Church Government the Bible Way
"And how shall they preach, except they be sent?" Romans 10:15a
Are we unknowingly following the doctrine and deeds of the Nicolaitanes which Jesus hates? A follower of Nicolaos (conqueror of the people) is the Greek version of Balaam, from Hebrew "Belang Am", "Destroyer of the people. By allowing and following a one man pastor system we have elevated a doctrine that is not of God which has ultimately stunted the growth of the body of Christ. Let me explain.
I want to address the one man pastor system that is being followed by the current church at present. I will ask you some questions that we must address in being obedient to Gods Word in church government. Has God ever set up one pastor that is over the congregation or are there multiple pastors that God ordained for the oversight of the local congregation? Is the present church government set up correctly? Are you as a member of the body of Christ growing unto perfection under the present church system? Can we expect God to honor and bless when we are out of order teaching for doctrine the commandments of men?
Is the "One Pastor" system biblical? Let's take a look at the current church system that is in America and in the world for that matter. Here is a hypothetical example of what generally happens when an individual feels the call of God in ministry. Someone feels called to preach. He goes to his "pastor" and tells him that he is called to preach. The pastor then recommends a seminary for education in order to have a degree. After graduating, he then puts in his application for a pastorate to various churches. A church looking for a pastor then calls for the pastor to be interviewed and scrutinized as to possibly becoming the new appointed pastor. The board members of the church then vote as to the various candidates for the pastorate. The board members vote the new pastor in as their new pastor. He will be the pastor until he is voted out or resigns. The tithe is usually given to the pastor in a small church for his wages for his new job. If it is a large church, a salary usually will be agreed upon for the new pastor. Is this the norm for most churches? The answer is "yes". But is this Bible way of church government? The answer is "no". Let's see why.
The Word of God never had one man as the singular pastor over any congregation. The only man over the congregation is Jesus which is the Head of the church who is the great Shepherd of the sheep. God does not have a "superman" pastor who is all knowing with all gifting for all members of the congregation. This is why God set up pastors, elders, bishops over the local congregation. Most will be surprised to find that God always set up multiple pastors, elders, and bishops over the local church congregation. The word "pastor" being singular is absent in the New Testament. Pastors in the plural occurs once in the New Testament in Ephesians 4:11. Pastor is the Greek "poimen" meaning "shepherd, shepherds" which occurs sixteen times. The verb form "poimaino" means "to shepherd, pastor" a flock.
"The elders (presbuterous) which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder (presbyteros), and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed (poimainō, shepherd, pastor) the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight (episkopountes, bishop) thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock." (1 Peter 5:1-3). In this verse of scripture, elders are pastors who are bishops of which all are the same office and all have the same function. Pastors being stated by Paul in Ephesians 4:11-13 are one of the five-fold ministries that are mentioned in the plural. Pastors which is the same as elders which is the same as bishops is an office; the various titles being used interchangeably in the Word of God.
Elder is an indication of maturity; bishop is an indication of oversight. Pastor means to shepherd or feed. Both elders and bishops and pastors have the same function and are always in the plural, never in the singular. God never set up a one man pastor over the congregation of a local assembly. Following are more examples:
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." (Acts 14:23) Did they forget to vote on who was going to be the pastor? Of course not, for Jesus is the Pastor.
And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church." (Acts 20:17). Did Paul neglect to call the pastor of the church along with these elders? No, because the elders are the pastors of the church.
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers (episkopos), to feed (poimainō) the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28). Overseers are elders which are the same as pastors; all having the same function of feeding or shepherding the flock of God as overseers.
Notice that Paul tells Titus in this next scripture to ordain elders in every city who Paul then calls bishops. For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee. If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; " (Titus 1:5-7). Paul states that Titus is to ordain elders whom he interchanges with bishops since both are the same and used interchangeably in the Word. It is man's carnal mind that makes the distinction between pastors, elders and bishops in order to have the rule over the body of Christ.
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." (James 5:14). Did James forget to add the pastor over the church to also anoint with oil along with these elders? Does the pastor of the church have to sit still while the elders pray the prayer of faith over the sick? The obvious answer is of course not. Pastors are the same elders who are to be called for by any that are sick. The man made idea that the one man pastor is separate from the body of elders is a tradition that has made the Word of God of none effect.
Lets see if there is any example of a one man pastor in the Word of God. Yes, John tells of one whose name was Diotrephes. I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. (3 John 1:9,10). Here is the only example of a one man pastor who had too much power being able to receive who he would in the local church and cast out those who he did not like. Notice that Diotrephes liked to put himself first above all the congregation, having the preeminence among the body of believers. Some will read this and become angry stating that so and so who is their pastor is a good, sincere, humble man of God. And we agree that not all one man pastors are like Diotrephes; some being humble sincere men of God. However, due to the very fact that the entire congregation looks only to their pastor usurps Jesus as the Head of the church giving more power to a single man than God allowed in the local church. The New Testament never records one man as the churchs primary overseer except in the case of Diotrephes who usurped the authority over the local body of believers. The fact still remains that the dominant leadership in the local churches still insist on the one man pastor system even by those who claim to be Bible believing Christians.
Some will ask What difference does it make? After all, my pastor is a good man who prays and seeks God for my welfare. It is not the man who is at fault, but the system of the one man pastor. There is a great deal of harm in the doctrine of the one man pastor, and yes, it is a doctrine that is not supported in the Word of God. Listed below are some of the effects done by a one man pastoral system.
