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Answering a question about churches and pastors/elders

Posted by on Feb 24, 2011 in blog links, elders | 13 comments

Answering a question about churches and pastors/elders

My good friend Eric at “A Pilgrim’s Progress” continues his string of excellent blog posts with one called “Should Churches Have Pastors? Why?

It’s a short post, and it primarily consists of Eric asking the two questions from the title: 1) Should churches have pastors? and 2) Why?

I told Eric in the comments that I thought this was a very good pair of questions and that I wanted to think about them before I answered. This post is my answer.

First, pastoring is a spiritual gift. You can see this most easily in Ephesians 4:11 where “pastors” (those gifted with the spiritual gift of pastoring/shepherding) are listed along with other spiritually gifted people in a context that is about the gifts that Jesus gives. Since Paul said that God arranged the members of the body (speaking specifically of “members” as people with certain spiritual gifts), then if a church needs someone gifted in pastoring, then God will so arrange it. (Of course, this doesn’t discount the fact that every believer is responsible for pastoring – caring for each other – even when they are not so gifted, just as ever believer is responsible for teaching even if they are not spiritually gifted as teachers and every believers is responsible for encouraging even if they are not spiritually gifted as an encourager.)

However, Eric was not talking about the spiritual gift of pastoring. He explains in this excerpt (and then again in the comments):

When I use the term “pastor,” I’m thinking from a biblical as opposed to a traditional perspective.  As the bible describes pastors/elders/overseers, should churches have them?

So, Eric is asking, “Should church have pastors/elders/overseers? and Why?” Since Eric said “biblical as opposed to a traditional perspective,” I will have to give a quick overview of my understanding of elders. Elders/overseers are older people within the church who have been recognized by the church because of their faith and life in Christ. They primarily serve as examples to others in the church in how to trust Christ and how to live for him by serving others. (Note: These people do not start living a certain way because they are elders/overseers. Instead, the church should recognize those who are already living in a manner worthy of Christ.)

We should recognize that churches existed before elders/overseers were recognized. We see this especially in Acts 14:26, but we probably also see it in 1 Timothy and Titus (depending on when you choose to date those books). So, elders/overseers are not necessary for a group of people to be a church.

Instead, after a group of people are already a church – for a long enough time that they know one another and have observed one another’s livers – then elders/overseers are recognized by the church.

However, it seems that elders/overseers are beneficial to the church when they serve as examples in faith and service. In fact, most of the instructions to or about elders/overseers teach that people do not simply become elders/overseers because of their age, but because of their character, care for others, service to others, and faith in Christ.

I believe it is in this (character, care for others, service to others, and faith in Christ) that we find the benefit of a church recognizing elders/overseers.

So, should churches have pastors/elders/overseers? Why? Yes, if there are mature believers who can be recognized for their faith in Christ and service to others and who live in a way that presents a good example of following Christ that others can follow.


13 Comments

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  1. 2-24-2011

    Alan,

    How do you engage people like us who have devouted themselves to getting academic degree to potentially help with ministry and the Kingdom of God. How does one in your thought manuever through the maze of opinion of whether one should or should not be paid for their knowledge or lack thereof.

    I wrestle with this because my life is entrenched in the continual study but that does not feed th family or pay the bills. So what ends up happening is that one suffers for the sake of the other. Most of the time the call to pastor is trumped by the call to be the head of the household and provide.

  2. 2-24-2011

    Alan,

    Does the “yes, if” part of your response assume that there will be churches without mature believers with those qualifications? How can this be in light of the fact that Christ builds his Church coupled with the “God gave” of Eph 4?

  3. 2-24-2011

    Brian,

    First, I empathize with people in your situation and I understand your predicament. I speak with many, many people at the seminary and college (and through emails) who are in the same predicament as you. I think you are right that your role as husband and father must come first. How can you can be an example of living for Christ and serving others if you aren’t caring for your family? As to receiving pay for “ministry work”… well, I have an opinion about that, but I also know that others disagree. Everyone must try to understand that and live according to their understanding, trusting God in all things.

    Bobby,

    The “yes, if” means that there could be a group of believers who have been gifted with everything they need, but none of those believers are very mature in their spiritual life. Consider Timothy, for instance. He was certainly gifted as an apostle, but Paul felt the need to write him a letter to help him in his work in Ephesus. Why? Probably because Timothy was still growing in faith and learning to live as an example to others. The same could be true for a church. What if a church decided not to hire “pastors” from the outside. Who should they recognize as elders? No one, if there are no mature believers. Instead, they should continue to serve one another, proclaim the gospel, and help one another grow until some demonstrate their maturity. (I think this is what Paul and Barnabas were helping the churches recognize in Acts 14:23.)

