|A young man feels called to the ministry. His pastor recommends him to go
to a Bible College for three years to become fully equipped for this vocation. At college
he is rigorously trained, his trial sermons are assessed and rated, and his final
examination papers are passed. At last he is ordained, and he swears to uphold the
college's Confession of Faith. He is now a qualified pastor with recognised ordination
papers, and his name carries the prefix 'Reverend'.
Contact is made with a church that has a vacancy, and he is invited along to take the
Sunday services. The deacons and elders interview him and ask all the relevant questions.
A salary is negotiated. They are happy with him, so they put his name forward for the
congregation's vote. He is accepted (by a majority) and becomes the church's pastor they
become what he calls 'my people'. His name goes on the notice board and the advertising
literature. and he begins his term of office, which may be reviewed after five years or
Such are the workings of the one-pastor 'system' (with variations obviously between
different denominations). Now comes the crucial question:
Is it Scriptural?
Now I'm not doubting the salvation or zeal of those
involved in this system nothing could be further from my mind: and yes, I do know that the
word pastor is in the New Testament! But let me expand my question as I put it to you
again, 'where in scripture is there warrant for one man to be the spiritual leader and
authority over the local church?'
Where should we look for the answer?
Obviously we can find examples in the Bible of one man leading God's people, such as
Moses. Joshua and Gideon. But we need to remember there were no churches in the Old
Testament. We can learn great lessons from the Old Testament, but the doctrine of church
leadership is not to be found there. Now, when we come to the New Testament we are
immediatelv struck by the fact that none of the 'Church epistles' is addressed to the
'minister', 'pastor' or 'vicar'. In fact, in all of Paul's 'Church epistles' he never once
even mentions 'the pastor'. which would have been a very rude omission on his part, had
there been a pastor over each of those early New Testament churches.
Thinking about it further, we realise that there are no Bible Colleges in the New
Testament, no trial sermons, no 'Reverend' gentlemen, no ordination papers, no five year
terms, no negotiated salaries and no one 'special' to 'administer the sacraments'. We
shall discover that these things are not only 'extra-scriptural'- they are completely
unscriptural (the only case in scripture of an 'ordained priest/father' receiving a fixed
salary is in Judges chapter 17, where Micah sets up his idolatrous house of gods - hardly
a good precedent)!
How then did New Testament Churches work?
The Bible clearly teaches that the primary role in shepherding the New Testament
churches was exercised, not by a solitary 'Pastor', but by a plurality of men, known as
elders or bishops/overseers. Many verses conclusively prove this - please carefully note
the following examples from the New Testament: "And when they (the apostles) had
ordained them elders (plural) in every church (singular)" Acts 14v23,
"And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called for the elders (plural) of the
church (singular)" Acts 20v17, "Is any sick among you? let him call for the
elders (plural) of the church (singular)" James 5v14. This then was the
scriptural pattern for leadership and shepherding a group of elders or overseers in each
church. Now in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit's use of the words 'elder'
(Greek-presbuteros) and 'bishop/overseer' (Greek~piskopos) show that they are simply
different names for the same person - the former denoting their maturity, the latter their
work and function.
The following passages clearly demonstrate this:
Acts ch 20-here Paul asks the Ephesian elders (Greekpresbuteros v17) to come and see him,
and when they arrive he addresses them using the word overseers (Greek-episkoposv28);
Titus ch 1-when outlining leadership qualifications, Paul calls an elder
(Greek-presbuteros v5) a bishop (Greek-episkopos v7); I Peter ch5 here Peter exhorts the
elders (Greek-presbuteros vl) to do the work of overseeing (Greek-episkopos v2).
So, in the Bible, an elder is the same person as a bishop/overseer. The Bible demands on
principle that there must be many bishops in one church, whereas for example. the Church
of England sets up one Bishop over many churches!
So who does all the preaching?
"But if you're saying we shouldn't have a minister, who 'will deliver the
sermons?" Well, what does the Bible say? The Bible makes it clear that it is these
elders/overseers to whom God has given the responsibility to feed and teach the flock.
This is the pattern that is taught repeatedly throughout the New Testament.
Please carefully note the following passages and the combination of 'words they contain:
"Take heed therefore unto yourselves and to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit
hath made you overseers, to feed the church" Acts 20v28,
"The elders...I exhort..~Feed the flock of God "I Pet 5v1-2, "A bishop then
must be...apt to teach" I Tim 3v2.
Now, since the word pastor means 'shepherd', and it is a shepherd's job to look after and
feed the flock, we must conclude that in the true New Testament sense it is the elders
(overseers) who are the pastors (shepherds) in each church Do you realize what conclusion
this Biblical line of reasoning leads to? Here it is - there is no place in the New
Testament for an extra office or position additional to, or above the elders, such as a
main pastor, an assistant pastor, a youth pastor. a minister. a senior minister, a vicar,
a leading overseer, a leading elder, a presiding elder, a chief elder, etc. All such
offices have no foundation in scripture none of these positions exist in the New
Testament! The Bible knows of elders and deacons, period: no other resident teaching
'office' in tile local church.
So to summarise ',while others besides elders may exercise a pastoral gift such as full
time evangelists and Bible teachers (Eph 4v1 1) there is no hint in scripture of anyone
claiming to be the pastor of a particular local church and assuming a position of
oversight apart from and superior to the elders In lact presiding elder is quite a
shocking title to take upon oneself since it is Christ who is declared to be the chief
Shepherd (I Peter5v4)
Where did it all go wrong?
