Mintje Makarewa writes from Manado, Indonesia

A pastor is a shepherd as well as an elder. What is the work of the shepherd? He watches over, feeds, protects, and leads a flock of sheep. The leaders of God's people are frequently called shepherds in the Old Testament. The prophets in speaking to the leaders of Israel addressed them as shepherds.

The Lord Jesus saw the absence of true shepherds as the underlying cause of Israel's spiritual condition at the time of His earthly ministry. Looking on a multitude of needy people, Jesus was deeply moved. Matthew said, "And seeing the multitude, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd" (Matt. 9.36).

Being without a shepherd is an abnormal situation that leaves sheep vulnerable and devastated. Every gathering of the Lord's people has a similar need for a shepherd gifted by Christ to feed and watch over them.

Christ is the Pastor of all pastors. He is called the good shepherd, the great shepherd, and the chief shepherd. Peter describes Christ as the shepherd of our soul. Though Christ has ascended on high, He is still the chief Pastor of the church on earth. His plan for shepherding the church calls for undershepherds who directly and immediately care for the flock of God.

The concept of the pastor or shepherd was more clearly revealed as the New Testament was written. Paul, under inspiration, wrote of the church leaders whose responsibility it was to equip the church for her work of ministry. "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers" (Eph. 4:11).

The association of local elder and pastor, developed early in the history of the church. When Paul gathered the elders from Ephesus at Miletus to bid them farewell he gave a most comprehensive statement on the work of elders. "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 20:28).

Another important reference to this association is found in the writings of the apostle Peter: 

"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, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God, and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock "(1 Pet. 5:1-3).

Both Paul and Peter assign the pastoral responsibility to elders. Since a plurality of elders is the norm in the New Testament church, are all elders equally pastors or are some elders set apart to be pastors? The answer comes from an examination of all that the New Testament says about elders. The fact that Peter identifies himself as an elder and that the apostle John also calls himself an elder would in itself indicate that there is more than one class of elders in the New Testament.

The New Testament speaks of two kinds of elders. Peter and John were apostles, yet they were elders, in the Adventist Church system the elders and pastors work together in this function. A careful study of the Scripture passages dealing with eldership raises a question as to these designations. There appears to be an overlapping of duties, and elders are not neatly divided into pastors and elders.

The key passage for this consideration is 1 Tim. 5:17-19: "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is treading out the grain" and "The laborer is worthy of his wages." Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses." 

The elders described here have these distinctions:

1. They rule well.
2. They deserve double honor.
3. They work hard at both preaching and teaching.
4. They receive remuneration for their work.

It seems that this description fits the pastoral role as well as to elders. The pastor is an elder who both rules and teaches. He is an elder who is elevated to the position of coordinator not because of his gifts but because of the need. The church in the act of pastoral ordination recognizes this.

In IThessalonians 5:12-13 Paul rounds out his understanding of the pastor. "But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another."

He was to be appreciated, esteemed, and loved by the brotherhood for his diligent labors among the saints. Again in this passage the responsibility of instruction is coupled with the charge to give oversight to the assembly.

The local elder is the undershepherd and likewise responsible for both the spiritual and the administrative oversight of the congregation, but he works under the coordination of a pastor.

The New Testament holds the evidence that there were two kinds of elders in the early church. The implications seem to indicate that there is a distinction between the pastor-elder and the lay-elder.

The Apostle gives us in these Pastoral Epistles a good many glimpses of church government in the early church. It is evident that the principal official ministers in the church at Ephesus were elders and deacons.

It is also evident that the words elders and bishop were used interchangeably and that they both denote an office of spiritual oversight. A little later there is a distinction in 1 Timothy 5:17 between two classes of elders, the one that seems only to have exercised authority and rule, the other class who "labor in the Word of doctrine." In other words, the one was a ruling elder, the other a teaching elder.

The Jerusalem model

The first assembly of the church age was at Jerusalem. Its unusual growth under the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is recorded in Acts. At its inception the apostle Peter was the obvious leader and spokesman of the congregation. The sixth chapter of Acts details the selection of deacons to supplement the leadership of the Apostles. No mention is made of elders at the beginning of the work. This is probably due to the composition of the church. As a totally Jewish congregation many of its converts were elders, and they continued to minister as such in the new body of believers.

As the apostles scattered in the missionary labors one elder took on prominence in the Jerusalem church. They are first mentioned in Acts 11:30: "And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders."

The first indication of a new leader for the Jerusalem church can be found in the next chapter of Acts. Peter, assisted by an angel, had escaped from prison. He went to a gathering of believers in the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, and directed the Christians to report this matter to James and the brethren.

It seems that the implication of this instruction was that James served as the recognized leader of the church as a pastor. Peter's message to the elders was to go through James, their leader and spokesman. It seems that Luke underscores the practical meaning of James position. The position of James in the Church at Jerusalem as pointed out is unequivocal circumstantial evidence indicating his position of leadership as bishop or pastor of that church, and this is the title given him by the early church historians. Acts 15:13; 21:18 and Galatians 1:19, along with still other texts, indicate clearly his position of leadership in the Jerusalem congregation.

The conclusions about James leadership are significant. It is, of course, necessary, that when the need arises, one of the elders should act as leader and spokesman for the group (it is hardly practical that all should speak in unison), but James ultimately occupied a position, which was much more than this. He becomes more even than first among equals; he became first pure and simple, and emerged distinctly as leader of the group. James came to a place of leadership in the first Christian assembly that can be considered the equivalent of the pastor's leadership in a contemporary church.

It is the conviction of this writer on the basis of this study that in order for the ministry in local congregations be effective, all the supportive leaders and members must understand the prerogatives of the pastor and elder leadership.

The congregation under the direction of the Holy Spirit places both in the pastoral role. But only when both, pastor and elder, understand this working principle and relationship, the groundwork has been laid for rich interaction that will bring countless blessings to the congregation.

Mintje Makarewa writes from Manado, Indonesia