I am attempting another “multi-week” exploration of some truths which may be “outside the box” for many of you reading this newsletter. For many of our churches, this series of articles may be surprising, offensive, informative, challenging, mind-stretching, revelatory (in a non-biblical sense), and/or confusing. The topic which I will be discussing will be:
The “Polity” of our local churches. In these articles, the term “polity” means the system for leading and governing our local churches.
Polity Part 1: The Sin of Achan (the hidden sacred cow of polity sin)
Polity Part 2: Biblical Leadership- A View from 30,000 feet
A Preliminary to our Discussion on the Role of the Lead Pastor
I am indebted to Dr. Lance Cole (Ruffin Stacey) for his insights into this preliminary discussion. When I speak to churches about the biblical paradigm for a Lead Pastor, I often experience the hearers admitting that they are constitutionally set up with a very different paradigm for their Lead Pastor than what I share with them. When I ask them why their paradigm is different, the answer as to why is never biblical—it is almost always pragmatic. As I have listened to different churches describe their pragmatic rationale, it seems to me that there are two observations inherent to this discussion.
The plain truth is that way too many pastors shuffle in and out of our churches like rotating doors every 3-5 years. This has a devastating effect upon our churches. This leaves our churches every few years reinventing the wheel on their vision, their ministries, their philosophy of ministry, etc. Eventually, the sentiment in the church devolves to the point whereby the church membership says: “Pastors will come and go, but we must run the church; we were here before the pastor came, and we will be here after he is gone”.
This painful realization by the congregation leads them to take the posture that it is their job (the congregation) to “drive the car” of the ministries of the church, and it is not the job of the Lead Pastor to “drive the car”. This congregational conclusion comes because of the default of our pastors to not feel called to a local church for an extended period of time for the long haul, maybe even for life.
This must change! We pastors cannot just simply accept a call to a local church until something better, something bigger, or something which pays more comes along. This is brutally unfair to the church membership. Furthermore, this is pragmatically unwise on our parts because the truth of the matter is that most of us pastors do not even begin to move into “the season of enhanced fruitfulness in our local church ministries” until year 5 or year 6. So many of us move on to “greener pastures” before we even get started with the big stuff of biblical fruitfulness with a congregation.
Will long pastorates mean a struggle for us to get to the point that the congregation realizes that biblically the Lead Pastor should “drive the car” instead of the flock members? Yes. Will long pastorates mean we will have to deal with some long-term conflict situations? Yes. Will long pastorates require us eventually to confront the reality of non-biblical “church traditionalism”? Yes. Will long pastorates be harder than just moving on to another calling? Yes. Are long pastorates historically proven to be more fruitful and more productive for the Lord and His Kingdom? Yes.
Pastors, do not expect the church family to have a deep respect for your biblical leadership role unless they know that you sincerely committed to be with them for the long-haul.
Observation #2: We need churches to give appropriate financial raises to the Lead Pastor so that he can stay long-term.
The reality is that many of our churches hire a Lead Pastor with only a marginal salary and then give him only token raises over the next 3-6 years. The raises do not reflect the necessary cost of living dynamics, and neither do they represent an encouraging posture by the flock that they are in love with their Pastor and want to pay him what he is worth.
Many of our pastors have Master’s degrees or even higher. We probably would not sit on a Board to hire a lawyer or a doctor with equivalent degrees with the same amount of money which we offer our pastors. It would be an insult to offer a lawyer or a doctor or a business manager with a MBA degree the level of compensation which we offer our pastors.
Please do not misunderstand what I just said. I suspect that none of our pastors at our churches have come into the ministry for the money. None! However, neither did they come into the ministry to submit their families to financial hardship and a constant struggle to hold their heads above water in their fiscal orbit.
To not pay a pastor what he is worth is blatantly unbiblical. To follow the old school adage: “We want to keep the pastor hungry so that he will work hard” is also unbiblical. To not support his family as it grows (i.e. children become older, needs grow, life expenses rise, etc.) is just simply not right.
And eventually, the failure to allow the pastor’s salary package to grow with his longevity almost always determines that the pastor must “move on to another church” just so that he can pay his bills.
Pastor, you must come to stay! Churches, you must pay them enough to be able to stay!
