Dear friends,

A local church is not a doughnut shop so it cannot be set up or run the same way. A good church is mindful of what the Bible says about the church and its structure and seeks to have its purposes, structure and offices congruent with what the Bible teaches.

The first part of John 10 gives one of the main New Testament words to describe a leader in a local church. The word for “shepherd” is where we get the word “pastor” from. In fact, John 10: 1-5 gives an image of the local church – a flock of sheep, with a sheepfold and a shepherd who is under the Good Shepherd. So, a godly pastor is to be like a shepherd who leads, guards, protects, feeds and cares for the sheep under his care.

The following are some other key New Testament words used to describe offices / roles in the church. Note, the church is a New Testament reality. So churches should not be going back to the Old Testament to get its understanding of its officers and purposes. I will come back to this in a moment.

Elder/Presbyter/Priest. Anglicans, I think, are the only ones who use “priest” in this sense. The use of “priest” for “presbyter” developed as the English language developed. But an Anglican priest is not like an Old Testament “priest” – for Anglicans, it is a New Testament office and corresponds to Elder/Presbyter. It implies a role of
authoritative leadership. Many Protestant churches make a distinction between a teaching/leading Elder and a non-teaching/leading Elder. Anglicans do not. For Anglicans, the Elder/Presbyter is to have an authoritative teaching, leading role in the church.

Overseer/Bishop. This role is seen as being, in a sense, “the Elder of the Elders”. The image of Overseer/Bishop implies more authority and oversight.

Deacon is a role closely connected with leading in serving the practical, individual and community needs of the congregation.

Minister. As we all know, one “word” can have different meanings. In the New Testament, the word we get “deacon” from is also the word we get “minister” from. In its first sense (deacon), it describes a particular office. In its second sense (minister), it describes all Christian leaders/office holders in general. A Christian office holder is to be a servant of Christ and a servant-leader in Christ’s church.

Several other New Testament words have sometimes been used in Christian history for office holders. They are: Apostle, Evangelist, Teacher and Prophet. Note, that in practice, most good local churches put all of this New Testament material together in different ways – there is often some Biblical warrant for mixing and matching! I do not believe that the New Testament teaches there is only one church order. However, we are to keep returning to the New Testament to be taught and reminded about how we are to understand the church, its purposes and its officers, whether in an ordained or non-ordained form – (ordination is a separate blog!), These words point to important roles and tasks which a good church is to undertake and fulfill.