In the first post (here) I said that it has long been a wonderment of mine about church government. I grew up in the average Deacon led (read Deacon Board here which acted more like a group of elders who made most of the decisions in the church) local church. In some ways, there are things to celebrate within the single pastor system (however, there are many things that should cause us to weep and repent). So, let’s ask the question, shall we? What does Biblical Church structure look like from the pages of Scripture? The answer? A local church under a plurality of pastors, served by a Deacon body. Lets take a look first at the Presbytery of the local church.
The Leaders of the New Testament Church
Three Words Used for the Office of Pastor
In the New Testament, there are three Greek words, which are employed interchangeably for the office of Pastor (cf. Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7; 1 Peter 5:1-2). The Greek word presbuteros, which means presbyter. It is the word from which we get presbytery or Presbyterian and is most commonly rendered ‘elder’. The second term for a pastor is, episcopos and is rendered ‘bishop’ or overseer. The last word for this office is the Greek word, poimen, and it is rendered pastor (Ephesians 4:11). What do these three words emphasize? The word ‘presbyter’ or ‘elder’ emphasizes the maturity of the man (not specifically in reference to his age) and the dignity of his office. The term ‘bishop’ or ‘overseer’ refers to the administrative functions of the office. The word ‘pastor’ refers to the spiritual care and concern of the office.
The Plurality of Pastors
Contrary to those churches who have only one pastor, the pattern that we see in Scripture is always that of a plurality (more than one) of pastors within the context of each local church. This was the uniform practice of the churches in the New Testament (see Acts 14:23; 15:2-6, 22; 20:17-18; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1, 5). For those of you who would object saying, “in 1 Timothy 3:2 there is a singular usage of the word, “pastor”. Allow me to simply satisfy that objection by saying this; it is widely recognized that this term, in this context is simply a generic use of the word pastor. In other words, this is simply speaking of pastors as a class. It is clear from the Bible that the norm for the local church was a plurality of presbyters leading each congregation. These Presbyters served alongside a Deacon ministry to serve the local Church body (1 Tim. 3:8-13; Phil. 1:1) and they served as servant leaders (see Matt. 20:24-28; 23:8-12; and Titus 1:1 where Paul calls himself a slave of Christ. 1 Pet. 5:2)
The Work Of The Presbyters/Pastors
With all of this said, what about the work of the presbyters? There are at least 14, if not more, priorities for each and every pastor. These would include the following:
- Teaching/Preaching (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:17; 1 Peter 5:2; Acts 20:28);
- Guarding the Church Against False Teaching (Acts 20:28-29; Titus 1:9-14);
- Care For Widows (1 Timothy 5:3)
- Oversight (1 Peter 5:3; Hebrews 13:7, 17)
- Counseling (Acts 21:23)
- Handling Disputes (Acts 15:2ff)
- Confronting Sin (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; Titus 1:11)
- Visiting and Praying for the Sick (James 5:14)
- Identify And Train Leaders (2 Timothy 2:1-2)
- Lead God’s People In Prayer (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
- Be An Example (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
- Supervise Deacon Ministry (Acts 11:30)
- Comfort The Mourning (Romans 12:15; 1 Corinthians 12:26)
- Encourage The Weak (Romans 14:1-3)
The calling of a pastor is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for the lazy. While some have no clear understanding of the sacrifice of the pastoral call, the presbyters/pastors must teach their people what is required of us so that they can know how to hold us accountable Biblically. We are, after all, servant leaders who serve for the glory of Christ and for the encouragement and blessing of God’s people.
Soli Deo Gloria