Like many of you I was saved and baptized in a church with one pastor and a deacon board. The pastor and deacons took care of most of the decisions required to keep the church functioning on a day-to-day basis. As a 15 year old boy, this system seemed to work pretty well. I never heard of any problems in our little country church.
This all changed suddenly one Sunday when my beloved pastor announced he was leaving the church. I was beyond shocked. Four weeks later he was gone.
What ensued was something that has played out millions of times in countless churches. The deacons took control and began to change everything to which I had become accustomed. The music changed, the preaching changed and, worse yet, the deacons began to fight for who would have control. Where once I had seen a church family, I now saw a bunch of bickering children.
I later learned that my pastor had endured years of abuse and anger from the deacons. Everything he tried to do was met with constant resistance. After 25 years he could not fight any longer so he gave up and resigned. Fortunately, unlike so many others who leave the ministry because of this scenario, my pastor stayed in the ministry until his death at the age of 85.
How did we get to a place where a group of men, and sometimes women, have seized control of the church and find themselves constantly at odds with the pastor? The answer is simpler than you might think. We arrived here in 3 steps:
- Economics: 59% of American churches average between 7 and 99 people, Because of this they usually do not have the finances to support even one pastor. So by necessity we developed an institutional practice of having one minister we call a pastor. He then uses a group of persons from the congregation to serve as deacons. Although their job is never defined in Scripture as leaders we make them such to keep our cost of ministry low. Unfortunately, they are usually untrained, uncalled and ill-equipped to carry out any form of ministry to the body. As a result of this we have created a situation where egos and desire for control run rampant within these deacon boards.
- Unbiblical: A careful study on the New Testament shows no portrait of our modern day “Pastor.” In fact, the English word only appears one time in the Bible, (Eph 4:11). Although Paul was not trying to create a “position” of pastor, our church forefathers did and we have never shaken free of their mistake.
What then, does the Bible say? There are two Greek words found throughout the New Testament that show us who is to be serving the Body in ministry: “Presbuteros” and “Episkopeo”. The former is usually translated “Elders” and is always plural in Greek. The latter is translated “Overseer” and is used 13 times in various forms throughout the New Testament. Some older translations used “Bishop” as it was already an established church word. “Presbuteros” simply means “a celestial council” and referred to a group of men who served the church in their area. “Episkopeo” was “a caretaker, overseer, superintendent or inspector.”
The Apostle Peter does a very interesting thing in chapter five of his first letter. “I exhort the elders (presbuteros) among you as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory about to be revealed: Shepherd (Poimen) God’s flock among you, not overseeing (episkopeo) out of compulsion but willingly, as God would have you; not out of greed for money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:1-3 (CSB)
Peter puts the function of shepherding (pastoring) and overseeing under the auspices of the plural elders. So you see, according to the biblical picture, it is not a one-man pastor who should be serving our Gatherings, it is a celestial council of Elders who should be shepherding and overseeing God’s children. This creates a broad foundation on which we can grow the Gathering into more than we could ever imagine. When it is based on a foundation of one person it will always be unstable.
- Tradition: The current one-man system was first implemented shortly after Constantine unified the Gatherings under a centralized government. In an attempt to keep control over all the various Gatherings they sent men to each city to be the eyes and ears of the church leaders in Rome. Thus was born a tradition that we still hold sacred today. The church culture has a “one pastor” mindset and we continue to perpetuate that mindset by passing this tradition on to the next generation just as those who came before us did.
When a group of men begin to shepherd the flock of God as a council we remove the weaknesses, as others are strong where we are weak and vice versa. We place the burden of service on the shoulders of many rather than one and we are able to “be all things to all people” because of the diversity of the group. When we get back to a New Testament concept of shepherding we will see God do great and mighty things in the Gatherings.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Will Sharples and his wife Gretchen live in the Ozark Mountains in southwest Missouri near the City of Anderson. They left full time ministry in 2008 and began a spiritual journey to find the heart and mind of Father. That journey culminated in the starting of R.A.G.E. Ministries, INC in 2012. They now spend their time ministering to Father’s children who come into their lives organically. They believe that ministry is not to be confined to the walls of a building or be forced, but should happen naturally as the opportunity presents itself. Will and Gretchen enjoy their 3 children and 5 grandchildren who all live close by.
9223 State Highway 59
Anderson, MO 64831-7203