The Primacy of Pastor

The Primacy of Pastor February 6, 2015

John lets loose here a bit, and I support him. Too many who don’t know what pastoring is are trying to refashion what pastoring is supposed to be. He (and I) could give names but won’t.

The Primacy of Pastor (by John Frye)

You would think that with all the second-guessing about and dismissal of who a pastor is and what a pastor does that the five-fold gifting mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 is also mentioned from cover to cover in the Bible. Sorry, it’s not. It’s listed one time. And you would think that with all the spiritual wizardry and exegetical technology that spins out of the so-called five-fold gifting that the term “pastor” is a throw-away term, not worthy of the trendy entrepreneurial discussions about how best to lead the church. But is the term pastor (shepherd) nothing more than so much biblical Styrofoam? Sorry, it’s not.

In Genesis 48:15 Jacob did not say that the God of his fathers had been an apostle to him, or an evangelist, or a prophet, or a teacher. No. He said ‘pastor’ (shepherd, see Genesis 49:24). What qualified David as a good king was his pastoral training, i.e., he was a shepherd (Psalm 78:70-72). God was not angry with Israel’s leaders (Ezekiel 34) because they were inadequate apostles, evangelists, prophets or teachers. “The word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves.’” What was God’s remedy? Did he raise up a great Apostle? Did he promise a great Prophet or a sterling Evangelist or fascinating Teacher? “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd (pastor)” (Ezekiel 34:23).

Jesus didn’t say, “I am the good Apostle or Evangelist or Teacher or Prophet.” Jesus said, “I am the good Pastor” (John 10:11, 14). The writer of Hebrews calls Jesus the Great Pastor, and Peter hails Jesus as the Chief Pastor. Do we see a trend here in the Bible? Did not Paul exhort church leaders in Ephesus to “be pastors” of God’s flock (Acts 20:28). And what’s up with Peter who himself was an apostle? At least, he could have picked up on the five-fold gifting and commanded the church leaders to be apostles (those keen entrepreneurs) or be evangelists or prophets or teachers. But no. Peter, himself an apostle, exhorts them to be pastors (1 Peter 5:2). When Jesus the Chief Apostle returns we leaders will get our reward from him. Uh, no. Jesus is not the Chief Apostle; he is the Chief Shepherd.

I have only referenced a few texts that put the primacy of church leadership squarely on the shoulders of pastors. I am so tired of good women and men who are persevering in the demanding calling of pastor being demoralized by the latest wizards of the new ecclesiology. Pastors have a biblically pronounced center place in local church life. They don’t need to be badgered by silly potshots like, “Well, who exalted you, pastor, above the other four gifts?” That kind of atrocious question tips the hand of the one asking. Maybe, just maybe, it could be Jesus.

Someone might be thinking that I have a huge chip on my shoulder about this. You may be on to something. Yet, it’s not really a chip on my shoulder as much as an ache in my heart. Every generation comes along, evaluates the church, gripes about her weaknesses, and thinks, “We will do church better. We will see new things no one has ever seen before.” To lift one text from Ephesians 4 and make it into God’s newly discovered master plan for the whole church is sheer arrogance in my book. Wow, look! Creative theological technology kicks into high gear and, viola!, we can market new things and new books and new programs. Wading around in sheep shit is just not too cool for the trend-setters.

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  • Alan Rose

    Okay, this is a fair rant, albeit with some glaring inconsistencies…

    1. Presumably God did raise up a prophet (Ez 34) or there would be no Ezekiel 34
    2. The writer of Hebrews also calls Jesus ‘Apostle’ (3.1)
    3. Luke describes Paul addressing ‘elders’ in Ephesus, not ‘leaders’ (Acts 20.28)


    4. Paul exhorts Timothy (who is not a pastor, contrary to popular opinion) and Titus to appoint elders and deacons in Ephesus and Crete, not pastors.

    I think- perhaps- you make an assumption that ‘elder’ and ‘pastor’ are synonymous terms in the NT, but I am not convinced that this is so. Is eldership clearly attached to any of what you’ve called ‘the five-fold’ ministries in Ephesians 4.11? For sure, shepherding is a large part of eldership in a local church context, but then I know pastors/shepherds who are not elders (and prophets, evangelists etc who are).

    I think the problem probably does lie with ecclesiology (as I think you noted), but you may need to subject your own ecclesiology to at least as much critical appraisal as you have to those who seem averse to sheep-shit.

    There, have a fish to go with the chip on your shoulder 😉


  • Joe Chambers

    You can always tell when you’re around a shepherd—they smell like sheep. Good word, pastor.

  • John W. Frye

    Alan, I agree with you about elders being appointed by Timothy and Titus (in Ephesus and Crete). Let’s look at Ephesus. Paul, an Apostle, calls the elders in Ephesus together (Acts 20) and exhorts them to “be shepherds/pastors” over God’s “flock.” Why do you assume elders are not pastors? I Peter 5, Peter, an Apostle, and fellow-elder exhorts the “elders” to “be shepherds/pastors” serving the church? How can you write that “elders” are not “pastors”? The clear error of the five-fold gifting gang is that treat a clearly *descriptive* text about what the exalted *Jesus gave* to the church as a *prescriptive* text and template for contemporary ecclesial leadership. A leadership master plan that they have discovered for the church. If that were true, why did not Paul himself appoint apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in every church (Acts 14:23) and why did he not exhort Timothy and Titus to do the same. I mean, after all, Paul wrote Ephesians 4:11 himself. All of this alleged new five-fold ecclesial technology sounds good, sells well, and creates cool workshops. We buy into business models to the sheer neglect of the magnetic biblical vision of pastors. IMO all this does little
    for most pastors. I take your ‘fish’ as another thump on my heartache about what’s demoralizing so many gifted and called sisters and brothers serving faithfully as pastors. 🙂

  • Even though I’m a continuationist, I guess I don’t run in the circles in which the clamoring for 5-fold-whatever is happening, not that I see prophetic, evangelistic, etc. or similar giftings getting some promotion and support to be a bad thing. But I would certainly see the kind of attitude that John reports (“Well, who exalted you, pastor, above the other four gifts?”) as being contrary to the Spirit and purpose of all the gifts, which is love.

