Leadership, Real Church

Does the Bible Support the Position of a Senior Pastor?

In Acts 15:19 it appears that James is the leader in the church in Jerusalem when we see that he makes the final statements after the church has debated the issue of circumcision among the Gentiles. However, when we read in the translation “my judgment” it is not to be likened to the expression of a judge with the final verdict. This is simply the personal view and suggestion of the church’s brother, elder and apostle, James.

Historically, he had the last say when he shared what he did. However, it was what the whole group had been led toward by the Spirit to have agreement on through all their participation. We cannot presume that everyone was waiting for James to deliver the final verdict.  Any of the apostles or elders could have said these words and we would be wrong to read into history that they were the lead elder or senior elder simply because they were the last person to speak.

Notice too, that the letter that was sent is not from James, but from “The apostles and elders and brethren.” Also, it was not sent to some church leader, but to “the brethren” of many churches. The content also shows who was to be credited for the final verdict where it says “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us (the brothers, elders and apostles), to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.”

Granted, a strong argument for James’ leadership in the Jerusalem Church exists, which if true, needs to be considered as leadership without rank, as everyone’s was, in the context of the “all ye are brethren” and “it shall not be so among you” statements of Jesus.

This James (Jesus’ brother), is prominent in the New Testament, but this does not equate to rank leadership. We are reading far too much of our church experience into this historical account if we use it as a bases for the practice of having a senior pastor. This is especially a problem if the text can be comfortably viewed in a way that fits Paul’s specific instructions elsewhere and all of the other historical accounts in the New Testament.

In 1Timothy 1:3 we see Paul “urged” Timothy to “remain behind” to settle things in the church of Ephesus.  Timothy is not the pastor, nor lead pastor, but part of a church planting team. In this letter, Paul instructs Timothy on the appointment of elders among many things, but never is the appointment of a senior or lead pastor mentioned.

In Acts 14:23 we see the appointment of a plurality of elders with no sign of seniority given to any, “and when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”

Elsewhere, Paul meets with the elders of Ephesus with no sign of a special meeting with “the senior leader”. You would think that by then, such a person would exist. Also, Paul addresses his letters to the elders and saints with no sign of a senior leader in the list of recipients or his content.

The Catholics with their tradition defend the Papal system from the Bible. We have done the same with our own systems and are so entrenched that we cannot see that what we have is wrong.

Rob

Leadership, Real Church

Shepherds of the Flock

In one sense all elders are pastors, but not in every sense. The terms elder, bishop, overseer and shepherd are synonomous terms, and are synonomous with the term pastor. However, this is not always exactly true.  Context dictates a terms meaning.

Many in the church, because of their character, knowledge in the faith, life experience and ability to teach should be recognized as elders able to pastor or shepherd the flock (see 1 Tim 3:1-7). However, some of these elders are specially gifted as pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets and apostles (see Eph 4:11-12).  These specially gifted elders don’t outrank the other elders; they just offer richness in their specialized area of gifting for the benefit of the flock. Like players in a team have different roles and specialize because of their abilities, so too should the elders in a church.

Perhaps you are an evangelist, apostle, or prophet or maybe you are none of the above. Perhaps some of us are trying to attain to something that we aren’t and some of us aren’t what we could be. Freedom and blessing comes from finding out who we are and living that out. Note rank has no place in the body of Christ. We are to accomplish the role or function that we are called to, not achieve or receive any rank. Rank is of this world. (Anyway, we are all Sons of God. What more could one want!)

All elders pastor in a general sense, but not in the specific way that some do in the church.  Many a modern day “pastor” is clearly not one at all, and many a “lay” person is so much more pastoral and more likely one of many who are gifted to the church in this role. Some modern day “pastors” are not the specific gift to the church spoken of in Eph 4:11-12, but are rather one of many elders called to shepherd (see 1 Peter 5:11-12 and Acts 20:17,28).  These “pastors” may be more of a gift to the church as administrators, helpers, etc., while others may are more likely teachers, prophets or evangelists.

It seems that the term pastor or shepherd has a more specialized meaning and expectation in Eph. 4:11-12 than the broader idea for all elders to “shepherd the flock that is among you” as used in 1 Peter 5:1-2. I propose that in one sense all elders (barring perhaps those who are aged, but yet still babes in Christ) are shepherds, see Acts 14:23; 15:4,6; 20:17 and 1 Peter 5:1-2, but that not all of these shepherds (elders/pastors) are the specific gift of pastor that Ephesians 4:11-12 speaks about.

Are you an elder who pastors in the general sense it’s expected of elders, or are you an elder gifted with special pastoral gifting with a more specific role as a pastor? Like the term apostle has more than one meaning, perhaps so too does the term shepherd or pastor. In a sense all elders are shepherds or pastors (see Peter’s expectation of elders to be shepherding in 1 Peter 5:1-2) however, I propose that it’s from among these elders that some will clearly emerge and be seen to be gifted as the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers as mentioned in Eph 4:11-12. Pastors are specially gifted Elders/Bishops/Shepherds.

From this, we can see that the same train of thought can be used for the term teacher, that is, all elders should be able to teach, but not all elders are gifted as a teacher in the sense it’s used in Eph 4:11-12. So, while all elders should pastor and teach (1 Peter 5:1-2 and 1Timothy 3:1-7) and in a sense are therefore pastors and teachers, this does not make them gifted as the pastors or teachers seen in Eph 4:11-12.

There are different roles, focuses and levels of gifting (I speak of levels as gift ability and frequency of use and not hierarchy) for pastoring and teaching. Every elder needs to be competent to teach and uphold the basics of our faith and guide and assist those around them. Yet, not every elder has the gifting to teach or pastor as well as others among them who have been set apart as gifts to the church, clearly gifted in teaching and pastoring seen in Eph 4:11-12.

Like prophesying once or twice doesn’t make you a prophet, so too the ability to teach may help qualify you to be an elder who teaches, but not have the gift of teaching as expressed in Eph 4:11-12. Similarly, all can and should be involved in evangelism, but try as I may the simple message Billy Graham spoke will never have the effect through me as it did through him unless I’m specially gifted as an evangelist.

To find out who you are in the body of Christ, and live that to the full, will be the best way to bless God, yourself and those around you. Who we are to the body emerges as we allow the Spirit of God to work in and through us. When this happens, those around may recognize your role and gifting more easily than you do. A church environment that allows one another to grow in their gifts is a great help to experiencing the fullness of what God wants to do in and through one’s life individually and together through the body corporately.

By Rob Morley

Leadership, Real Church

Church Governance 101

Church governance = the Holy Spirit + group consensus. In Acts 15:28 we read …it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us… (See also Acts15:22, 23). Here it clearly shows that neither James nor Peter was the head of the church as some would have us think, but that there was only one leader, Jesus, bringing about consensus through his Holy Spirit among His people who were living in unity demonstrated by their mutual submission.

Church leadership or eldership = Big brothers & sisters, appointed to lovingly help you along, carrying no more authority than you, except the Word of God. Acts 14:23 And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

Is this how your church is run?

What’s missing in your equation?

Are you able to trust God to do the job?

Rob Morley (expanded from my Tweets of 1 March 2012)