The Need for a Lead Pastor (Elder):
“There are few cases of prospering congregations not led ultimately by a primary pastor figure.” WRTC p. 150
1. Lead Pastor: There is one NT role, but there are three biblical words (in the koine Greek) to describe that role:
- Episcopos translated: Overseer
- Presbuteros translated: Elder
- Poimen translated: Shepherd
2. Before defining and explaining each of the three words for Lead Pastor, please allow me to make the biblical case that each of these three words define the exact same biblical role:
A. Titus 1: 5-7 which makes it crystal clear that the presbuteros and the episcopos are the exact same role.
For this reason, I (Paul) left you (Titus) in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint Elders (presbuteros) in every city as I directed you. . . For the Overseer (episcopos) must be above reproach. . . .
B. 1 Peter 5:1-4 makes it crystal clear that presbuteros and Poimen are the exact same role
Therefore, I exhort the Elders (presbuteros) among you, as your fellow- Elder (presbuteros) and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, Shepherd (poimen) the flock of God among you. . .
C. Acts 20: 17, 28 make is crystal clear that presbuteros, episcopos, & poimen are all three the exact same role.
And from Miletus he (Paul) sent to Ephesus and called to him the Elders (presbuteros) of the church (17)
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you
Overseers (episcopos), to Shepherd (poimen ) the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (28)
Conclusion: Biblically, a Lead Pastor is an Overseer, an Elder, and a Shepherd of the Church of Jesus.
3. Overseer (episcopos) See 1957 Arndt and Gingrich, p. 298.
This word describes the ruling, directing, and managing function of the biblical role of Lead Pastor
Specifically: his calling is to govern the church: to oversee, manage, & lead the church
Biblically, the overseer is the decision-maker for, the overall ministry-manager of, and the one who "drives the car” of the church’s ministries.
The corollary of this truth is that neither the Servant Ministers (diaconia), nor the committees, nor the congregation itself are called to “drive the car” or oversee the ministries of the local church. That function is biblically prescribed to the Lead Pastor.
Of course, the Lead Pastor is not the sole Overseer of the church. The Lead Pastor must identify, select, train and equip others to assist him in the oversight of the church’s ministry (Eph. 4: 11-12).
4. Elder (presbuteros) See 1957 Arndt and Gingrich, p. 706-707.
This word describes the man who fills the office- seasoned, mature, experienced
OT word for Elder: Zophar (meaning: gray hair on the chin) = Maturity/Wisdom
Note: Not just age; they can be younger, e.g. Timothy (1 Tim 4:12)
Core: the Lead Pastor is a man who has biblical and experiential wisdom to teach others
The key biblical functions of the Elder are:
1. The teaching/preaching ministry within the local church
2. The counseling ministry within the local church: apply biblical wisdom to life
(paraclesis: both encouragement and exhortation
Of course, the Lead Pastor is not the sole Elder of the church. The Lead Pastor must identify, select, train and equip others to assist him in the teaching ministry of the church (Eph. 4: 11-12).
5. Shepherd (poimen) See 1957 Arndt and Gingrich, p. 690-691.
This word describes his relationship with the congregation (his flock).
There are three key biblical functions of the caring Shepherd:
1. To lead the flock
2. To feed the flock
3. To protect the flock
Of course, the Lead Pastor is not the sole Shepherd of the church. The Lead Pastor must identify, select, train and equip others to assist him in the shepherding ministry of the church (Eph. 4:11-12).
Danger, Danger Will Robinson!! (Caution: Three truths to keep in mind at this point)
Truth #1: Jesus is the King of His Church; the Lead Pastor is only His “under-overseer”
Truth #2: Jesus is the Prophet of His Church; the Lead Pastor is only His “under-teacher”
Truth #3: Jesus is the Shepherd of His Church; the Lead Pastor is only His “under-shepherd”
The King rules His Church through His Word and His Spirit. Once we are reminded of these three unassailable truths, we can then note how the role of the Lead Pastor reflects the King and the Lord of the Church.
Theological paradigm for Lead Pastor (growing out of the Offices of Christ as Mediator)
A. Prophet: the Key Preacher/Teacher of God’s People------------------------------------------------ELDER
Eph 4- he must also disciple other leaders to teach/preach
B. Priest: the Key Counselor/Shepherd of God’s People----------------------------------------------SHEPHERD
Eph 4- he must also disciple other carers/shepherds
C. King: the Key Leader of God’s People--------------------------------------------------------------OVERSEER
Eph 4- he must also disciple other leaders & ministry managers
One Sample Constitutional Description for a Lead Pastor:
We believe that the Lord has founded the role of the Lead Pastor to be one of biblical authority subject to the authority of Christ as well as also being subject to the call and the “emergency brake” of the congregation. We believe the Lead Pastor to be the vision leader of our flock, the overseer of the ministries of our church, and the teacher/preacher who brings us the Word of God. The congregation of Name of Church holds the position of the Lead Pastor in high regard and will consequently delegate significant biblical authority to him in accordance with the Word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Subsequently, the congregation will submit herself to the biblical authority delegated to such Lead Pastor.