    But that leads me to the weakness of this post as well. I don’t see Paul’s response to the Corinthians, when squabbling broke out there about whose gift was the best, as: “Hey tongue speakers and prophets and evangelists, the pastor is primary.” Further, again, I’m not overly familiar with the proponents of five-fold ministry, though I know Alan Hirsch has it in some of his books, but I doubt that this post is in response to people like Alan who likely represent the best of that line of thinking. This post seems to be a response to either the worst of that crew or (worse) even against the broader discussion for reform.

    I know, John, you mentioned how tired you were of “this discussion” back when Scot posted here a few weeks back on Black’s book that contained phrases even more inflammatory than “The Primacy of Pastor.” I don’t know if you’re tired of any discussion regarding pastoral or congregational reform or something more specific. That post said things like seminary students being called to the most important work in the world which made them the most important people in the world. In response to this, you didn’t say he was wrong to say such things, only that you were tired of the discussion, and that, despite what he said, no pastor really means such things.

    Okay, John, you win. Pastors are primary. They’re the most important people in the world doing the most important work in the world.

    Is this what will help pastors? Or their families? Or congregations?

    I don’t think so. I don’t think you do either. Sola Pastora is what we’ve had for at least a few generations. So, what do you want from this kind of rant? What do you want this chip on your shoulder and aching in your heart to achieve when it becomes the Primacy of the Pastor; when the pastor’s value and role has to come by pushing other parts of the body down? What do you want in response? Submission? Gratitude?

    I’m not in favor of prophets or evangelists or anyone giving pastors the kind of attitude you quote here, but why is your response (and Black’s in his book) about the primacy of pastors over other gifts and calls rather than a discussion of the body and the centrality of love over ALL gifts like what we see in I Cor.? At least for my part, I’m drawn to reform protestant ecclesiology in significant part because I’ve closely known so many pastors and their families. My original question, that still motivates me: “Why is he the only one doing what he’s doing? He shouldn’t have to be this congregation’s surrogate Christian. Why is Christian ministry and authority that seems so spread out in the NT localized so heavily on one person today? Why are Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings and warnings on this so ignored?”

    Today, you admit to having a chip on your shoulder and/or an ache in your heart over this issue. I think that’s where many pastors, PK’s, and congregants are because we’ve been and continue in dysfunction. So . . . what do we do? Just drop it? Assert the primacy of the pastor? I don’t find these to be long term solutions. I think our long term solution is going to mean, at a minimum, that we have to keep talking (and ranting less). More, I think it means we work to let pastors be pastors without expecting them to do everything, but “everything” has been the job description on the ground for a while. But you know what the NT says more than “pastor” or “apostle” or whatever other gift? Brother. Disciple. Love. Let’s put more weight, more primacy on those terms and see what happens. I think that’s the best way for the conversation to move forward, and for the ache in your heart (and mine, and in lots of folks) to soften.

  • Alan Rose

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the reply, and sorry if my cheeky fish quip caused pain…

    I don’t assume that elders are not pastors per se, but I think the generic title ‘pastor’ is misleading, because (on my eldership team at least) there is a mixture of grace given that includes teaching and administration, pastoring and prophesying.

    I am 100% with you about not imbibing some “cool” ecclesial structure as the great white hope for the church. However, I imagine that there are some ‘pastors’ out there who are demoralised and hurting because they are really prophets and evangelists who have been appointed as ‘pastor’ with a set of expectations that they are ill-equipped to fulfil (as much as they might like to) because a. they are not wired that way and b. because the ecclesial machine only has one mould for pastors.

    If I understand what you are saying correctly, then pastors need to be honoured and encouraged for who they are and what they bring to the church- I agree.

    At the same time I am suggesting that we could help ourselves by either broadening what we mean by ‘pastor’ or by embracing some different, but equally biblical nouns for what we generally refer to as ‘pastors’.

    What do you think?

  • Alastair J Roberts

    One of my concerns in this area is that, although a number of people recognize the importance of shepherds as a paradigm for Church leadership, very few give close attention to what shepherding actually entails in the biblical context. In particular, the biblical shepherd is a fighting man. The shepherd leaders of Israel are marked out by their power to drive away adversaries, to protect the flock from assault, and to establish security through strength. The rod of the shepherd is comforting because it drives away those who would destroy the flock. Time and again references to shepherds occur in contexts where it is their capacity to defeat or protect against enemies of the flock that is emphasized. Unfortunately, the popular tendency is to focus narrowly upon a nurturing and therapeutic image of the shepherd and to lose sight of the broader biblical roots of the image (of which nurturing, feeding, and gentle guidance are only a few elements) , which place much more of an accent upon traits and capacities that many contemporary pastors lack, or duties that they fail to exercise.

  • Robert Griffing

    Good, intense way to open a conversation. If this is to be fruitful, both the pastoral ministry/institution and the other Eph. 4 ministries will have to be thoroughly unpacked. I suggest this will need to be well-grounded in a presentation of the local congregation as the primal structure of the church. It won’t do to debate which offices are most vital if it isn’t clear that we are talking about servants, not rulers, laboring in the midst of God’s people.

  • Ken

    Sheep shit? Love it.

  • John W. Frye

    T, I am not trying to win anything. Yes, pastors are embedded in the local congregation to oversee the health of the church. That would mean making sure that he or she pastor is not a one person band, but observing , equipping and calling out all the gifts in that particular assembly. Your comments appear to contain a resentment about the primacy of pastor. Elders, pastors are indeed leaders, but not in some hierarchical, domineering sense, but in a strategic sense. I tried to support that in my original post. Peace.

  • Hmmm… no mention of the Holy Spirit. That seems to be common. Not in Scripture, mind you, but in discussions on Kingdom and Church. Whither the Spirit in the church? A pastor is not the primary one who will teach us all things and remind us of what Jesus said.

    A pastor is an important and necessary role, a gifting among the other gifting. I suspect the protest against pastors have more to do with the tendency for a lot of pastors (certainly not all!) to see themselves as the Spirit for their community rather than participating in the Spirit with their community. “I’m the hand and the hand is the best!”

    Pastors become primary when there’s a binarian God rather than a trinitarian God. Which isn’t to dismiss them, by no means!, just to encourage a healthy pneumatology before we cast representatives of Christ to the people. Christ is primary, Christ is with us in the Spirit, we’re all different parts of his body.

