In Parts 1 and 2, I have tried to show that the doctrine of pastor as one-man leadership has led many of us into unintended but fully foreseeable and avoidable consequences – God’s churches are not to be led by anyone acting alone and those who try often hurt themselves and the saints.
TWO DISTINCT ORIGINS OF DANGER
In Paul’s last words to the elders of Ephesus, he warned to look for two quite distinct origins of danger for shepherds. There will always be dangers from outside our churches:
“Be on guard…(because) savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock…”1
Surely if wolves plural are coming in, shepherds plural can provide a better defence. And there will always be dangers from inside our churches:
“…and from among your own selves, men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”2
The Greek for ‘perverse things’, diastrepho, is literally ‘twisted, distorted, or corrupt’. Paul warns that some from among the elders will try “to draw away the disciples after them” rather than equipping them to follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd. We have already seen that the best way to establish the truth and/or the will of God is to have the necessary two or three to testify to it and so silence the ’empty talkers and deceivers’, as Titus tells us elders are to do?3 ‘Two are better than one… if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him’.
And what of the restoration of the elder who is going astray and leading others astray? ‘Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted’4. ‘Two are better than one.. for if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.’
THE TEMPTATION OF ONE MAN LEADERSHIP
Lastly, we who are in leadership must examine ourselves, our actions and our leadership structures in the light of the Scriptures just mentioned.
Are we motivated by a genuine desire to lead our people in the ways of God, and if so, what will we do in response to what we see here, or have we unwittingly fallen into the temptation of wanting a structure which gives us a status and supremacy?
If the apostle Peter, one of the closest three to Jesus, could refer to himself as simply a ‘fellow elder’ or ‘co-elder’ among the other elders,5 by what authority do we name ourselves or accept the title ‘senior pastor’ or ‘bishop’? Or are we like Diotrephes whom the apostle John, another of the closest three to Jesus, described sadly as the one ‘who loves to be first among them’?6
Solomon warns us as well:
He who separates himself seeks his own desire,
He breaks out against all sound wisdom7
There is no doubt of the temptation. We must be sure we are resisting rather than attempting to justify it.
THE APPOINTING OF “PASTORS”
Now we come to a point where the way we think of ‘pastors’ will really be put to the test: if we accept the ‘one man in charge of the church’ concept, when it comes to the appointing of such a one, we HAVE to stand apart from the Scriptures since they give us neither teaching nor precedent for it. If on the other hand we accept the ‘one of several elders/overseers who shepherd’ concept, we have plain teaching and many precedents for appointing them. Let’s examine one precedent:
And after they had preached the gospel to that city [Derbe] and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch… And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed 8
At this stage we would do well to consider how we view the Book of Acts – is it just the well-intentioned but not very reliable recollections of Luke, or is it the inspired record of individuals acting as they were led by the Holy Spirit? Can we rely on this record ‘for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness’, as we can the rest of the Scriptures? If we can, then we need to take much more seriously how the Holy Spirit organised the many churches He created through Paul and Barnabas. We have the opportunity to search out what was in the beginning, before the existence of the many church traditions that now divide us.
In His original 1st century church creations, did the Lord build in all that would be needed for all time, in every place and in every culture? Or have the churches since needed to add to it, to amend and correct His omissions? Have these things only been true relative to their time and culture? Since our differing and often opposing traditions in this time and culture can’t all be true, is our particular denomination the only one licensed by God to make any changes? Or should we instead be “taught, reproved, corrected and trained in righteous” church structures by the eternally true Scriptures? I believe we should accept Acts as authoritative and foundational, and listen much more carefully and humbly to the testimony of the Scriptures, asking the Holy Spirit for His confirmation. Remembering Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders “the HOLY SPIRIT has made you overseers”, let’s look again then at the passage just read from Acts 14, at what the apostles actually did as they were led by the Holy Spirit.
From the preceding passages we see that Paul and Barnabas had preached the gospel to great effect in Galatia, in the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lycaonia, Lystra, Derbe and the surrounding region. They made ‘many disciples”. They also stirred up a great deal of opposition and were driven out of several cities, Paul being stoned at Lystra. So the churches in each city were formed in a time of great conflict and upheaval. The question is, what structure did Paul and Barnabas establish to meet the crisis?
Amazingly, initially none. They simply left the disciples to it and went on to the next city. Later, when they came back through on their way home to Syrian Antioch, they firstly encouraged the disciples to stand strong in the face of the tribulations and then ‘appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting (and) commended them to the Lord’ and then left them again, this time for several years. As far as the Scriptures tell us, Paul only ever saw them twice more on his journeys, though he did address at least one letter to them and they would have received copies of his other ones 9. Considering Paul’s obvious love and concern for the churches and his insight into the ways of the Holy Spirit, it doesn’t at first glance appear like he did very much, but the undeniable testimony of Scripture is that it was enough. While he did write to them when he heard of their going astray, it is clear he considered the church had enough structure with the appointment of the elders locally and the input from the saints themselves 10 and special ministries such as prophets, teachers, preachers and exhorters etc (1 Cor 14:29 and Romans 12:6-8), who exercised these ministries either residing in that locality or itinerating. This will be explored further in the soon-to-come study on ‘Apostles’.