Avoiding Power Corruption—the call to be a Servant Leader
Probably the primary reason churches depart from the biblical paradigm and seek to strip authority from the Lead Pastor and give it to the Servant Ministers (diaconia) or retain it for the congregation itself is best explained by the saying:
“Power Corrupts and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely”. That is the fear when one person has a lot of biblical authority in a local church.
While that certainly is not always the case, it is true that it sometimes is the case. However, rather than turning biblical polity upside down and shifting authority to places or people who are not biblically qualified or depicted to hold such authority, I wish to suggest that the Lord has already given to the church the mechanism to safeguard the church against abuse of authority. The Holy Spirit has thrust upon the Pastor/Elder/Overseer/Shepherd the biblical responsibility to be a “servant leader”. Hear the call of the Scripture:
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow-elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
1 Peter 5:14
And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called “Benefactors.” But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and leader as the servant.” Luke 22: 24-26
The key thing to note is that the lure of power corruption is seductive—apparently even to the 12 Apostles (Luke 22) and to the elders in the local churches (1 Peter 5). God’s prescription to lessen this lure is to remind the appropriate biblical “authority-holders” to be quick to keep before their hearts and eyes both their calling to their God-ordained role and the example of our Lion-Lamb, Servant-Minister Messiah, Jesus Christ.
As an aside, the lure of power corruption can be just as seductive (and maybe more so) to both Servant Ministers (diaconia) and to congregational members. What makes this possibility of power corruption even more likely is that when these folks hold the mantle of authority in their churches (rather than the Lead Pastor), they are actually doing so in contradiction to the Word of God. Thus, Satan has a wide open invitation to come in and corrupt the hearts of these believers and to draw them relentlessly down into the pit of power abuse.
It is better to empower the biblical authority figure (the Lead Pastor) prescribed by the Word of God and thus invite the Holy Spirit to work powerfully to transform these biblical leaders into the Servant-Leader Ministers whom God has called them to be.
The Issue of Submission by the Congregation
Hebrews 13: 7, 17
- “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you, and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” (vs. 7)
- “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (vs. 17)
“Today, elders are thought of as representatives of the church. Though they may act as its representatives, the evidence makes clear that they are not mere representatives. The description names given to the office suggest that they have an authority far greater. Think of the names: overseer, leader or governor, and steward. And, as already noted, Acts 20:28 and Ephesians 4:11 suggest an authority not human but divine in origin Without in any way contradicting the common suffrage of the church in electing elders, this puts their election in a new light. We now see that the church is by its common suffrage gratefully receiving a gift given it by its King! Provided that the person being considered is a gift, the church is obliged to accept it. WRTC, p. 219.
Other Biblical Passages on Lead Pastors/ Overseers/Elders/Shepherds:
- 1 Peter 5: 1-4
- 1 Tim 3:1-7
- James 5:14
- Nu 11: 14-15
- Ex. 18:17-27
- Ezek 34:1-6
- Acts 20: 17,28,32
- 2 Tim 2: 24-25
- 1 Tim 5: 19,22
- Titus 1; 5-9
- Acts 14:23
- Hebrews 13: 7,17,24
OK, what does this all mean for our churches in the DVMBA who seem to be struggling to grow and to taste of His blessing and Kingdom fruitfulness?
Well, at the risk of being “tarred and feathered” and run out of town on a rail, may I humbly suggest that the Servant Ministers (diaconia), and the committees, and the congregations of such struggling churches might benefit from doing an in-depth study of God’s Word on the subjects of biblical leadership, of the biblical role of the Lead Pastor, and the biblical roles for any Servant Ministers (diaconia), any committees, and for the congregation.
Further discussions in this series of articles on polity may help such congregations find their way to seeing the needed changes which might need to be made to their constitutions and bylaws in order to facilitate a change away from historical traditions and preferences in church polity as they prayerfully seek a change toward a more biblical polity for their churches.
Or, of course, you can simply just shoot the messenger (me).
What’s next in this contemplative series of articles on biblical polity?
Polity Part 4: A leadership study of the Biblical Role of the Team of Pastors
Polity Part 5: A study of the Biblical Role of the Servant Ministers (diaconia)
Polity Part 6: A study of the Two Aspects of Congregationalism
Polity Part 7: A study of the Biblical Role of the Congregation
Polity Part 8: A discussion of how to actually change your “polity” paradigm for your church