Understanding Eldership in the Church of Christ (The Names for Elders)

Published on by Joseph Foray jnr.

 Elders in the Church of Christ (The Names for Elders) 

What are the names for Elders?


  1. Elders in the Lord’s church have six names. 


  1. They are: Elders, Presbyters, Bishops, Overseers, Pastors and Shepherds.


  1.  Each name has an important meaning.


  1. By studying the meaning of each name, we shall be able to learn much about this church officers.


  1. The most common name is “elders.”
  1. The word “elder” means “an older person.”
  2. This refers to a person older in faith as well as in years. 


  1. Most mature and most experienced Christians in the church.
  2. They are not novices (1 Timothy 3:6)       
  3. Just because a person is an elder in his town/ village does not mean that he is a qualified to become an elder in a church.
  1. The person could even be the oldest members of the church and still not be qualified as a spiritual elder.
  2.  He could even be the first member of a congregation without being a spiritual elder.


  1. Paul sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church. (Acts 20:17)
  2. Titus was left in Crete to ordain elders in every city. (Titus 1:5)


  1. Another name that means exactly as elders.
  1. Another word meaning “elder”
  1. It is found only one time in the Bible. 1 Tim 4:14
  2. Has the same importance as the word “elders”.



  1. Another name for elders is “bishops”.
  1. It means “Overseers.”
  2.  It is found in 1Tim 3:1,2, Phil 1:1, Titus 1:7.
  1. Elsewhere it is used in connection with Jesus.
  1. In 1 Peter 2:25, Jesus is referred to as Bishop of our souls.
  2. In Acts 1:20, it refers to the place of oversight from where Judas Iscariot fell.


  1. This name for elders shows the work of overseeing which elders must do.
  1. 1 Peter 5:2 says that they are to have the oversight.
  2. This emphasizes the fact the elders themselves do not necessarily have to do all the work of teaching and leading;
  3. but they oversee all such work.


  1. The elders must superintend or administer the work of the local church.
  2. As all organizations must have bishops or overseers.



  1. The word “overseers” means exactly the same as bishops.


  1. It is made up of two words, “see” and “over.”
  1. An overseer looks out over the church.
  2. A watchman over the welfare and business of the congregation.


  1. Acts 20:28 says that the Holy spirit had made the Ephesian elders overseers of the flock.
  2. They were to take heed to themselves “and to all the flock.”


  1. Responsibility to keep out false teachers which would come. Acts 20:29,30


  1. The work of oversight by the elders is very necessary in the Lord’s church.



  1. This name for elders is found only once in the New Testament. Ephesians 4:17. It is another word meaning shepherds.
  2. Spiritual leaders over the people of Israel were called “Pastors.”
  3. Woes and curses were pronounced on those pastors who destroyed and scattered the Lords sheep. Jer.23:1-7
  4. The word “pastor” is similar to the word “pasture.”  This further shows the meaning of a shepherd and a sheep.
  5. Denominational pastors are different from scriptural pastors. Pastors were elders in the Bible, and were always more than one in each church.


  1. When the apostle Peter was writing to the elders, he told them;
  1. To feed the flock among them.
  2. He also told them that when the Chief Shepherd(Christ) shall appear, they would receive a fadeless crown. (1Peter 5:1-4).
  3. This shows that elders are shepherds in the congregation under Christ the Chief Shepherd.


  1. This comparison of elders to shepherds is meaningful in that,
  1. Shepherds in the Bible lands were very interested in their sheep.
  2. They loved them and nurtured them (Psalm 23)
  3. Always led ahead of them, never driving them from behind.
  4. They protected them, fed them and watered them.
  1. Shepherds would suffer great hardships to find a cost sheep or to keep their flock from harm.
  2. This is the kind of offices the Lord wants as elders.
  3. The name “shepherd” and other names for elders in the church help to give us a clear understanding of these men.
  4. Elders are Presbyters, Bishops, Overseers, Pastors or Shepherds.


Prepared by Joseph J. Foray Snr. (Elder/Minister. Church of Christ, Oforikrom Assembly, Kumasi, Ghana)

Published on Kingdom Matters

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