Oh, what confusion and contention we do earn for ourselves when we make synonymous those Bible terms that may be related but are by no means equivalent in their meaning, nor do they sometimes even imply the same idea.
If Pastor and Elder are biblically synonymous terms, then all Elders must pastor (verb: shepherd and feed) a body of believers and all Pastors must be male Elders (overseers) of the flock. The term “Pastor” identifies the shepherding and feeding (Pastor-Teacher) ministry gift that Jesus gave (and presently gives) to the Church. Along with Apostles, Prophets and Evangelists, the Pastoral-Teaching gift is
given for the purpose of maturing us all and training us all for the work of the ministry (Eph 4:11-16). An “Elder” is biblically an office of governmental oversight filled by a qualified male and is ordained, appointed, by mature, seasoned leadership for oversight of the Church (see 1 Tim 3:1-7; do an Englishman’s search on the word “ordain”).
Contrary to the thinking of some, the terms Bishop and Elder are synonymous: Elder is the man and the office; Bishop, that is, overseer, is his job description (Phil 1:1; Acts 20:17 + Acts 20:28: “Elders” in 20:17 are the “overseers” or episkopos, the same word translated in 1 Tim and other scriptures as Bishop). So, a Bishop, or Elder, is an office filled by a qualified male appointed of mature and seasoned ministry for the oversight and feeding of the Church.
Pastor-Teacher is a gift given of Jesus (actually a division of Himself living and ministering through a vessel of His own choosing, male or female, for “in Christ” there is neither, see Gal 3:26-28) to the Church for its equipping and maturing. Anywhere in the world a Pastor-Teacher goes, he is a Pastor-Teacher given of Jesus to the Church; but, and Elder, or Bishop, is such only where he is appointed and accepted of men to be so.
These terms, Pastor-Teacher and Elder (or, Bishop), are not biblically synonymous, but they are most often related. A Pastor-Teacher ministry may reside in and function through an Elder. So also may an apostolic, prophetic, and/or evangelistic gifting function through an Elder). However, despite the fact that a Sister may be as awesomely gifted in these ministry functions as are Brothers, neither of these ministry gifts qualifies a Sister for the office of Elder. That office is as exclusively filled by a male as is the position of a husband in the home (1 Tim 3:5). And, neither does his being appointed to the office of Elder qualify a Brother as greater than a Sister in any of the ministry gifts, for the evident level of the gift, as well as the Brother or Sister in whom it functions, is exclusively Jesus’ choosing.
One more note on the above narrative: We all have certain biblical assignment of the Lord. One of the most critical is our individual gender assignment. I may qualify myself to function in the assignment given uniquely to my gender opposite, but that fact yet does not supersede my responsibility to stay within the mandate of my own given biblical gender role.
The foregoing thoughts apply to many terms that we make synonymous, while, in biblical reality, they are not. At the root of all these non-synonymous terms are two foundational terms that we treat as equivalent in meaning while they are so vastly different in biblical definition. Those two terms are Church and Kingdom. The Church and the Kingdom are related, but they are definitely not equivalent in any sense of the word. When we understand the difference in these two terms, we will at once understand the difference between Pastor and Elder as well as many other terms that really do not have the same biblical meaning. “Pastor” is a term applied to the administration of the Kingdom. Elder is a term applied to the administration of the Church. The Kingdom is not gender distinctive in any respect; the Church is gender distinctive in every respect. So it is with the non-synonymous terms Apostle and Missionary, Prophet and Preacher, Evangelist and a Minister to the lost: the one is a ministry gift given of Jesus while the other is a ministry service sent by the Church; the one is of the Kingdom of Heaven while the other is of the Church in the earth.
Below is a list of contrasts between the Kingdom and the Church. My sincere hope is that we might see clearly the differences and then apply that understanding to many other terms that we yet treat as synonymous. Again, many of these terms, just as Pastor and Elder, are different in that the one pertains to Kingdom administration and the other to Church administration.
16 POINTS OF CONTRAST BETWEEN THE KINGDOM AND THE CHURCH
1 Jesus came preaching the Kingdom already intact; Jesus promised to build the Church not yet in existence
2 Naturally speaking, the Kingdom is immaterial, invisible and intangible; the Church is material, visible and tangible
3 The Kingdom is characterized by righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost; the Church is too often characterized by the very opposite
4 The Kingdom is given by the Father; the Church is built by the Son
5 The Kingdom is in and among the believers; the Church is in and among the unbelievers
6 The Kingdom is seen only of those born from above the earth; the Church is seen by all those born in the earth
7 The Kingdom is entered by birth from above, doing the will of the Father and with much tribulation; the Church is entered into by anyone expressing a desire to be a disciple of Christ
8 The Kingdom is the end; the Church is the means
9 The Kingdom is universal; the Church is local
10 The Kingdom has a King; the Church has elders and deacons
11 The Kingdom is the government of the Son; the Church is the gathering of the governed
12 The Kingdom is a body of law; the Church is Jesus’ body doing and teaching that law
13 The Kingdom begs a different thinking; the Church begs a different action
14 The Kingdom is the Holy Nation; the Church is its embassy
15 The Kingdom is the will of God being done in the earth as it is in heaven; the Church is the greatest visible measure of that will being done in the earth
16 The Kingdom is to become apparent (manifest); the Church is already apparent