  • I’m glad you feel that way, but none of that, not even the gracious tone, was in the post. I’ve read it again and what I hear is anger and sarcasm about these 5-fold folks who are, according to you, demoralizing pastors, and maybe getting money and/or recognition out of it to boot. Maybe you should name names because not doing so makes it unclear who you’re aiming at. I didn’t say that you win other than to ask where your end game is. What do you want to accomplish with this post? We should stop with the reform or discussions of it? Our evangelical ecclesiology is good as it is? Other gifts are getting too much focus or development at the expense of pastors? None of these ring true to me.

    I repeated the weariness (chip/ache/resentment) you’ve felt because you’re not the only one feeling it. For me, it gets worse with every surprise like this post’s title, or Black’s quotes from before, but it gets better with more constructive work in and with the body, which this blog is usually part of. I’m not resentful of pastors. I am a pastor. I have some great pastor-friends. But I’m also a reformer. What I hope for a pastor to say and do is not exalt themselves over the sheep or seek to establish their own primacy over other gifts, or their own importance vis a vis other people. Am I wrong to hope for this? Am I wrong to ache when I see the opposite? I don’t want pastors brought down! I want them to multiply in depth and number and success! But I do ache when I see them, or anyone, trying to prop themselves up *by comparing their own primacy or importance with others.*

    Our evangelical ecclesiology in practice has literally become based significantly on the charisma and performance of the pastor. His performance is often even the surrogate for our own spiritual walk. This is why the feedback can be so nasty if someone thinks a sermon isn’t up to snuff–we’ve got folks trained to feel good about the whole church if the pastor performs well! It’s an overinflated view of the pastor that’s killing pastors. Its the mile-long job description that “isn’t the same if someone else does it.” It’s the underestimation and underordination of the body that is the legacy of our time. If this is the kind of thing you are tired of hearing, I don’t know what to say. The way forward, IMO, isn’t insisting on pastors’ primacy, but on doing what pastors are called to do, which you said well in the comment, but did the opposite of in the post.

  • Jeff Miller

    John, I deeply appreciate your passion and desire to lift up and honor those who faithfully do the enormously difficult job of shepherding the church. I want to do that as well, and it is to our great folly if we drive away, dishonor, or denigrate that role.

    I’m pretty new to the discussion of the 5-fold model, but I honestly do not believe that I have observed anybody writing out of a desire to denigrate pastoral ministry. My impression, rather, is that authors discussing the 5-fold model begin with the assumption that the role of shepherd (as well as teacher) and its importance within the model is more self-evident than that of apostles, prophets, and evangelists. Certainly, for me, growing up in mainstream evangelicalism, the shepherding and teaching roles and their importance were far more self-evident. Thus, it is seen as necessary to give the other three greater attention. I have also never been given the impression that embodying any of the five roles grants an exemption from the sheep-shit–if we’re using that term to refer to working with and loving, relating to, serving, and being present with people through their griefs, joys, laughter, and tears in a non-elitist way. Not once have I felt that that was the sole province of one of the 5 roles.

    I don’t think that the 5-fold model is *the* distinctively Biblical model for church leadership. But, for me, I find it a really useful paradigm shift to re-think my own giftedness for the Kingdom and leadership in the Church in general.

  • Ann Phillips

    So many of us seem to have “pastors” who want to preach and lead, but seem to see the members of their congregation as interchangeable and expendable. The problem is not so much that this has not been said, but that they aren’t reading that sort of posts or other writings. They blame the flock for not following, when essentially we can’t, because Jesus is leading us the other direction. We know they don’t care about us, only the numbers. How else could they suggest, when we attempt to exercise our own gifts, that perhaps if we are not happy, we should just leave. Neither do they learn anything from those who do leave, because you can always find another sheep, right?

  • Eric

    I haven’t found this discussion happening in the same way John has. I haven’t encountered at all the “who exalted you pastor” stuff. What I have seen is something that is encouraging to Pastors. The perception I had before was that pastor had to be all these things. Being a pastor meant being the churches best teacher, evangelist, apostle and prophet. What I have learned in looking at this is that as a Pastor I don’t have to be all these things, God has given the church others more gifted in this way and as a pastor, I can lean on them rather than trying to be all things. That doesn’t displace the pastor, but frees him up to pastor better.

  • Nathan

    In my almost 20 years of pastoral ministry, the attitude (and sometime direct questions) i am on the receiving end of aren’t about being self-exalted over other gifts (the vast majority of attenders aren’t digging into the ecclesiological concepts of the NT.) What I’ve experienced (and continue to see from time to time) is the clear resentment/resistance to virtually anytime I exercise the leadership responsibilities that are part of the role. I simply try to do my job, and some people cry always cry foul, with a few cherry picked bible verses.

    My experience has been that this resistance is really about unresolved hurt from their past or, frankly, character issues in the constant complainer/resister. You can’t pastor a person who is walking away…

    Everybody rings their hands like every pastor is a mini- Mark Driscoll in waiting, but growing up in evangelicalism I’ve rarely seen pastors/shepherds be controlling (the ones who are eventually burn down their churches and families). It’s mostly the other way around: Congregation members with axes to grind, arrogance to repent of, or wrong-headed congregationalism giving cover for their control issues.

    So, yes, speak of the primary metaphor for church leadership as pastor, but then speak to the hard call in Scripture for congregations not to make our work a burden/curse, to let us give care to their souls, to admonish them, and call them to humility and service.

    Speak to these things lest we all think shepherding is a bible word for “spiritual buddy” and church leadership can be cordoned off into the things congregations enjoy like hospital visits (which I love to do), weddings, some preaching, and just always saying nice things as strings play in green pastures by still waters.

  • Nathan

    How do you know Jesus is leading you in a different direction? Are the ” pastors” calling you to something unethical, immoral, or heretical? Or is it because you don’t see them as pastors in the first place?

    My experience has been people demagogue Jesus/Spirit when they simply disagree with the pastors. Not saying you are, it’s clear there are other issues with the “pastors” you’re dealing with.

    But i still wonder what’s the standard by which people discern that the gift of the pastor really isn’t one and then realize that Jesus isn’t working through them, nor leading a local church faithfully?