1) Since our Lord Jesus meant for the authority in the local church to be shared among several leaders, there was a check-and-balance against a doctoral leader lording over Gods heritage, ruling the believers according to one mans judgment. It is in the joints of bones coming together that the body is able to be built up into the image of Jesus Christ; the edifying of the body of Christ which every joint supplies, not in just one main superman who is the sole leader of the church body. The one man pastor rules solely over the monies, services, singing, music, activities, etc. of the members of the local church body. If there is an activity which is not agreed upon by the members of the church, there is nothing that can be done since they are powerless to admonish, change, or even have a voice in the say so of what the pastor does since he has the rule over them.
2) The one man pastor becomes a dictatorial rule taking on the personality of the pastor rather than the personality of Jesus. The members of the congregation then look to a single man as their leader or their example to follow rather than to joint leadership in varying personalities reflecting Jesus. The end result is that the pastor is the connection to Jesus as their sole personality rather than a body of leaders emanating Jesus. We have all seen church splits due to the congregation being built around a single personality. When a single pastor leaves due to resigning or death, the end result ultimately ends in the congregation leaving the church or seeking another single personality to lead them to Jesus. It is not scriptural to believe that one man as the pastor is to excel in preaching, teaching, counseling, administration, wisdom, knowledge, and helps and governments solely on his own. This is the reason we see too many pastors having nervous break downs, ulcers, health issues, and sometimes divorce, immorality, and even theft in stealing monies from the church treasury, etc. The primary cause of burnout among the single pastor system is because God never gave one man the sole authority in the church. God never meant for one man to shoulder the entire burden of responsibility.
3) The one man pastor system hinders the growth of the body of Christ going on unto full maturity, unto a perfect man, to the image of Jesus Christ. The five-fold ministry is for the work of the ministry. The work of the ministry is not having a pastor preach every sermon always doing the same thing in preaching, but to use various functions of the Jesus ministry for the members of the body to all learn to prophecy and preach the Word of God in fullness. For this reason, the body does not grow but becomes stagnant in their growth into the fullness of Christ. This is a serious infraction against the ministry not being set up correctly allowing the body to be used and exercised according to each individual members calling as members in particular in the body. The church is a body that must function as a body, not a single eye or I who runs it all. Each member should come to church prayed up and be ready to be used of the Holy Ghost according to the will of God in that service in worship, praise, truth, preaching, admonishing, gifts of the Holy Ghost, etc.
4) The one man pastor hinders the exercise the body as one whole. Romans 12 states that the body has gifts differing according to the grace of God given to each member, not just to a pastor. The pastor then does not have all the gifting of God for all things. By the pastor attempting to fulfill his enormous self-prescribed office, the body does not function in this grace that has been given by our Lord to be used accordingly, for God has dealt to every man the measure of faith. It is our duty to aid and encourage each member of the body of Christ to find and do that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.
5) The one man pastor system frustrates the growth of the body of Christ unto perfection. Jesus would have each member learn to preach and prophecy in the work of the ministry according to the Spirit of God. By one man having the one man show every service, the body does not function in the gifts and calling of God in the services. There is a liberty for the body of Christ to function with and in by taking an active part in each service being led by the Spirit of God. One pastor told me, Well, it may be true; but I dont see how it can work without everyone being led of the Spirit of God. The whole concept is to do the will of God not only in the services in the church, but also in the everyday life and work of the believer, being used according to the will of God. Of course, one must be led of the Spirit of God in order to be sons and daughters of God. Every member is to be on the meat of the Word and going on unto full maturity.
6) As goes the one man pastor, so goes the church body. When one man is the head rather than Jesus Christ being held as the Head with multiple leaders being used in the leadership, then it is easy to be led away into error. For if the church is following primarily one man as the sole leader, then if he goes into error all the body will go into error, whereas it is less likely for all the leaders being held in a check-and-balance for all to be deceived in an error. There is safety in a multitude of counselors.
7) The one man pastor is simply not biblical. For one to hold to anything unbiblical is to invite and open the door of revelation into more error which will end in disobedience to the Word of God.
In Acts 15, we have an account of how the church functioned in the question of whether it was necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised according to the Mosaic Law. Paul and Barnabas had already confronted the men that had taught this doctrine that the Gentiles who had believed had to be circumcised according to the Law which was Cerinthus and some of his followers. It was then determined that Paul and Barnabas, along with certain brethren, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. It was the apostles and elders that would determine the truth concerning the circumcision of the Gentiles, not just a single sole pastor of the church at Jerusalem who alone would settle the question. There was much disputing among these brethren, Peter stood up and gave his advice stating how God made no difference between the Jews and Gentiles. Then the multitude gave audience to Barnabas and Paul who declared what miracles God had done among the Gentiles. Then James gave his advice that the Gentiles were not bound to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses, but were to abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. Notice how the whole church as the body of Christ was in one mind and one accord agreeing with the apostles and elders as multiple leaders and overseers of the church and not one man as a pastor.
Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren. (Acts 15:22).
Judas surnamed Barsabas and Silas who would later travel with Paul were prophets who would also travel with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch to confirm the decision of the church at Jerusalem. This is an example of how the church should function as the body of Christ in the proceeding Word of God as declared in truth until the church is led into all truth. There is no mention that James is the sole pastor of the church at Jerusalem; neither did he alone make the decision as to what the outcome would be concerning this question of circumcision of the Gentiles who had believed.
God has ordained that multiple leaders called pastors (elders, bishops) should shepherd and feed His church which He alone is the Great Shepherd of the sheep, not having any one man ruling over His heritage. The one man show can continue lording over the congregation in the single pastor system designed after the Roman Empire or we can begin to set up the local church according to the Word of God. The decision is ours.
The solution is unequivocally to set the church government up according to the Word of God. The pastors, elders, bishops are one and the same office which will be set up to help and aid the body of Christ in reaching the full measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, unto a perfect man. We are to help and edify one another in reaching the mark for the prize of this high calling of God in Christ.
God bless you,
Brother Dennis Beard