There is no difference in function between these terms—they’re all the same.
What’s the difference between a pastor, bishop, overseer, elder, shepherd and presbyter? Answer: Nothing. They’re all the same thing. A pastor, bishop, overseer, elder, shepherd, and presbyter are all the same function and calling in the body of Christ. Here’s the shortened, simplified definition of each according to Strong’s Hebrew and Greek dictionary:
- pastor: a shepherd
- shepherd: overseer of christian assemblies
- overseer: elder, superintendent
- elder: councilman, presbyter
- presbyter: one part of the body of elders
- bishop: overseer, office of an elder
So how did we get all these different titles for the same thing? I believe because of different cultural, language and translator’s backgrounds–all had a different word for this function and so it got translated into different words. This also goes to show you that you have to really study your bible, especially the King James version, because everything can’t be taken at face value.
Wow! They’re all the same function and no one is different than the other. And they used to tell me that a bishop was “over” a pastor in some kind of ranking system—Nope, not true.
So if you’re a pastor, you’re also a bishop, an elder, a shepherd, an overseer or a presbyter—whatever you want to call yourself—you oversee the lives of others in the body of Christ, keeping watch, praying for, serving them and making sure that things are done right, through the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Pastors shouldn’t serve alone
My studies also reveal that these terms were always used in the plural form— from the old testament to the new—in other words, there wasn’t just one pastor or elder, but at least two or more to govern a church after it was set up by apostles. Do a keyword search on Bible Gateway or any bible software to see for yourself.
This mindset of “I’m the founding pastor” or “senior pastor with elders under me” is a corporate-CEO mindset which is not found in scripture. However, I see a collective of councilmen on the same level, accountable to one another, without hierarchy, under one head — Christ.
So I don’t believe a pastor or elder should be doing it alone but to rather serve as a group of elders. To be the only pastor over a church of people is dangerous, tiring and not the design of God, but there are some exceptions for the beginning stages of church growth.
Also, I found that all of these terms referenced males, not women. So I believe it isn’t God’s design for a woman to be shepherding a church. It’s not that women can’t lead in the body of Christ, I just don’t see scripture validating the elder role to women. The word says:
2 A bishop [which we know to be an elder, pastor and so on] then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) (2 Tim 3:2-5).
So if a woman wants the role of a bishop/elder/pastor, she must be the husband of one wife, and a man that knows how to rule his own house — and we know that’s impossible. Women pastors are a perversion of scripture and you can surely know that a church headed by women is out of order.
Now that all of them mean the same thing, if you had to pick just one title for this function, which would you choose?