Description of the modern preacher/pastor:
Normally, the preacher is a professionally trained seminary graduate. As in a secular job hunt, he sends in his resume and perhaps even a sample of his preaching to prospective churches in his search for employment. Usually, he is a stranger to the churches where he sends his resume (which is why he goes through this process). When a church takes interest in him, he is eventually invited to preach, teach, and become acquainted with the congregation. If the congregation and church leadership approve of the preacher, a contractual agreement is made concerning salary, vacation time, benefits, job duties, etc. After that, the preacher is hired by the church leadership.
The preacher usually gives the sermons, teaches Sunday school, does most of the pastoring, and is involved with different aspects of administration of the church, among other duties. The preacher can leave the congregation for another congregation for any reason and the church leadership can fire the preacher for any reason- whether it be immorality found in the preacher, doctrinal disagreements, personality clashes, or boring preaching.
Why Does this Matter?
Why ask the question, “Is the position of the modern preacher/pastor biblical?” What is the purpose of such a question? Why should you care? There are two reasons.
1. The state of the Church in the world today is tenuous and worth seriously examining. Christians today are not known, it seems, for their love but for their hypocrisy. More and more people are leaving the Church. Much of the Church is quickly becoming biblically and doctrinally illiterate. Also, many of the Church’s members are nominal and lukewarm. Why is this? Much of the time, things become corrupt and fall apart because of the leadership. We see this truth demonstrated in the history of Israel over and over.
2. If we say the Bible is our rule of faith and practice, we should then examine ourselves to see if our faith and practice matches up with the Bible. We so often assume wrongly and imagine that the way we do things today is the biblical method or how they have always been done. We also often read into the scriptures our own beliefs and practices when they are not present in the text. So I ask again, is the position of today’s preacher/pastor biblical?
Where Should We Start?
We should start with the Bible, of course. Specifically, we will want to look at what the New Testament can shed light on because the Church is under the New Covenant. What are the pertinent passages that we should look at in the New Testament? The main texts I will look at here are:
- 1 Corinthians 12:28
- 1 Timothy 3:1-13
- 2 Timothy 2:1; 4:2, 5
- Titus 1:5-9
- Hebrews 13:17
- 1 Peter 5:1-5
In these passages, the Bible talks about apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, elders, and deacons.
Who are these People?
Apostles – There are two kinds of apostles. The first kind are the big “A” Apostles. They are the individuals who saw (and, for the most part, walked with) Jesus in the flesh and were personally appointed by Him to be Apostles. They received the gospel from Christ Himself and the Holy Spirit led them into all truth and inspired their writing to the churches. They planted and organized churches, appointed elders and deacons, and preached and defended the Gospel. (Acts 1:21-26, Gal. 1:11-12)
The second kind are little “a” apostles. They are sent out sometimes by both the church and the Holy Spirit and many times just by a church or churches to be ambassadors of the Gospel and plant churches. (Acts 13:1-3, 14:14)
Prophets – Someone becomes a prophet by the gift of the Holy Spirit. There are two functions of the prophet. The primary function is to preach the message of God. They reveal the Gospel (which was a mystery in times past) by the power of the Spirit. The secondary function is to prophesy future events. (1 Cor. 12:28)
Teachers – Someone becomes a teacher by the gift of the Holy Spirit too. A teacher is someone who is gifted in effectively communicating the gospel. The Didache, an early Christian document written around 50-120 A.D. and now in the public domain, sheds some considerable light on the function of the apostles, prophets, and teachers.
Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turns and teaches another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not. But if he teaches so as to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord. But concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the decree of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there’s a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodges. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet. (Didache, Chapter 11)
We see that most of these apostles, prophets and teachers were itinerant ministers who functioned as proclaimers and instructors of the Gospel and provided leadership for the then-infant churches. Since these ministers were unknown to the congregations, they were to be tested and the congregation was to discern if they were true ministers of the Gospel or heretical teachers. The Didache also goes on to say that if the apostle, prophet, or teacher was found authentic and desired to stay with the congregation, they could be supported by the congregation especially if they did not have a trade. This is why Apostles like Paul and John warn congregations of teachers that come to them preaching a false gospel as in 2 John 1:7-10.