  • John W. Frye

    T, I know that many contemporary spotlighted ‘pastors ‘ seem to have mutated the definition and nature of pastoral work. USAmerican evangelicalism seems to have turned “reformed and reforming” into “coming up with whole templates to overhaul the local church from one Bible verse.” Both Scot and I suspected that the “tone”, as you call it, might bug some readers. And your tone of comments reveal the bug. The fivefold gang are free to think, plan and practice church however they want, but they”ve chosen to do it in the weakest way possible …on a totally unfounded understanding of Eph. 4:11 in context. I am writing for the majority of faithful pastors in small, out of the limelight churches who get slammed every time the trendy folks try to re-do the church. God bless you.

  • John W. Frye

    Eric, defining or redefining the work of pastor must not start with contemporary practice but from truth mined from the bedrock of Scripture and work seasoned in the history of the church. I am all for creativity and innovation, but not for fantasy. No pastor I know tries to live out being an apostle, prophet, evangelist and teacher. Some think that primacy of pastor is somehow a diminishing of the other leadership gifts. It:s not. Peace.

  • Rev. Mark Smith

    As a pastor/shepherd, I really appreciated this article!

  • Brad Brisco

    John, in my opinion, I find your post riddled with anger and sarcasm. I appreciate your passion for pastoral gifting, but I think you are fighting against a straw man. I have never heard one proponent of five-fold minimize or demean the pastoral gift, instead that all of the gifts are equally important and necessary. We can do so much better than what is promoted in this post. I find it disappointing.

  • rjasonsmith

    My understanding of the APEST crowd is to argue against doing exactly what John is doing here – landing on a singular metaphor for what church leadership is supposed to look like – vs. understanding the diversity of gifts within the body and even within those called to lead churches. By his own logic here, we go down some fairly difficult terrain, because we open ourselves up to the Priest, Prophet, King taxonomy which has been a bit messy of late and other biblical metaphors for leader’s of God’s people. And for God himself. Just because we like thinking of God as our Shepherd doesn’t mean we get to pick that one as the primary one. Does it? I mean, I prefer the warrior king motif. I leave a bloody wake in trail. Sheep shit? Nah, foreskins is more my style. A tatoo on my thigh, that kind of thing.

  • Lance Ford

    Scot, John fails completely to describe what a “pastor” is–it actually assumes we all know. Herein lies one of the largest off the rails issues of the supremacy of the Pastor that has come to dominate the church, to the detriment of the other gifts. Do you believe that what has come to be known as the role of the pastor (as we commonly see it) is truly what the NT idea of pastor is? I would be eager to hear Fitch’s response to your support of John’s view.

  • DanH

    Curiously, the passages offered don’t establish a role of pastor at all, unless we see that Jesus is the pastor. There is, clearly, a pastoring function, but it is not a job in the way the contemporary church defines it. Can you identify a NT passage that uses ‘pastor’ as a title for anyone besides Jesus?

    There are those who provide leadership and oversight in the church – the older and more mature in the faith – and one of their responsibilities is to shepherd the flock. But they don’t get a business card with Pastor So-and-so on it.

    We have taken the gift of pastoring from the church and placed it in the hands of a few professionals, who may or may not pastor at all.

    My hat is entirely off to those who are able to navigate all of the goofy demands put on them in the job of ‘pastor’ and still provide true shepherding for anyone. My hat is similarly off to all those who have no title or position but take seriously the responsibility to exercise the shepherding gifts they have.

  • Shannon Claussen

    Wow, Ann, that is a really sad post. Albeit your reasoning is truthful. Obviously the pastors you have encounter are not familiar with, or embrace Lk.15. And no, pastors cannot always find another sheep. It is the ones that have been entrusted to their care that they are responsible for, and if they lose one, they are to search and find and rejoice in bringing it back into the fold. My apologies for all the pastors that have not exercised their gifts appropriately or biblically. Peace.

  • Shannon Claussen

    John, I appreciate your post, though it is rather prickly! I guess, as one who is being called to pastoring, what other folks might not understand is that we do not appoint ourselves. It is a God-ordained, not a me-ordained appointment. I would never choose me for shepherding the flock, but God, some how sees me as someone He would like to tend to and nurture His people.

    So, to the question, “who exalted you?!” The answer would be–God the Father, Son, and Spirit. What I would say to anyone who asks me that question is, “would you like to take my place?!” Go ahead, have a go at it!!!

    The church needs pastors, that does not mean pastor are a greater gift to the body than anyone else, BUT their call is to lead, which is a huge responsibility which should not go unacknowledged.

    Blessing, John & your passion is valued.

  • Eric Weiss

    So if the Bible hadn’t come from a nomadic/agrarian sheep-herding clan/tribe/society, would we even be talking about “pastors”?

    What are the essentials, versus the shepherding talents?

    What would the organization roles be called and look like in an urban setting?

  • Ann Phillips

    The purpose of this post is not to dissect my issues with my current pastor. I have had wonderful pastors and a few really bad ones. This one started well and instituted a few changes that were mostly welcomed. But from the very first, it was apparent that he didn’t much like women, so at first we just kind of gave him a lot of space. Not liking half the congregation doesn’t sound much like a shepherd to me. It has also become a merry go round of the latest and greatest plan to increase butts in the pews, none of which were all that successful. When it reached the point where the latest plan was undoing our carefully chosen practices that allowed families to attend church together and also attend Sunday school (not that this was the first issue some had raised) and he and his right hand man refused to even reflect on whether there could have been some unintended negative repercussions, many of us had to decide whether we would even stay.

    How did we make our decisions? Well, by agonizing in prayer, often for months, studying our bibles, studying other writings that seemed applicable, getting wise counsel from people outside the situation. Most of us were counseled to leave and eventually chose to stay because this is our faith community and our friends are there. The church is ours, pastors leave eventually and we will love one another into healing. But we pretty much cannot see him as our shepherd, because he has hurt us and never seemed to care for us at all.

  • Al Cruise

    The “nones” and “dones” are making pastors extinct. That’s what they really need to worry about.

  • Link Hudson

    Clearly the ‘pastor’ role has been blown way out of proportion in the modern church, maybe not the Biblical role of pastor, but what we call ‘pastor.’

