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HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

Leadership in the Church

An Examination of Offices


The New Testament mentions a wide variety of leaders in the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, bishops, elders and deacons. What are these offices? Are they commanded for the church today? Let’s examine the evidence, starting with the titles given in Ephesians 4:11: “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.”


In many denominations, a bishop supervises all the churches in a region. The bishop often leads the largest congregation in the largest city in the region. Hierarchical churches (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, etc.) assign a bishop to each region to have authority over the pastors and churches in that region. Each city or region has only one bishop.

However, the New Testament does not reveal this particular structure. There was more than one bishop (NIV: overseer) in Ephesus, and more than one in Philippi (Acts 20:28 and Philippians 1:1). Near Ephesus, Paul sent for the elders, called them all bishops, and told them to be pastors of the church (Acts 20:28). In Philippi, Paul greeted the bishops and deacons without mentioning pastors or elders (Philippians 1:1). Bishop, pastor and elder are overlapping terms.

When Paul wrote to Timothy, he listed qualifications for a bishop (1 Timothy 3:2) but not for an elder, even though Ephesus had elders (1 Timothy 5:17), and presumably Timothy would ordain elders. Paul left Titus on Crete to ordain elders (Titus 1:5). The qualifications for elders are brief (verse 6) and blend right into qualifications for bishops (verses 7-9). It seems that, although Paul used a different term in verse 7, he was talking about the same type of church leader as in verse 6. Why would Paul tell Titus about the qualifications of a bishop if Titus’ only commission was to ordain elders? This again suggests that the bishop is another name for an elder.

Although the terms bishop, elder and pastor may have suggested slightly different leadership functions, there was a great deal of overlap in these titles. The difference, if any, between such functions was never spelt out. Paul does not seem to be concerned about what the leaders were called, and he does not detail what they did.

In the original hierarchy, Paul was over Titus and Timothy, and they had authority over the elders, who had some authority over other members. A similar hierarchy exists in some denominations today, with denominational leaders providing supervision over pastors, and pastors supervising elders in the churches. This provides accountability at all levels.

Just as a pastor is a functional title, describing the shepherding role that church leaders have, the bishop is also a functional title. The Greek word is episkopos, which comes from the words epi (over) and skopeo (see). A bishop is an overseer, a supervisor, someone who watches over others (Acts 20:28). This implies both care and authority. A shepherd watches over the sheep. Jesus Christ is both “Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25). Peter told elders to be shepherds, “serving as overseers” (1 Peter 5:1-2). Again, we see that the titles overlap.

What do overseers do? Judging by the qualifications, they must set a good example, both inside the church (1 Peter 5:2-3) and in society (1 Timothy 3:7). Since they must be able to teach (verse 2), teaching must be one of their functions. They must take care of the church in much the same way that they manage a family (1 Timothy 3:4-5). They are “entrusted with God’s work” (Titus 1:7). They should “encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (verse 9). They must teach, rule, encourage and refute (cf. 2 Timothy 4:2). “Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1).


Author: Godfrey Gregg

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