Sunday, August 16, 2009


The modern church is almost always led by a pastor. Sometimes there may be a couple of assistant pastors, supported by several elders. Sometimes there are several pastors with a senior pastor. The pattern varies from place to place, but almost always a church is led by a single pastor/leader. The problem with this model of leadership is that it cannot be supported from the scriptures. The modern pastor/leader simply just does not exist in the New Testament.

New Testament churches are not led by pastors, but by elders. The apostles always appointed elders (plural) in the churches they had established.

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust (Acts 14:23).

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching (1 Tim 5:17).

Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you (1 Tim 4:14).

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you (Titus 1:5).

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:14).
Nowhere in the New Testament is one person appointed as the leader of a church. A "pastor" is never appointed to lead a church. They were always led by a group of elders, never by a pastor.

The word translated as pastor in the New Testament is the Greek word for shepherd. It is mostly used as a verb, describing the work (pastoring) of elders.
From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church….. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood (Acts 20:17,28).

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve (1 Pet 5:1-3).
The phrase “Be shepherds” is a verb in the Greek. Pastoring is something that elders do. It is not the title of a church leader.

Most people will be surprised to learn that (except for real shepherds and reference to Jesus as the Great Shepherd) the word "pastor" is only used as a noun once in the New Testament. The one instance is in Ephesians 4:11, but this passage cannot be used to justify the modern pastor/leader as it describes a completely different model. The pastor-teacher is one gift among four others and their role is not leading and managing, but serving.

Apart from being unsupported by scriptures, there are several other problems with the pastor/leader model.
  1. Jesus left twelve apostles behind on earth. He did not appoint one of them to be a pastor/leader of the church. If he had intended to have one single pastor as leader of each church, he would have appointed one person as pastor of the Jerusalem church.

  2. A serious problem with pastor/leader model is fitting in the ascension ministries of Eph 4:11. Everyone believes that God is restoring apostles, evangelists and prophets to the church, but this is difficult in churches that are controlled by pastor/leaders.

  3. One person leadership is the norm in the world and is used by Satan, but the Trinity is a shared leadership. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are submitted to each other and rule the world in unity. Shared leadership is difficult to achieve, but is the model that the church should follow. To manifest the full glory of the Trinity, the church should have shared leadership.

  4. The prophet Samuel warned the children of Israel not to appoint a king to rule over them (1 Samuel 8). Wanting one man to rule was an expression of distrust in God. The same spirit manifests in the desire to have one man leading a church.

  5. The professional leadership model belongs to the Old Testament, where ministry was limited to a priestly class. One of the fundamental ideas of the New Testament is the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. This means that every believer has access to God and can exercise a ministry for Him.

  6. The professional leadership model places the Christian leader under a tremendous pressure to perform that can leave them feeling very insecure. This insecurity is often manifested in a need to control everything that is happening in the church. The ensuing rigidity hampers the growth of the church. The result is a vicious circle in which pressure to perform feeds insecurity, that leads to control, that impairs performance.

A large modern church, with lots of staff and a number of programs will need a leader/manger to lead, inspire and co-ordinate. However, we should be honest and call them what they are: leader/managers. One person cannot be a shepherd to hundreds or thousands of people, so they should not take the title pastor.

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