    The understand the role in the New Testament, we have to realize that the typical name for it is ‘elder’ or ‘bishop.’ Acts 20:28 calls church elders ‘bishops’ and tells them to pastor. I Peter 5 calls tells elders to pastor and charges them to ‘oversee’ (related to bishop) the flock of God. ‘Priest’ is the word in English that derived from the Greek presbuteros, for pastor. But the word came to be used in English and German to refer to descendants of Aaron, which created confusion.

    We call the ministry ‘pastor’ because the Reformed church in Geneva renamed the role, using the term from Ephesians 4, because ‘priest’ was such a messy word. They named their city government officials ‘elders’ after the Greek word ‘garousia’, modeling it after communities in North Africa and Syria in the 300’s. The Scottish Presbyterians copied Geneva, even including their city government role as a church office, creating an extra-Biblical role of nonpastoral elder, eventually confusing many churches in the western world.

    Some observations about pastors in the Bible.
    – The Bible does not teach that there is one pastor per church.
    – The Bible does not teach that the pastor-elder-bishop has any particular role during the church meeting.
    – Nowhere does the New Testament associate the role of shepherd with giving 45 minutes speeches. Shepherds who watch literal sheep probably don’t do this.
    – Paul’s instructions, nay ‘commandments of the Lord’, on what to do in church don’t mention pastors. They do give instructions to prophets, and ‘every one of you’. So bishops/pastors/elders are included.
    – To be an elder/bishop, one must be ‘apt to teach’. But it doesn’t say they are the only teachers. They’ve got to be teaching before they are elders to be ‘apt to teach.’
    – We see the apostles appointing a plurality of elders in an individual church.
    – They appointed elders from among the people in the congregations they were to pastor. We see this in Acts 14 very clearly. It’s fairly obvious from Titus 1 as well.
    – Specific qualifications for the role are listed in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Being called or having a seminary degree aren’t listed as qualifications. Many Christians ignore the qualifications thinking that pastor and elder are separate roles.

    I’m still trying to get over the use of the s-word in a Christian blog.

  • Link Hudson

    As far as five-fold ministry is concerned, I certainly think there is a version of this doctrine that is messed up. The role of pastor gets a lot more attention in the church than it does in the New Testament. Certainly, the name of the role does, where it is used once to refer to a ministry role apart from that of Christ. How many times is ‘apostle’ mentioned. That role gets a lot more attention in the New Testament scriptures.

    The problem with the popular version of five-fold ministry is that it takes the problem with the pastoral ministry and multiplies it by five. So instead of having this clergy-laity problem, we have five clergy roles. The members of the body who aren’t considered part of the five-fold ministry are muzzled and not allowed to use their gifts. Instead of 90% the emphasis and attention being on the clergyman called ‘pastor’, we now have five clergy roles.

    I’ve even read the idea that ‘prophets’ are ‘full-time ministers.’ The idea is that only the professional clergy get to minister to the body.

    This isn’t what we see in the scriptures. We only have one really lengthy passage of scripture that tells us what to do in church. It contains what Paul emphatically insists are ‘commandments of the Lord.’ The passage commands ‘let all things be done unto edifying’ in relation to ‘every one of you’ having a psalm, doctrine, tongue, revelation, interpretation. There are specific commands to those who speak in tongues, interpret, and prophesy. Prophets get some specific instructions. There is no reference to pastors or even elders. Elders of the church can minister as teachers or by prophesying, so the other instructions apply to them as well.

    The idea that speaking in church is primarily or exclusively the role of ‘ordained clergy’ is not consistent with the one lengthy passage that tells us what to do in church. There just aren’t a lot of passages on the subject. It seems like much of Christendom ignores what is written and sticks with a clergy-centered tradition. There is no scripture that says that an elder/pastor has to MC the church meeting.

    Adding 4 more layers of clergy on top of an unbiblical approach to church isn’t going to fix anything. Other passages command believers to use their gifts, including teaching and prophesy to minister to one another. Where are they going to do this if not in church. Hebrews 5 says, ‘for when for the time, ye ought to be teachers….’ We know these readers aren’t only the leaders, because chapter 13 tells them to be persuaded by them who guide you (‘Obey them that have the rule over you’ in the KJV.)

    There are pastors who don’t want to let others minister in the church meeting for fear of losing their time. They think of a church as their field for ministry, while others watch them do their thing. They want to keep the programs going, the tithes paid, their salary paid, and their own vision for the church fulfilled.

    There are other pastors who see someone with a gift of teaching and encourage that person to teach and give some guidance, and give it room to blossom in church. They see someone with a gift of prophecy and encourage that. They see an exhorter and encourage that gift. Elders are to be examples to the flock. The model godly behavior and others follow. They model godly ministry and others follow. The pastor and teacher is supposed to equip the saints so that the saints can do the work of the ministry. Ideally, the pastor should equip other pastors, teachers, and also prophets and whatever other ministry.

  • Link Hudson

    There is also a problem with how five-fold-ministry roles are understood and defined. The biggest problem is with the word ‘pastor.’ What is it about a word for shepherd that causes us to associate the word with 45 minute speeches, and being a CEO of a non-profit? That doesn’t make sense if you think about it. The guys tending literal sheep don’t do those things.

    But some of the NAR concepts of apostleship don’t have much to do with a Biblical understanding of it. How does being an innovator and mover and shaker in business have much to do with apostleship in scripture?

    There is one teaching that apostles are fatherly types who father other pastors. But how many of them come along after the pastors already have a big congregation? The verse they use is about Paul being one of few fathers to the Corinthians, for in the gospel, he had become their father. He and a few others had gone to an unreached city and had been the first to proclaim Christ so that a church formed there. He was their father in the Gospel through real missionary evangelistic work. He wasn’t just ‘fatherly.’ Church elders should be fatherly since their children should obey them with the proper respect.

    Paul wrote to the Corinthians ‘for ye are the seal of mine apostleship in the Lord.’ Again, church planting, real evangelistic church planting where there were no believers before. The existence of the Corinthian church was evidence of his apostleship.

    Matthew first calls the 12 ‘apostles’ right as Jesus sends them out on an evangelistic journey to preach. Mark doesn’t call them apostles, sent ones, until they return from the journey. Acts doesn’t call Paul or Barnabas ‘apostles’ until after the Spirit speaks, the prophets and teachers lay hands on them to separate them to ministry, and they left being sent forth by the Holy Ghost.

