In one sense all elders are pastors, but not in every sense. The terms elder, bishop, overseer and shepherd are synonomous terms, and are synonomous with the term pastor. However, this is not always exactly true. Context dictates a terms meaning.
Many in the church, because of their character, knowledge in the faith, life experience and ability to teach should be recognized as elders able to pastor or shepherd the flock (see 1 Tim 3:1-7). However, some of these elders are specially gifted as pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets and apostles (see Eph 4:11-12). These specially gifted elders don’t outrank the other elders; they just offer richness in their specialized area of gifting for the benefit of the flock. Like players in a team have different roles and specialize because of their abilities, so too should the elders in a church.
Perhaps you are an evangelist, apostle, or prophet or maybe you are none of the above. Perhaps some of us are trying to attain to something that we aren’t and some of us aren’t what we could be. Freedom and blessing comes from finding out who we are and living that out. Note rank has no place in the body of Christ. We are to accomplish the role or function that we are called to, not achieve or receive any rank. Rank is of this world. (Anyway, we are all Sons of God. What more could one want!)
All elders pastor in a general sense, but not in the specific way that some do in the church. Many a modern day “pastor” is clearly not one at all, and many a “lay” person is so much more pastoral and more likely one of many who are gifted to the church in this role. Some modern day “pastors” are not the specific gift to the church spoken of in Eph 4:11-12, but are rather one of many elders called to shepherd (see 1 Peter 5:11-12 and Acts 20:17,28). These “pastors” may be more of a gift to the church as administrators, helpers, etc., while others may are more likely teachers, prophets or evangelists.
It seems that the term pastor or shepherd has a more specialized meaning and expectation in Eph. 4:11-12 than the broader idea for all elders to “shepherd the flock that is among you” as used in 1 Peter 5:1-2. I propose that in one sense all elders (barring perhaps those who are aged, but yet still babes in Christ) are shepherds, see Acts 14:23; 15:4,6; 20:17 and 1 Peter 5:1-2, but that not all of these shepherds (elders/pastors) are the specific gift of pastor that Ephesians 4:11-12 speaks about.
Are you an elder who pastors in the general sense it’s expected of elders, or are you an elder gifted with special pastoral gifting with a more specific role as a pastor? Like the term apostle has more than one meaning, perhaps so too does the term shepherd or pastor. In a sense all elders are shepherds or pastors (see Peter’s expectation of elders to be shepherding in 1 Peter 5:1-2) however, I propose that it’s from among these elders that some will clearly emerge and be seen to be gifted as the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers as mentioned in Eph 4:11-12. Pastors are specially gifted Elders/Bishops/Shepherds.
From this, we can see that the same train of thought can be used for the term teacher, that is, all elders should be able to teach, but not all elders are gifted as a teacher in the sense it’s used in Eph 4:11-12. So, while all elders should pastor and teach (1 Peter 5:1-2 and 1Timothy 3:1-7) and in a sense are therefore pastors and teachers, this does not make them gifted as the pastors or teachers seen in Eph 4:11-12.
There are different roles, focuses and levels of gifting (I speak of levels as gift ability and frequency of use and not hierarchy) for pastoring and teaching. Every elder needs to be competent to teach and uphold the basics of our faith and guide and assist those around them. Yet, not every elder has the gifting to teach or pastor as well as others among them who have been set apart as gifts to the church, clearly gifted in teaching and pastoring seen in Eph 4:11-12.
Like prophesying once or twice doesn’t make you a prophet, so too the ability to teach may help qualify you to be an elder who teaches, but not have the gift of teaching as expressed in Eph 4:11-12. Similarly, all can and should be involved in evangelism, but try as I may the simple message Billy Graham spoke will never have the effect through me as it did through him unless I’m specially gifted as an evangelist.
To find out who you are in the body of Christ, and live that to the full, will be the best way to bless God, yourself and those around you. Who we are to the body emerges as we allow the Spirit of God to work in and through us. When this happens, those around may recognize your role and gifting more easily than you do. A church environment that allows one another to grow in their gifts is a great help to experiencing the fullness of what God wants to do in and through one’s life individually and together through the body corporately.
By Rob Morley