Neither of these terms are used in the New Testament (NT) of church leaders. While the imagery of a shepherd (i.e pastor) is frequently used in the NT, the title of Pastor is not found . More importantly, the term “priest” is never used and is contrary to biblical teaching.
In Scripture, the designation elder is by far the most common. Second to this, the term Bishop (or, overseer) is used, though most scholars believe these two terms were used interchangeably. When the title of ‘overseer/bishop’ is used today it denotes someone who presides over several churches and pastors, though this usage is not supported in Scripture . In Bible times, a bishop was simply an elder in the church .
In Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran churches, the title of priest is used. This term is inappropriate because it creates a special ‘class’ of people, similar to the Levites in the Old Testament who were “set apart” by God to be models of holiness and mediators between God and his people. In the apostolic church preaching and teaching were not confined to a particular class, but every convert could proclaim the gospel to unbelievers, and every Christian who had the gift could pray and teach and exhort in the congregation. The NT knows no spiritual aristocracy or nobility, but calls all believers saints (e.g. those set apart by God for service). Nor does it recognize a special priesthood in distinction from the people, as mediating between God and the laity. It knows only one high-priest, Jesus Christ, and clearly teaches the universal priesthood of believers.
Most common today in Protestant churches is the title pastor, which was popularized by the Puritans (along with minister). They chose the title of minister to demonstrate what they did: they ministered to and helped people with their spiritual needs . The term pastor (or, shepherd) denoted their duty of feeding and overseeing a flock.
What should you call your pastor? In scripture, there is no evidence that church leaders went by formal titles . They were simply called by their personal names. Some believe it shows respect when calling your pastor by his title. However, according to the book of Hebrews [see note 3] respect is shown by listening and submitting to leadership, not by calling them something. The concept of titles comes from the hierarchal social structure of medieval
 Some see Ephesians 4:11 as Biblical support for the title ‘Pastor’. I disagree. The context in this passage is on spiritual gifts, not a church office or position. Thus, this passage is only teaching that some have the gift of pasturing/shepherding, regardless if they hold a particular office in the church or not.
 In the time period after the New Testament era, generally called the Early Church Period, the term Bishop/Overseer quickly formed into a position above that of elder. This was done in part because of the perceived need to maintain order in the growing church and protect against the multiple heresies that continually infiltrated the church. Despite one’s view on the appropriateness of this development, it is important to understand that this was an expansion of the NT’s use of the term.
 The concept of a “church office”, at least as we think of it in terms of professional vocation today, is not supported by Scripture. The KJV insertion of the word ‘office’ in 1 Timothy 3:1 is faulty since in the Greek it simply isn’t there (“If anyone desires the office of bishop). Since the KJV was a product of High-church Anglicanism, this insertion reflects the bias of the time. The two passages cited to support the concept of church office are Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:28. However, as hinted to in the Note 1, both of these passages are dealing with spiritual gifts, not positions in the church. This does not deny the concept of positional authority (Hebrews 3:7, 17, and 24 speak of leaders within the church). Rather, it affirms the centrality of Christ. Congregrants are not to obey church leaders because of the position they hold, but rather because they recognize the giftedness bestowed upon them by Christ.
 Though the term minister is not a biblical term, it accurately describes the basic function of a church leader. While I personally prefer to use scriptural terms, there certainly is no reason to prohibit the use of this conventional title.
 There is much evidence that church leaders described themselves or others by these titles. For example, “Paul, and apostle of Jesus Christ”. While it is probably harmless to refer to myself as Pastor Josh, it is more Biblical to say “Josh, pastor of
Questions for Pastor Josh can be submitted via Email. "Ask the Pastor" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.