    It makes sense to call God-called men who are out planting churches in new territories apostles. Historically, there was a use of the term for those who introduced the gospel to new people groups. Patrick is known as the apostles of the Irish. Cyrill and Methodius were known as apostles to the Bulgars, Slavs, and a list of Eastern European groups. Even in the Reformed tradition, Jim Elliot was known as the apostle to the Indians. I went to a graduation at a Congregational university, flipped open a hymn book in the chapel while I was waiting and saw a hymn about missionaries that said, ‘Make them apostles.’ The word ‘missionary’ comes from a Latin word that is used to translate the word ‘apostolos’ in certain context.

    We should also realize that the word ‘evangelist’ has to do with proclaiming the good news. Philip went to folks who hadn’t believed the Gospel yet to do his evangelistic work. We often hear the word used for an itinerant Bible teacher, or maybe an unordained minister.

    The Corinthian church had prophets in the congregation. Prophets from one church might travel elsewhere, like Agabus did. There is no reason to think that they have to be ‘full-time ministers’ or clergy. There is no reason to think they are all qualified to be elders. God could choose to gift a new believer as a prophet. A prophet who doesn’t rule his house well isn’t qualified to be an overseer of the church, no matter what his gift. Neither is an evangelist.

  • Link Hudson

    Biblically, elders, a called bishops get a lot of attention in the NT compared to ‘pastors.’ Before the Reformation, the standard word for an ordained church official was ‘elder’– or some word that meant that. The Greek word for elder is ‘presbuteros.’ The English word derived for that is ‘priest.’ In English and German used a word for ‘priest’ to refer to OT Kohen, descendants of Aaron. (Greek presbuteros corresponds with hazaqen, elder sin Hebrew, not kohenim, Aaronic ‘priests’.)

    Luther was writing about the ‘priesthood of all believers.’ The Reformed church in Geneva avoided the word ‘priest’ and renamed elders as ‘pastors.’ Then, they used Greek-speaking Christian communities from the 300’s in North Africa and Syria as a model for their civic government. These communities had ‘garousia’– another word for ‘elders.’ So they named their city councilmen ‘elders.’ Church and state were intertwined, so these men were active in religious matters as well (e.g. burning heretics at the stake.)

    John Knox was an associate and admirer of Calvin and Geneva. The Scottish Presbyterians copied Geneva, including the extra-Biblical office of ‘elder’, as ministries in Presbyerian churches. They applied Bible verses about ‘elders’ to their ‘pastors’ though in both churches at first. But over time, they started applying verses about elders to this extra-Biblical board elder role that evolved out of the Geneva city government. It’s a strange hybrid, but other churches have been influenced by Presbyterian and so many people think of ‘elder’ as this relatively unimportant committee role.

    And they think there is this long list of requirements for having this unimportant nonpastoral committee position in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, but no requirements for being a ‘pastor’– ordained minister.

    Are pastors elders? Acts 20:28 tells the elders of the church in Ephesus to ‘pastor’ the church of God over whom the Holy Ghost had made them overseers. I Peter 5 tells the elders to pastor the flock of God. Do a word study on ‘feed’ or tend in these verses. Jesus also told Peter to pastor His sheep after asking if he loved him. When discussing his own ministry, Paul asked who pastors a flock and does not drink of the milk of it.

    So elders are to pastor, but apostles pastored as well.

    Elders are to pastor, so in that sense they are pastors. A requirement for the role is to be ‘apt to teach’, so in that sense they are pastors and teachers.

    Does that mean that an Ephesians 4:11 pastor and teacher exactly equals an elders? I’m not sure if this is conclusive. The pastor and teacher role could also include unordained people who just have these gifts. As far as the recognized leadership of the church, though, the New Testament shows that there were overseers/bishops, described as elders, who were to be apt to teach who are commanded to pastor the flock of God.

  • Link Hudson

    I was reading your point about Paul not appointing apostles and prophets, etc. I don’t see prophets and evangelists as part of ‘church government’ per se, no more than anyone else is in the church. In a sense the whole church is part of church government.

    A prophet can be an elder/overseer of the church, but he has to meet the requirements. A prophet with his house out of order and disobedient children isn’t qualified, in spite of his gifts. Having a gift for evangelism doesn’t qualify a man to be an overseer in the church. He should demonstrate faithfulness with something small first (his family) before being entrusted with something larger (the household of faith.)

    As far as ‘church government’ type roles, I see two in scripture: apostle and bishop/overseer. The apostle has what Paul calls a ‘measure of rule’ that extends to areas where he has introduced the Gospel. I should say ‘they’ rather than he. Paul wrote of this in the plural in II Corinthians and almost always we see apostles working with a partner or team in scripture.

    Paul doesn’t go to Jerusalem and take over. He does go to Jerusalem and take advice from the elders and James and do what they say. But he gives the elders of the church of Ephesus advice and instructions on how to fulfill their ministry.

    Hands were laid on apostles (Acts 13:1-3 for Paul and Barnabas, I Timothy 4:14). Hands were laid on elders/overseers. That was probably the case for deacons, with their administrative role (Acts 6.)

    But we don’t see prophets appointed as prophets with the laying on of hands, nor do we see a clear case that evangelists were appointed with the laying on of hands. Philip just started preaching and they called him an evangelist. He did have hands laid on him, but it was related to his feeding widows. God ordains men into these roles. But we don’t see a church ordination for these two roles. We see prophets in Jerusalem appearing in the text in Acts. I don’t believe the apostles had to appoint them as prophets.

    And we don’t see any evidence that the prophets were on some sort of committee to run the church. They have authority to speak what God tell them, and if God talks, we should listen. But there is no indication that the New Testament prophet is automatically an overseer of the church.

    Certainly, we shouldn’t say that someone with a prophetic gift can’t also serve as an overseer in the church if he is Biblically qualified.

  • scotmcknight

    You might try John’s book Jesus the Pastor.

  • scotmcknight

    Lance, what I hear is that those who are demeaning traditional local churches are at the same time demeaning those who pastor in traditional churches. Even your words “doiminate” and “detriment” contain potent criticisms — there is a widespread belief in my circles that thinks your crowd of people think everyone’s doing it wrong and you guys have finally figured it out.

  • “No pastor I know tries to live out being an apostle, prophet, evangelist and teacher.”

