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  • Writer's pictureAaron Swain

Equipped to Shepherd

All Pastors are Pastors.

There is only one office of pastor.

Perhaps that is a point you have never pondered. Whether you are a pastor who preaches every week, oversees the student ministry, or volunteers in his spare time, you’re a pastor.

The New Testament uses the words “pastor,” “elder,” and “overseer” interchangeably (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Pet. 5:1-5). In other words, an elder is a pastor, a pastor is an elder, and pastor/elders are overseers. Elder is the term used most frequently in the New Testament for the leadership office in the local church. Pastor/shepherd is the analogy most commonly used.[1]

Though Paul distinguishes overseers from deacons (Phil 1:1), the New Testament never distinguishes elders from pastors. Additionally, there is only one list of qualifications for elders, seen in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and repeated in Titus 1:5-9. As the early Baptist theologian Thomas Helwys said, “There is but one rule for elders, therefore there is but one sort of elder.”[2]

Rest assured, lay elders do not exist simply to make decisions for the church; they exist to pastor the church.

Lay elders are not junior pastors or pastors in training; they are real pastors, called to shepherd the flock of God among them (1 Pet. 5:2).

All Pastors Need Training.

Why does this matter? Because the call to pastor is a call to train. The apostle Paul tells young Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). That means every lay elder should be adequately trained and equipped for the work of shepherding.

Lay elders, you will best be able to joyfully care for and teach the people of your church if you receive theological training.

As a pastor, you are called to the ministry of the Word, even if you do not preach on Sundays. You give counsel and pastoral care, even if you do it informally. You must be biblically and theologically competent because it informs your oversight of the congregation. All of this requires study, time, and training.

This might sound a bit overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. This is why ITM exists. ITM provides affordable, practically engaging, theologically robust courses in your community, taught by pastor-practitioners in the trenches with you. Thankfully, especially for lay elders, the call to train no longer requires packing your bags and moving to a school in another city.

Instead, ITM allows you to grow in your understanding of Scripture while remaining among your sheep and keeping your day job. Committing to theological training will not only benefit you, but it will benefit the men and women entrusted to your care.

Be encouraged! Pastoral ministry will end with the Chief Shepherd giving you an “unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet. 5:4). It’s a task worthy of preparation. There’s no better time to start than now.




[1] Richard Caldwell, Pastoral Preaching (Nashville: Rainer Publishing, 2017), 35.

[2] Article 21 of Helwys’s Declaration of Faith, 1611.

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