    -Alan

  4. 2-24-2011

    I gotcha. Makes sense to me :) Of course I don’t think pastors should be hired in the first place. They should always come from within the flock, whether they mature in the assembly together or come into an existing assembly and are part of the group long enough to present their lives as an example to the rest. In either case; Christ builds and God gives still applies. Don’t you think?

  5. 2-24-2011

    I know this is not a given, but the overarching theme of the NT narrative is one in which local assemblies as they gather together to meet around Christ as His church in order to build each other up in the faith should be in the course of normal spiritually imparted/divine life be maturing. So, I think all healthy assemblies will have men and women who are maturing in their faith and sacrificially serving us and others whom we can consider to be elders/pastors/shepherds to us.

  6. 2-24-2011

    Bobby,

    Yes, Jesus gives gifted people to the church (all believers really), and then uses them all to build up his church. At least, that’s the way I think Jesus desires to work in and through his people.

    Hutch,

    Yes, the whole church should be maturing together, although certainly we will all be at different levels of maturity. I am often “pastored” by people who are not elders/overseers and who may even be “less mature” than me.

    -Alan

  7. 2-24-2011

    Exactly you will know if someones actions and life are pastoring and shepherding you. Like I say most “pastors” don’t and most “elders” aren’t. :)

    Meaning most people who are referred to as “pastor” do not shepherd people by example-they are just paid public speakers -and most “elders” are board members making decisions about unbiblical use of given resources. :)

    I won’t even get into the issue of honorific titles and positions.

  8. 2-25-2011

    awesome, yes!

    So basically from now on when anybody starts asking me questions and why we do things the way we do – I’ll just direct them to your website and I won’t have to explain or defend anything myself :)

  9. 2-25-2011

    Randi,

    I’m glad that you liked the post. But, please don’t just trust my answers. Read and study Scripture for yourself and with the believers who God brings into your life.

    -Alan

  10. 2-25-2011

    agreed!

  11. 7-20-2011

    good post brother!

  12. 4-27-2012

    Our early years as a fellowship dont resemble anything like a church model that Ive read or heard of. We were simply families and individuals living in close proximity, close relationship and close interdependence.
    We worked purposefully at open faced relationships and taking responsibility for whatever God put in our path(s.
    We weren’t a commune but we had all things in common, sharing whatever anyone needed, no one claiming the right to anything if it was genuinely needed elsewhere. Our elders (oldest) were in their twenty’s. Only one person among us was above 25. Some of us, though young, had gifted wisdom, usually found among older more experienced brothers.
    Our ‘elders’ who most certainly didnt have those titles or executive power, led us by living within their own families the way I described, and we naturally followed, in a responsive way.
    We were close friends and happy, living simply, outward focused, helping others and like children who are cared for by their parents.
    After 25 yrs, an incident occurred that made us start to question our ways, doubt Gods simple leading without out executive inclusion and seek safeguards from being weakened again.
    That was the end of being childlike.
    Our ‘elders’, now in middle age, led the way into this tunnel, and still do to this day.
    My family left for self preservation and peace, not able to agree to disagree on the new fundamental inclusion of executive authority that expediently crept in.
    Do we need elders?
    I dont know if the question is properly framed.
    My question would be, if I had the chance to ask my former fellowship, ” what in us needs an elder”?
    and “Why, after decades, are many of us not elders?”
    The pagan system of classes, that form the foundation of institutions like churches, education and government have acted as ‘fountains of youth’, keeping us perpetually immature, always needing leaders, correction and judgement.
    The Lord gives each generation what they need, but what they need isnt necessarily what they should need.
    We should be teachers by now.
    We need not have lost the amazing heritage our forefathers won against all odds.
    We should be repenting in sackcloth at how we have collectively lost our first love for Jesus and one another, abandoned our Godly fathers teachings and left a wilderness of worldliness and debt for our children.
    We should be honest, and have the courage to be ashamed.
    I am.
    When succeeding generations wholesale disobeys their way into confusion and self delusion about their own spiritual poverty, no teaching or elder will lead them back.
    The only way is to call each other loudly and clearly to all come to the feet of the Lord in repentance, begging Him to turn us, change us and forgive us.
    If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves….
    blessings
    Greg

  13. 4-28-2012

    Greg,

    I think you’ve asked some great questions, especially the question about why so many are not elders after decades of following Christ.

    -Alan