A few days ago, when I came into our office at work, my coworkers were having a discussion about elders and pastors. (I will use the terms elders and pastors interchangeably in this blog post.) We discussed the concept of a pastoral office. Of course, if you’ve read my blog posts about elders, you know that I do not believe that Scripture describes an office of pastor or elder. When I describe my understanding of elders, I’m usually asked the following question: “If pastors/elders do not have special responsibilities and duties because of their position as pastor/elder, then why do we need them? Why would Scripture instruct us to appoint pastors/elders?” In other words, given my view of pastors/elder, what are pastors good for? Are they good for nothing?
First, I think a quick summary of my understanding of pastoring is in order. (If you want the longer description, see my recent post “How do you find the time to pastor?” and my series on elders that begins with the post “Elders (Part 1) – Introduction“.) Aussie John gave a great summary of my position in a recent comment. He described a pastor as: “A sheep among sheep gifted to compliment the other sheep and their giftedness”, and he described pastoring as “to minister as a brother in ministry, instead of as the Head Honcho! …to minister and be ministered to as brethren in the same family!” Thus, I believe that an elder is part of the church, one who is recognized by the church as obediently carrying out the responsibilities of all believers: teaching, caring for people, leading, etc.
But, if a pastor is simply one sheep among other sheep, one who is gifted as others are gifted, one who teaches while others also teach, then, what is a pastor good for? Why do we need pastors? Why does Scripture tell us to appoint elders? Are pastors good for nothing?
For those of us who hold to a high view of Scripture, we know that pastors must be good for something. However, recognizing that elders are important does not mean that we automatically must accept that pastors should be the organizing, planning, head-honcho types with which we’re sometimes presented.
Instead, I believe that elders/pastors should primarily function as examples to other believers. They should be examples in their living, their caring, their teaching, their leading, etc. In fact, when elders are appointed/chosen/recognized, churches should choose those who are already living as examples to those around them. But, why is it important for groups of believers to have examples?
None of us are perfect – not even pastors – but all of us tend to look more highly on ourselves, our opinions, our gifts, our talents, our ideas, our plans, etc. than we should. When presented with two options – one ours and one coming from another person – we will tend to choose our own idea. When presented with two ways of dealing with a problem, we will tend to choose that way that seems right to us. When contemplating how to help someone in need, we tend to want to help in the way that looks best to us. Thus, we all tend to choose our own way.
But, if the group – church – as a whole has recognized several people who generally make wise decisions and generally live life in a way that honors God and helps others – elders/pastors – then the church has a resource to help make these kinds of decisions. If we respect these leaders then we will choose to follow them and their opinions instead of following our own ideas and opinions. (Of course, if the elders/pastors care about people, then they will also listen to the ideas and opinions of others. And, also, elders/pastors will tend to listen to other elders/pastors as well.)
These decisions can cover a plethora of topics, from interpreting Scripture to feeding those who are hungry, from scheduling meetings to helping the oppressed. Thus, when we recognize those who are more mature among us, we give ourselves a visible standard of living for Christ. But, this standard does not come from a position to obey, but from an example to imitate.
Interestingly, and finally, if pastors are truly mature, then they will be the first to yield to the interests of others. Thus, the pastors who complain because they are not getting their way are probably not the people that we should follow. Similarly, those who demand that we follow them because of their position are also demonstrating that they are not the ones who should be followed. Instead, those people who consistently live their lives loving God and loving others and maturing in Christ Jesus are the examples that we should follow.