AN UNANSWERED QUESTION
There yet remains the question of ‘pastors and teachers’ Is this one gift with two facets? Those who believe this can refer not only to the Phillips and Living Bible translations of Ephesians 4:11 and the Greek text which allows for that understanding, but also to the very clear admonitions in 1 Timothy 3:2 (an elder must be ‘able to teach’) and Titus 1:9 (an elder must ‘hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict). If ‘pastors and teachers’ is one gift with two facets, this can only mean then, those who shepherd must also be teachers and those who teach must also shepherd.
As I see it, there are three problems with this understanding, both Biblically and experientially:
(i) Being ‘able to teach’ is not the same as being a teacher.
The Scriptures say that every believer can prophesy11 but not all are prophets.12 Obviously, all can evangelise but not all are evangelists. In other words, all can have a general ability in a gift without having the specialist ministry that God gives only to some. In the same way, all elders need to have such an understanding of the faith, or ‘the teaching’, as to be able to exhort and refute opposition and yet they will not all have the ministry of a teacher. From my own observation, I have come across many elders who would readily be able to fulfill 1 Tim 3:2 and Titus 1:9, and yet I would not have described them as teachers.
(ii) Some elders should ‘be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching’13
While all elders should be honoured because of who they are, some should receive additional honour for their work. In this case, it is for ‘leading well’, especially in preaching and teaching which implies they have picked up an additional work-load, hence the double honour. The Greek word, timē, is literally ‘money paid’14 or honorarium which means some elders should be in full-time ministry, hence in the roles we today call ‘pastor’ or ‘minister’, but as part of a group of elders who are unpaid.
(iii) Two distinct giftings
The idea of one gift with two facets requires that all who shepherd must also be teachers and that all teachers must also shepherd. However, if we can find in Scripture and in experience any shepherd who isn’t also a teacher or any teacher who isn’t also a shepherd, then the two must be distinct giftings.
Experientially, I’m sure we’ve all come across men who are indisputably teachers but simply don’t function as shepherds (I instantly think of my friend Marcus Ardern), and others who function very competently as elders, shepherding the flock, but simply are not teachers either by their own estimation or others’ recognition. Are these men ignoring or failing to develop that part of their calling? Or are they fulfilling their calling which is to be either teacher or shepherd and not necessarily both? I believe it is the latter.
Biblically, three such exceptions appear to me: Paul, Apollos and Timothy. All three were clearly teachers15 but were never referred to as elders or shepherds and their frequent and long times of travelling to minister seemed to preclude their being so. Obviously one of the primary qualifications of an elder is that he is going to remain in the place where the people are whereas Paul left Titus in Crete to ‘set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city’. The very thought of appointing elders in every city implies that those elders were resident there while the apostles moved on and that as elders, they had well-established relationships with the other residents.
We see this in Jesus’ teaching on shepherding in John 10 where He emphasises a good shepherd’s personal knowledge of each sheep and the depth of the commitment he has to make to the flock in the face of great personal dangers such as wolves and thieves. He makes the point that a good shepherd is there and stays there for just such an eventuality. The good teacher and/or preacher like Paul, however, will want to go on to where the message has not yet been heard:
And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man’s foundation… but now, with no further place for me in these regions… I will go on by way of you [in Rome] to Spain16
It is then left to the elders/shepherds to maintain that message, ‘holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching’. Obviously then, the phrase ‘shepherds and teachers’ refers to two separate gifts given to us by the resurrected Christ; though some men may function as both, others may be only one of them.
In this study, my purpose has been to examine in the light of the Scriptures, the present-day concept of pastor, a concept which is for many of us a major part of our understanding of church structure, and yet is no more Biblical than those we have tried to leave behind such as ‘pope’, ‘bishop’, ‘priest’, or ‘vicar’. I have attempted to draw slowly but, I believe, surely out of the Scriptures a better understanding of how our God wants our church structures to be.
(i) The idea of the pastor as a lone leader, or any variation on that theme, is seen to be erroneous with predictable consequences. ‘Pastor’ is the Latin word for shepherd, and the only ones who are called and commanded to shepherd are the elders.
(ii) The idea of a pastor as distinct from an elder is erroneous. If our intention is to describe the one in full-time ministry, then we would be better to use the term ‘minister’ or ‘Christian worker’.
(iii) The best structure for today’s churches is still to be found in the early church, and the major part of that structure consists of at least two or three elders appointed among the saints in every assembly. Of course, the larger the congregation the more elders there will need to be so that every believer can have a personal relationship with at least two or three.
(iv) Some elders may also be ‘deacons’, i.e. ministers, but we must recognise that that person does not by virtue being full-time assume any position of ‘seniority’, even though they may have advantages over others in their particular area of specialised gifting because of the time available to them. If their lead is seen to be more often right and true, then their lead is simply followed more often, rather than their position being cemented in place as if they had become infallible. This too will be explored later.
Also yet to be looked at is how the apostles and other ministries move in and out of this structure. However, the next study is on ‘Elders’, to establish more clearly this understanding of church leadership, the limits of the ministry of elders, and the benefits to all.