By Mike Willis
In recent years, there has been a great deal of preaching and writing done concerning the organization of the church. Brethren have properly been emphasizing that the sponsoring church arrangement, in which the elders of one church oversee the money of many other churches, is a violation of the pattern of organization of the New Testament church. The elders have authority only in the local congregation – “the flock of God which is among you” (1 Pet. 5:2; Acts 20:28). The departure from the pattern of New Testament organization by our brethren has demanded that much teaching be done relative to this subject.
That is not to imply that the only form of organizational apostasy is through the sponsoring church arrangement. One form of organizational apostasy, which is particularly prevalent among the Baptist denomination, is the “pastor system.” Without accusing any preacher of becoming a pastor, let me restate the difference in the work of the pastor and the preacher.
Who Are Pastors?
There is only one place in our English Bibles where the word “pastor” appears. That passage is as follows: “. . . and he gave some, apostles; and some prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11). What is a “pastor”? The word poimen means “a herdsman, esp. a shepherd” (Joseph H. That’ er, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 527). The word is then used metaphorically to refer to “a presiding officer, manager, director, of any assembly” (ibid. J. Hence, it refers to the overseers of the Lord’s local church.
The noun poimen (pastor) has a corresponding verb, poimaino. The verb means “to feed, to tend a flock, keep sheep.” The one who does the work of poimainein is a poimen (i.e., the one who does the work of shepherding is a shepherd or pastor). Who is it that does the work of “shepherding the flock”? Let the Scriptures answer that question. Consider these evidences:
1. Acts 20:28. Paul met with the “elders of the church” (Acts 20 :17 ) of Ephesus in the town of Miletus. In his sermon to these elders, he said, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed (poimainein) the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). The elders, who were also called overseers (Acts 20:28), were given the responsibility “to shepherd” the flock. The one who does the work of tending the flock is the shepherd or pastor.
2. 1 Peter 5:1-2. This passage reads as follows: “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: feed (poimanate) the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind . . . .” You will notice again that the “elders” do the work of “shepherding the flock.”
Writing on this subject, J.W. McGarvey said,
. . . The evidences that this term designates the overseers or elders is conclusive, and may be briefly stated. The Greek term for shepherd is poimeen, and the verb poimaino means to do the work of a shepherd. Now, he to whom this verb applies is a shepherd, just as he who sows is a sower, he who reaps is a reaper, he who speaks is a speaker, he who sings is a singer, &c., &c. But Paul exhorts the overseers in Ephesus “to be shepherds to the church.” Acts xx: 28; and Peter exhorts the elders of the churches to which he writes, “Be shepherds to the flock of God which is among you,” and promise that when the “chief shepherd” shall appear, they shall receive a crown of glory. They then, were shepherds and Christ, the chief shepherd (The Eldership, p. 18).
A “pastor” is an elder, an overseer, or a bishop.
One of the first things which we notice from this is that the “pastor” is not the “preacher,” except in those cases in which a preacher meets the qualifications of an elders (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:6-9/. Modern denominational usage designates the local preacher as the “pastor” and gives to him the responsibility of shepherding the flock. McGarvey commented on this perversion as follows, “It is found in the fact that pastor has become perverted by sectarian usage, and designates in popular phraseology, an entirely different office from the one to whom it is applied in the Scriptures. It has become a synonym for a settled preacher, and is often used for the purpose of distinguishing the preacher from those who are Scripturally called the pastors of the church” (Ibid., pp. 18-19).
Preachers And Pastors: A Contrast In Their Works
To emphasize the difference in the preacher and the elders or the pastors, let us consider their respective works. When one understands the difference in the program of work revealed in the Bible for each, some of the confusion will be cleared. The work of the pastor or elder is as follows:
1. Take the oversight arid rule well (1 Pet. 5:2; 1 Tim. 5:17; 3:5; Heb. 3:7, 17).
2. Take heed to the flock (Acts 20:28).
3. Tend the flock (1 Pet. 5:1-2; Acts 20:28).
4. Watch for the souls of the church (Heb. 13:17).
The church has a responsibility to be submissive to the elders or pastors (Heb: 13:17).
The work of a gospel preacher is pretty well summarized in the books of 1-2 Timothy and Titus. The work involves these activities:
1. Charge men not to teach another doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3).
2. Put brethren in remembrance (1 Tim. 4:6; Tit. 3:1).
3. Command and teach the revealed word of God (1 Tim. 4:11, 15-16; 6:2; 2 Tim. 2:2; 4:1-2; Tit. 2:1, 15).
4. Rebuke sin (1 Tim. 5:20; Tit. 1:13).
In essence, the work of the preacher is to “preach the word; be instant in season, out season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). Nowhere do the Scriptures state that God has given the preacher the responsibility of overseeing the congregation.
