul meets these men. While speaking with them (verse 28), he tells them that the Holy Spirit has made them overseers (episkopos) and commands them “to shepherd” or pastor (poimaino) the congregation.

Elders = Overseers = Pastors

The three terms episkopos, presbuteros, and poimaino are used for the same individual. Elders are bishops who are also pastors. Those who oversee are to be elders who are very spiritually mature. In the church every elder must function as a shepherd. The one who is called the pastor must be an elder, but he is not greater than the other men.


All of the elders are overseers. All of the overseers are pastors. The pastor is an overseer who is an elder!

Suggested Links:

A Call: Teach The Bible
Where in the New Testament does it describe the pastor's duties to his church?
Should the institutional church exist?
Is it right for pastors to get paid as a profession?
God's Design For The Church