The Elder And His Ministry: From A Baptist Perspective -- By: Gerald Cowen

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 03:1 (Spring 2005)
Article: The Elder And His Ministry: From A Baptist Perspective
Author: Gerald Cowen


The Elder And His Ministry: From A Baptist Perspective

Gerald Cowen

Senior Professor of New Testament and Greek
Associate Vice President for Professional and Extension Centers

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
P.O. Box 1889
Wake Forest, NC 27588

There has been a lot of discussion in recent days about what an elder is and what his ministry should be.1 On this subject, there is one fact on which there is broad agreement. Pastor, elder, and bishop are titles that all refer to the same office. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 makes it clear that the prevailing view among Southern Baptists is that there are only two offices in the church. Article VI says the church’s “scriptural officers are pastors and deacons.” This conclusion assumes that pastor, elder, and bishop refer to the same office. Therefore, the ministries of these three are all one and the same office.

Elder is the most common title for the leader of a congregation in the New Testament. It is used at least eighteen times to refer to an official of the church. Two other terms, “pastor” and “bishop,” can also refer to an office; however, they are more descriptive of what the elder is to do.2 Acts 20:28 uses these terms to describe the ministry of the elder: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (bishops), to shepherd (pastor) the church of God.”

First Peter 5:2 echoes the same instruction to elders: “Shepherd (pastor) the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers (bishops).” Using these descriptive concepts as a guide, the role of the elder-bishop-pastor will be discussed under three headings: instructional duties, pastoral duties, and administrative duties.

Instructional Duties

The most important job of the pastor is that of teacher. Lightfoot says, “The work of teaching must have fallen to the elders from the very first and have assumed greater prominence as time went on.”3 The reasons for this conclusion are many. First is Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts in Ephesians 4. One of the gifts God gives to the church is pastor-teacher (v.11). In this passage teacher is part of the name of the office. God gives such individuals to equip “the saints for the work of ministry.” He is to do this by te...

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