    I find this impossible to believe. No pastor you’ve known has tried (or had folks expect them, or both):
    – to be the main person hearing God and passing his message to the church (prophet)?
    – to be the one leading the way in his church in leading the lost to faith (evangelist)?
    – to be the best teacher in the congregation?
    – to be the one leading an effort to plant other churches and/or training new pastors, etc. (apostle)?

    Maybe we leave one or two off at any one time (especially apostle, that’s less our culture), but any pastor who’s ever struggled with burnout has done this. I know you’ve seen it, likely many times over.

  • Al Cruise

    Yes the use of S-word in this blog has some very interesting connotations. The argument can be made that people are just getting tired of the shepherds not cleaning up their own dung [I won’t use the s-word] and expecting everyone to ignore the stench many of them create. This blog has more of an odor of “expected entitlement” than God’s wisdom about it.

  • Evan Spencer

    I am with Brad. John I receive the admonishment to protect the role of the pastor but to rail against the APEST conversation as it grows, in my mind and heart, is unnecessarily inflammatory. Where you see sheer arrogance I see the passion and naivety of a generation in need of strong shepherds who will help them follow the voice of the Great Shepherd. Rather than over react to what might actually (and I strongly believe) be a powerful move of the Holy Spirit to bring the Church into greater Kingdom effectiveness in the days to come—I want to use my role as pastor to fan to flame the other members of Christ’s Church.

  • Link Hudson

    I think it’s pretty obvious that many of the things we associate with the role of ‘pastor’ nowadays aren’t in the Bible.
    – There is no reference to ‘senior pastor’ in scripture. The one reference to ‘Chief Pastor’ is Christ.
    -The apostles appointed a group of elders in every city. Paul and Peter told the elders to pr.
    – There is nothing in scripture about a pastor/elder preaching a long sermon every week. Speaking in church is to be done by ‘every one of you’ (I Cor. 14:26.) Scripture gives specific instructions to those gifted to speak in tongues, interpret, to prophets and ‘all’ who may prophesy.
    – The Bible doesn’t say anything about pastors/elders being necessary to sanctify weddings. Romans had a custom of getting married by saying words before a pagan and probably Christianized it replacing the pagan priest with a church elder.

  • Ted M. Gossard

    While every gift in the church is indeed important, John’s point makes sense to me: the pastors/shepherds uniquely have the responsibility of oversight over the church to guard the flock from imposters (false apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers) as well as feed and take care of the flock under the Chief Shepherd, Christ.

  • Link Hudson

    When I read the title, I think of ‘the primacy of Rome’ or ‘the primacy of the pope.’

    A former Baptist, who had started going to a house church that believed in plural eldership, told me a joke. He said what the difference between Roman Catholics and Baptists. The Roman Catholics have one pope in Rome, but Baptists have a pope in every church.

  • Gerald Ford

    As a veteran of 50 years in ministry, I am extremely grateful for this type of article. I have pastored some difficult churches, often feeling abandoned by people who could and would leave the church, when I could not, and I still feel the feeling of being alone in those ministries, even though they were years ago. I am frequently troubled by nightmares over the memories of those ministries. The modern church, in my experience, does not recognize or value the pastoral calling.

  • Soooo…

    This is a defense of the magesterium,
    rather than a defense of Diversity in Leadership?
    I am nonplussed.
    The realities of Pastoral Burn-Out show a Team approach has some merit to it…

  • scotmcknight

    John would support team approaches to ministry.

  • John W. Frye

    Evan, thanks for the good push back. I think we’re on the same page at heart regarding ‘pastor’. I highly affirm and seek to practice your last sentence. God bless!

  • John W. Frye

    I’m sorry you read anger and sarcasm, Brad, where I’m simply asking how can one (1) descriptive text become so conflated that it now *prescribes* a stunningly new template for ecclesial leadership? This in the face of the shepherd/pastor metaphor in the OT and NT. That’s all. God bless.

  • Al Cruise

    Keep in mind the “dones” are coming from traditional churches. Their numbers are expected to increase dramatically in the next few years. Their leaving is speaking louder than any words. Just maybe their exodus is Holy Spirit led. Time will tell. History is littered with the relics of religious institutions that chose to ignore God’s will.

  • Shannon Claussen

    Al, exodus from the body would not be Spirit-led, considering the body IS Christ; the church is God’s dwelling place and activity-center in this rather complex and anti-theistic world. I would venture to guess that the “great deceiver” has found a way to “twist” what is potentially good into “gritty” and “dysfunctional,” thus causing departure.

    Al, give us a solution, OR look back on Luke’s book of Acts and see, or “resee” the purpose and value to the church and its leaders.

    I am truly sorry for your feelings and so many others.

  • Al Cruise

    I disagree, the exodus is Spirit led. The great deceiver argument has been used all through history. It was used with ferocity on Martin Luther. For the record I am not a done in the complete sense of the word. I attend a non-denominational outreach/street Church for the last ten years and have worked in street ministry for the last forty years. I am done with the traditional institutionalized Church which I attended in the past. As far as wading in sheep crap, we do it seven days week up to our armpits for those who are the least among us. I have spoken with many dones and let me tell you they are not deceived, their desire to love God has grown greater. Here is a red flag to think about, if you have to go on blogs or feel the need to make statements to justify your leadership, then your leadership is probably not from God. It probably is coming from the desires of the flesh. Jesus said no less in Matthew 20. 20-28.

  • Shannon,

    I think of people leaving churches as analogous to a separation in a marriage. Sometimes, it is the best available option, though sometimes it’s just the sinfulness of the parties. But that leads to another point of the analogy: It’s uncommon that separation is the fault of just one of the parties to the marriage. I think we are seeing separation in the body, which God joined together, but I think it’s due to the disfunction in the church, some of which is being discussed or is on display in this post.

  • mshipman

    Pastors…where do I begin? Pastor as a title means nothing to me. I have seen too many “pastors” wear the title as a mantle and they point to the MDiv after or Rev. in front of their names and say, “See, I am qualified. So don’t be critical of me or my position. If you do I and my helpers will make sure your life in my church will be short-lived.” This is the vice and voice of power not shepherding. Jesus never spoke like this and he exhibited one very important trait way too many so-called shepherds don’t seem to get. He laid down his life for his sheep. Pastoring/shepherding I see as a gift of the Spirit and a few initials and a title don’t mean jack if you aren’t willing to take the call to it’s conclusion. Give your life without the messiah complex. Lay down your life and expect nothing in return. If you want the mantle of “The Bible says I am in charge and I am the go-to guy” all you have to do is look at the latest hall of shame entries of so-called pastors getting kicked in the rear end (as they so richly deserved). They were never shepherds and they didn’t lead like Jesus.

