Summary: The New Testament provides instruction on how the Lord wants His Church to be governed. Two offices are to be found in each mature congregation - Elders and Deacons. This is a brief look at these two offices.
1. When Paul wrote his Letter to the congregation at Philippi, he addressed it to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons” (Philippians 1:1). This verse (with others from the New Testament) indicate that when completely and Scripturally organized, a congregation will have leaders who belong to the offices of overseers and deacons.
The intent of this lesson is to give a brief overview of the organization of a mature congregation of the New Testament Church.
2. In Ephesians 2:19-22, we learn that the Church was built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Christ Jesus being the Cornerstone: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” Not only is Christ the “cornerstone,” but also the Head of the Church. Ephesians 1:20-23; 5:23-24, “He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body….For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”
Christ rules the Church as its Head by delivering to it His rules and regulations. He has delivered those rules and regulations through His 1st Century Apostles and Prophets, which are collected together in the New Testament Scriptures. To help the Church to understand and follow those rules and regulations, Christ established ministers for the Church. Ephesians 4:11-13, “He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.”
3. The primary ministers who are to lead a congregation are the “overseers” as mentioned in Philippians 1:1. The “overseers” are given three different names in the New Testament. Let’s briefly look at the three different names -
Elders or Presbyters.
The most common name given to the congregational leaders was “Elders.” Acts 14:23; 20:17, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed….And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.”
The term “elders” is from the Greek word presbyteros, meaning “one who is older, indicating maturity of spiritual experience.” Obviously, those who were to lead the congregation would be those who are themselves spiritually experienced and wise in Christian living. That is why, in 1 Timothy 3:6, it is said that an elder or overseer cannot be “not a new convert.”
Overseers or Bishops.
The term “overseers” is from the Greek word episkopis, meaning “one who oversees, supervises or presides over indicating their work of overseeing and presiding over the activities of and inter-relationships in the church congregation.”
We gain insight into the kind of man who would be considered eligible to be congregational overseer in 1 Timothy 3:4-5, where it says that that have had to show success in running their household and raising a family - “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?).”
Shepherds or Pastors.
The third name used to refer to the congregational leaders is “pastors” which is an old English translation of the Greek word poimen, meaning “to shepherd.” The pastors are responsible for the spiritual well-being of the souls of their flock or congregation. The term “pastors” is found but once in the New Testament, in Ephesians 4:11.
I now want us to see that the terms elders, overseers-bishops and pastors-shepherds all referred to the same ministry. These terms were used interchangeably depending upon what aspect of the ministry was being highlighted.