The hierarchical system of church government, where a pastor (with perhaps an
assistant) is perched on the apex of a pyramid of say seven elders and twelve deacons,
developed slowly from the 2nd centry, AD onwards; until by the 6th
century a well organized three tier system had developed, ',which approximated to that
which pertains in the Anglican Church today (Encyclopedia Britannica 1953, Vol 18, pages
439-440). No better of course, is the 'one-man band',
where a single pastor plays all the instruments of the orchestra himself. Neither of
these positions is remotely scriptural. On the contrary, the Bible teaches a plurality of
elders who 'pastor the flock', with no extra resident 'office' over and above them.
Clerisy is heresy!
The root problem behind the whole one-pastor system is the false notion that there is a
special class of 'qualified' men called 'the clergy' who are above and have authority over
'the laity'. Did you know that the word clergy comes from the Greek word kleroo, which is
used in I Pet 5v3 in reference to all believers - God's heritage! What right then have
these men to appropriate this name to themselves, as if they, and they alone, were God's
Clerisy is the evil doctrine of the "Nicolaitanes" (Rev 2v6). This name comes
from two Greek words - nikos (conquest) and laos (people). The Nicolaitanes (the clergy)
were already 'lording over' the laos (the laity) by the end of the 1st century; so the
Lord expressly recorded His hatred of their doctrine in the Bible (Rev 2v15). The clerical
system is merely a 'Christianised' form of Judaism, with its select priesthood and
accompanying robes, altars and temples. Titles such as Pastor, Your Grace, Canon, Holy
Father etc. are condemned in scripture (Matt 23v2-12). The words 'reverend' and 'holy'
apply to Jehovah's name alone (Psa 11 1v9).
The pastor-system is the root cause of many of the problems that afflict churches today.
Look at the damage it causes:
1) It attacks the truth that the church is a body (I Cor 12v12-27). All the body
parts should be functioning, as God directs; but the pastor-system encourages laziness, to
the point where the congregation becomes passive not active. Their attitude is,
Don't worry about it; the pastor will do it!"
2) It hinders the use and exercise of spiritual gifts (Rom 12v4-8). The pastor
cannot possibly have all the gifts, and yet he is the single professional into whose hand
the ministry has been placed - what about the gifting of the 'non-professional' believers?
The clergy-laity gap inevitably therefore becomes the great 'demobilizer' of the saints.
3) It dampens the liberty of the Spirit (I Cor 14v29-30). Liberty has been
replaced by clerical liturgy. There is little or no room for a 'lay' member to bring a
message from the word as led by the Holy Spirit.
4) It encourages spiritual poverty. The clerical system naturally leads to a lack
of involvement by 'the laity', which fosters a neglect of their responsibilities in
witnessing and Bible study. Men who should long ago have become teachers themselves, are
sadly still at the milk stage (Heb 5v12).
5) It leads more easily to heresy. If one man monopolizes the
church, and he falls into false teaching, he can then lead the whole church astray with
relative ease - and still more frightening, if a Bible College becomes heretical, it can
lead a whole denomination astray within a generation.
How then should elders be raised up?
In the New Testament elders were raised up by God from within the local church - they were
not hired from outside. An assembly cannot 'make' new elders by some sort of ceremony. An
elder is qualified by his moral character, work and
aptitude for teaching: and when the church can see a man who the Holy Spirit is raising up
among them, they will be happy to submit to his leadership (I Cor 16v15-16). We do not
present candidates to God for His recognition: He raises up men for us to recognise and
follow (Acts 20v28). Such elders will not be 'above', but rather 'among' the flock (I Pet
5v I). The best 'Bible Institute' for future elders is the teaching ministry of the
current elders in the local church, where they can demonstrate their teaching by example
(in pioneer work, those who see new assemblies formed need to point out those who can care
for the new believers in the ongoing years - the apostles did this in inaugural
situations, Acts 14v23/Titus 1v5).
Should elders be paid?
Elders who as a result of devoting so much time to the assembly do not perhaps have a full
time secular job may be supported with gifts (I Tim 5v17-18). The Lord hires them, not
men! many different assemblies, may also be supported
with gifts (I Cor 9v7, Gal 6v6). This pattern of leadership is still followed by thousands
of assemblies all over the world. It can be done, even in the 20th century.
We close with the challenging words of ex-pastor Mark Frees, who resigned his pastorate in
rural Mississippi. USA, in 1990, after discovering his position was untenable. He writes,
So when Evangelists and pastoral Bible teachers (Eph
4v11) who travel full-time and work in conjunction with confronted with the plain teaching
of scripture, I could not escape the conclusion that the oversight of the local church is
to be exercised by mature brethren raised up by the Holy Spirit from within the local
church, and that public ministry of the Word is open to any brother who has been divinely
gifted for it. In
contrast, most churches today entrust the spiritual leadership of the congregation and the
vast majority of the public ministry to a solitary Pastor, who is chosen from among the
professional 'clergy', imported from outside the church, and promised a fixed salary for
his services. Can the reader - with his New Testament open before him - deny that this is
departure from the scriptural pattern?"