  • Shannon Claussen

    Well said. Thank you.

  • Shannon Claussen

    Al, thank you for clarifying. I absolutely see where you are coming from. As for the comment on folks justifying their leadership, I’m not sure I can agree with that, but I understand what you are saying.

  • Al Cruise

    I can agree to disagree with you on that point. You asked about solutions, and you are right to do so. I think there are many viable suggestions being given by those who are on the front lines of this issue. Tim Suttle has wrote a great book called “Shrink” . Peter Enns has an awesome book “The Bible Tells Me So”, that addresses totally different issues than Suttle’s . These works are just a start on how to address some of the problems. Blogs like Thom Schultz’s Holy Soup are also looking for solutions. Many writers here on Pathoes are also suggesting solutions that should be looked at closely. If Churches only want to protect their turf and close their eyes to these ideas, the future will be bleak for them. The CEO pastor position has been tried for many decades and it has brought us the fastest growth in people leaving the Church to where they even have a moniker, the ” Dones”

  • Link Hudson

    I think there are a number of problems with the teachings of some in the ‘five-fold gang’.

    One of the unbiblical aspects of the modern role of pastor and multiplying it by five.

    Another is loose, fuzzy, and unbiblical definitions of the five-fold ministers role.

    Philip is a good proto-type of an evangelist. He is called ‘Philip the evangelist.’ Timothy is told to do the work of an evangelist. He also coauthored an epistle where the author’s referred to themselves as ‘apostles of Christ.’ So some of the things he modeled may be more apostolic ministry than that of an evangelist. We don’t see Philip sitting on a council of 5, 5-fold ministers in a church leading it. He preached to crowds. He witnessed to individuals. He had been appointed to feed the poor earlier, which I associate with the deacon ministry.

    I don’t see a case for a church government made up of five-fold ministers.

    Another problem is with the liturgical conceps we have inherited. The Bible doesn’t teach that it is the pastor or elder’s role to preach a sermon. The overseer is to be ‘apt to teach.’ But anyone with a gift of teaching is commanded to teach in Romans 12. I Peter 4 tells believers to minister to one another with their gifts as good stewards of God’s manifold grace, including speaking as the oracles of God.

    The actual passage we have on what to do in church mentions prophets specifically, not pastors. Pastors are included in ‘everyone of you hath a doctrine.’ I think Watchman Nee has some wisdom on this when he says that elders who minister in church minister in the capacity of prophet or teacher, not as an ‘elder’ per se when they are speaking. That is something to think about. The ‘commandments of the Lord’ for what to do in church meetings allow for ‘every one of you’ to speak, not just ordained clergy. From Roman Catholicism we have a clergy laity distinciton, and both Lutheran and Reformed roots of the Protestant movement emphasize this idea of the ordained minister ministering in ‘the word and sacrament.’ We need to re-examine what our meetings look like and not assume that they way we do it is what Paul said, reading that idea into the text. There isn’t a text that supports the (often unwritten) liturgy of the typical Evangelical church meeting.

    I see men referred to as ‘apostles’ at the moment they were sent on evangelistic journeys or after they had already left. Jesus appointed 12 that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach. These were ‘sent ones.’ Matthew calls them ‘apostles’ the first time as Jesus is sending them out to preach and heal. Mark first calls them ‘apostles’ after they return. Paul and Barnabas get called ‘apostles’ after the Spirit speaks and they are sent out by the Spirit on that first missionary journey where they preached.

    Paul had this very influential leadership role in the churches that were actually started through his ministry, where he ‘planted churches’ in virgin territory. He counseled the elders of Ephesus. But when he went to Jerusalem, it was as a guest, as a younger brother. The elders gave him instructions and advice and he went along with it.

    The idea of an ‘apostle’ as some fatherly guy who works his way into a relationship with pastors to lead them and tell them what to do and be their daddy…. I can’t find that in the Bible. That seems to be a common NAR approach to the subject.

    Prophets can be elders if they meet the qualification. Otherwise, being a prophet doesn’t qualify them. Someone could have a great gift, but decide to start drinking or just be lax in managing their household.

    Much of evangelicalism doesn’t require the Biblical requirements for elders of their ‘pastors’. I guess that’s because the Reformed movement renamed ‘elders’ as ‘pastors’ and renamed the Geneva city councilman role as ‘elders.’ They kept their roles straight in the first generation in Geneva and Scotland, but got confused later. Taurence had a great academic article on this.

    We also see groups of elders. If one wolf rises up from within the elders, drawing men after himself, the the others are to protect the sheep. The one man pastorate messes this up. Hierarchical systems where the checks and balances are across the country and don’t know what is going on aren’t effective. The apostles appointed a group of elders in one city, in one local area. We end up with some churches where ‘church discipline’ consists of the pastor telling people not to come back to church, instead of bringing offenders before the entire congregation like we see in Matthew 18 and I Corinthians 5.

    The modern pastoral role is at best quasi-Biblical. Multiplying it by 5 multiplies error.

  • Eric~>

    Having Pondered this question extensively?
    I believe a Modern term that is applicable would be:” Networkers”
    An ‘Elder’ may not have all the Answers to a crisis (on whatever level)
    But: an Elder will Know Someone who -does- have an Answer.

    I note with some bemusement that “Networker” has a dual meaning in English, and accept the unintentional Pun as a personal proof that I am on to an Idea, here
    (I like puns, you see; and Unintentional puns are often the best)

    Whilst not ignoring the multi-layered Meaning that ‘networking’ has in the age of Digital communication and social media, My intended meaning is derived from the old Business model of “networking”:

    Dr. Triplett postulates 3 level of Network:
    1) personal networks
    2) business networks, and
    3) association networks.

    I would add a Fourth:
    Spiritual Networks.

    Certainly nothing to promulgate as doctrinal:
    but an Interesting Idea.
    And just Perhaps…?
    A valid viewpoint.