Monday, April 11, 2011

The Office of Pastor/Elder

Part 5 of a series on Church government

Leadership within the church is vitally important. With the right leadership, a church can grow deep and in numbers. The Kingdom of Jesus Christ benefits. With the wrong leadership, churches suffer, as well as the Kingdom. Within a congregational model of church government, there is no such thing as clergy or laity. That distinction is a Catholic idea. It is not found in Scripture at all, and it continues to be a curse to the church. Congregationalism means that we all have the same status: believer-priests.
Then how do we choose our leaders? Leadership in a congregation is based on one’s spiritual gifts, not one’s status. Leaders are leaders because they have the gifts that equip them to serve in a particular area, whether hospitality or administration or teaching or encouragement.
Baptists and most other Congregationalists have generally recognized two types of offices in the church: pastors and deacons. Our focus here is pastors.
We could use the term pastor, elder, or bishop for this office, since the three are used interchangeably in Scripture. Acts 20 offers a clear example of the office of pastor. In verse 17 Paul sends for the elders (presbuteroi). In verse 28 he tells them the Holy Spirit has made them overseers (bishop - episkopoi), and their job is to pastor (be shepherds- poimen) God’s church. Other examples are found in Titus 1:5 and 1 Peter 5:1-2 where elders are told to shepherd and serve as overseers. The term pastor occurs only in Ephesians 4:11 in conjunction with teacher.
In the past, Baptists used the more frequent term, elder, for this office. In fact, in 1820 the Sandy Creek (NC) Association voted to use elder to denote their pastoral leadership. Today most people use pastor (and in rural areas preacher), which describes only one of the functions of the office. The only term which is not good is minister which implies that the other members of the congregation are not ministers, which is untrue.