Shepherds and teachers are the men whose primary responsibility is to care for the local flock. They are like shepherds because they oversee the flock and tend to their needs. They are also teachers because teaching the Word of God is the primary means of feeding the flock.
By the way, I believe shepherds and teachers is best understood as one role of the ministry, not two (Eph 4:11). In every other passage, we see the two functions combined into one position. For example, 1 Timothy 5:17 says, “Let the elders who rule well (i.e., shepherds or pastors) be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”
Someone might ask, “Are elders and pastors the same?” My answer is yes. I believe they are the same, but not all elders (or pastors) will necessarily serve in the same capacity. Paul implied that when said, “Especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” Some pastors may not teach as much as others. They should still have the ability to teach according to 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, but they may primarily serve as overseers rather than teachers.
Briefly, I’ll make a few points about church elders to think about and possibly study further.
1) Appointing elders is one of the first steps in starting a new church.
In the planning stages of my former church, my co-pastor and I talked about calling ourselves Simple Church or something similar. The problem is, there is a “simple church” movement that promotes church without leadership. This movement doesn’t believe pastors and elders are necessary, which is certainly not biblical.
Whenever the apostles formed a new church, one of the first steps they always took was appointing qualified elders to lead the church. By God’s design, the church needs structure and leadership.
2) Churches should strive to have a plurality of elders.
Frankly, the one-pastor model that is so prevalent in many small churches isn’t biblical. We never read of a church in the New Testament with only one elder.
3) Elders should not be dictators, but they do rule over the church.
They can’t be dictators because Peter said, “Shepherd the flock of God, not domineering over those in your charge” (1Pe 5:2, 3). Even so, they rule over the church because the book of Hebrews tells believers, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls” (Heb 13:17).
It stands to reason that church leaders would act as leaders. Some people might argue for a congregational rule in all matters, but that undermines God’s design of the church. If you’re in favor of congregational government because a pastor could become a dictator, see point number two. That is one of the benefits of having multiple elders in the church. A plurality of elders prevents one man from imposing his will on the church.
4) The primary task of elders is to teach.
Yes, pastors do more than teach, but teaching seems to be the biblical emphasis. Three times in John 21, Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep.” Paul told Titus, “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Tit 1:7, 9).
5) Neither spiritual gifts nor the ability to teach ends with elders.
Let me put it this way: The role of a pastor is not to give you a fish; his goal is to teach you to fish.