“The Pastor” Verses A Plurality of Elders
The New Testament pattern of congregational organization has a plurality of elders overseeing the local church. This is seen in a direct statement in Acts 14:23 which states that Paul and Barnabas “ordained them elders in every church.” Similarly, in other references to Ne elders, they are mentioned in a plurality:
Acts 11:3- “. . . sending it to the elders . . . .”
Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23 – the elders met in Jerusalem
Acts 16:4 – “. . . elders that were at Jerusalem . . . .”
Acts 20:17, 18 – “. . . elders of the church . . . .”
Acts 20:28- ” . . .Holy Spirit made you bishops. . .”
Tit. 1:5 – “. . . appoint elders in every city . . .”
Jas. 5:14 – “. . . let him call the elders of the church . . . .”
1 Pet. 5:1 – “. . . laying on of the hands of the presbytery . . . .”
Phil. 1:1 – “. . . to all the saints at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons . . . .”
Heb. 13:7 – ” . . . remember them that have the rule over you. . .”
Heb. 13:17 – “. . . obey them that have the rule over you. . . submit to them, they watch. . . they shall give account . . ..” 1 Thess. 5:12 – “. . . know them that labor among you and are over you in the Lord . . . .”
The New Testament reveals that a plurality of elders were the overseers of the local congregation.
The modern denominational system has one man, who may or may not meet the qualifications laid down in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, overseeing the local congregation. Assuming that the man was qualified to serve as an elder, he could not serve as “the” elder. It is simply contrary to the Scriptures for one man to rule a church!
To ignore the denominational organization of “pastor oversight” only makes us vulnerable to being guilty of “preacher oversight.” Many of the members of any given local church have been converted from denominationalism; many of the denominations of which they formerly were members used “pastor oversight.” Consequently, this is a false doctrine which is deeply engrained in the minds of many which needs to be eradicated. There are several dangerous trends which I see among us to which I would like to call your attention:
1. The tendency to exalt the preacher. A man who does a good work should be respected for his work’s sake. There is nothing wrong with giving honor to those to whom honor is due (Rom. 13:7/. However, when members begin to treat the preacher as if he were “clergy” and act as if they are not -quite as good as him, being mere “laity,” false concepts regarding the place of the preacher are prevalent. When the preacher is the only Christian introduced as “brother,” the term is used as a title to exalt the preacher, contrary to Matthew 23:8-11.
2. The tendancy for the preacher to do the work of the elders. Someone has said, “The preacher does the work of the elders, the elders do the work of the deacons, and the deacons do nothing.” If that is the case, the organization of the local church has been perverted! There is some overlap in the work of elders and preachers inasmuch as both are concerned with saving souls and encouraging the spiritual development of the saints. Hence, some become confused, thinking that the preacher is doing the work of the elders when he is only doing his own work. The boundary of the work of the preacher has been crossed when he oversteps divine authority and begins to run the church. Writing on this subject, James R. Cope said,
. . . A preacher not only betrays a sacred trust himself but directly contributes to the breakdown of the divine organization when he pushes himself or, allows himself to be pushed into a position of functioning where the elders should act. Actually such an arrangement weakens the church organically and therefore, spiritually for there can be no. true. spiritual development where the divine government is disregarded.
We can preach all we desire on the “evils of the pastor system” but-not until gospel preachers learn to preach the gospel and leave the “pastoring” to the Scriptural pastors, will . the situation improve. Evangelists are destroying their own ,,, souls when they look upon preaching as a profession and gospel work as the primary means of a livelihood. They are robbing churches of their spiritual power and doctrinal integrity when they “take over” some local “charge.” And the proof of the pudding is the helpless condition in which elders find themselves and the church when it becomes necessary for a change in preachers, either through their decision or his. Something is radically wrong, when a change in preacher results in a disgruntled membership and a decline in the spiritual development of the church (“Pastors And Preacher,” The Preceptor, Vol. 1, No. 3 [January 1952], pp. 4-5).
When preachers make decisions which should be made by the elders or the men of the congregation in a business meeting, they have violated the word of God and created a congregational organization which is just as sinful as the papacy at Rome. When elders allow themselves to be dominated by the preacher to the extent that they merely become his “yes” men, they need to repent or resign. They have become party to an unscriptural pattern of organization.
Let preachers do the work of preachers and let the elders do the work of shepherding the flock. There is plenty of work for both to do without getting into the work designated for another. The preacher is not “the pastor.” He should teach on this subject from the pulpit in order that brethren would understand scriptural organization and the manner in which the denominational “pastor system” violates it.
Guardian of Truth XXVI: 5, pp. 67-69
February 4, 1982