Bible Question:

Who are the elders? Are they pastors?

Bible Answer:

There are two types of official leaders in a church. The Apostle Paul speaks 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 . . . (NASB) Philippians 1:1

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


It is interesting to note, the church leaders are spoken to last and not first. We see the overseers and deacons together again in 1 Timothy 3. 1 Timothy 3 is a chapter devoted to the qualifications of the church leaders. The overseers and deacons are included and no other type of leader is mentioned.

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 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 . . . (NASB) Titus 1:5, 7

The Greek word for elder is PRESBUTEROS, and the Greek word for overseer is EPISKOPOUS. 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 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 . . . (NASB) 1 Peter 5:1-2

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 EPISKOPOUS, 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. (NASB) Acts 20:17, 28

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 (EPISKOPOUS) and commands them “to shepherd” or pastor (POIMAINO) the congregation.

Elders = Overseers = Pastors

These three terms are used for the same individual. Elders are bishops who are also pastors. Those who oversee are to be elder in spiritual maturity. In the church no single man should be called the pastor for all of the elders are pastors.


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

Reference 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