Evangelists – Timothy and Titus were evangelists. They functioned as little “a” apostles. They were trained by the Apostles and later evangelists were trained by elders and the congregation. They were often supported as Paul was but, like Paul, they also would work if the situation called for it (1 Cor. 9:1-18). They did not get a salary but were supplied for according to their need. They planted and helped fledgling churches be put into order and grow, both spiritually and numerically. They were a part of the selection and appointing of elders and deacons (Titus 1:5-9). Once the church was healthy enough, they left to help other churches.
Elders – Elders, also called overseers (bishops) or shepherds, were appointed by apostles, evangelists, and the congregation. As the name suggests, the elders were mature both in age and in their spirituality. They were to be permanent replacements of the apostles, prophets and teachers.
The Didache says,
Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers. (Didache: Ch. 15)
The elders were not imported into the congregation from a Bible school or seminary but were already a part of the church and trained by apostles, evangelists, or existing elders. The elders were to, in the words of a handout written by my CCCB professor Dr. Stevens,
“Lead – The Elders are to lead the local congregation. In Ephesians 4:11-12 it says that they are to equip the people of the congregation for works of service. This suggests that Elders play an important role in deciding how the congregation will carry on the work of God and also in involving the members of the congregation in that work. The Elder knows the members of the congregation and meets their needs.
Feed – The Elders are to be teachers of the Word of God. This is a requirement. This means that they know God’s Word, that they apply it successfully to their lives, that they can communicate the truths of God’s Word to others.
Guard – The Elders have a responsibility to protect the congregation from false teachers. They must know God’s Word well enough to identify false teaching and they should know people well enough to identify false motives. They should not allow a false teacher to address the congregation.”
The elders were typically supported monetarily for their shepherding. Again, they did not have a salary like a secular job provides but they were supported just as the church supported the apostles, prophets, teachers, widows and orphans. If they worked hard in teaching and preaching they were entitled to double support. Also, there was never just one elder to a congregation but a multiplicity.
Deacons – The word deacon simply means “servant”. They were under the authority of the elders and focused on the physical aspects of ministry. For example, they would help in the feeding of widows and orphans.
Which Group of People Does the Modern Preacher/Pastor Fall Under?
As they function now, the modern position does not exactly fit any of them. They are not appointed personally by Jesus nor were they specially gifted by the Holy Spirit at the time of their baptism with the gifts of prophecy or teaching (there is a whole discussion to be had about whether or not there are still Apostles and others who have miraculous gifts from the Holy Spirit but I will refrain it in this particular blog post). In general, modern preachers do not work to train up and appoint elders and deacons or have as their goal to build up the congregation to where they are healthy enough to be independent. Most congregations do not consider the preacher to be an elder and, many times, they could not even qualify as one. They are certainly not merely deacons.
If they do not exactly fit under any of the groups, are they at least similar to any of them? I would say yes. Today’s position of preacher most closely fits under the group called evangelists. Mr. Reese, a prolific author, professor at and co-founder of Central Christian College of the Bible, and leader in the Restoration Movement, agrees with me. Read his Special Study #4 and #5 from pages 192-216 in his commentary entitled New Testament Epistles Timothy and Titus: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, for a more thorough look at the office of evangelist. In the same work he comments, “Evangelist is similar to today’s preacher, and is not the same as the office of elder.”
What Should We Do Now?
Can we redeem the position of today’s preacher? Yes. Since many churches are rather unhealthy, I would argue that we still need the position of evangelist. There do need to be some changes in how it functions in a modern day context.
First, the preacher especially needs to not think of the ministry as he would a secular job. The preacher should perhaps not even call what he does a “job” but a lifelong ministry career he has a burden in his heart for. He should not be looking for the church that will pay him the biggest salary and give him the most benefits but he should be looking for churches that need the most help and thinking about how he can best serve the congregation. If we can’t break away from the use of salary for various reasons, at least the preacher should try and take from the congregation only what what he truly needs.
Second, the preacher needs to have an end goal in mind. The preacher needs to make it his priority to make the church healthy. If there are no elders and deacons, he needs to train up some. If there are elders and deacons, he needs to make sure they are strong in the knowledge of the Word and devotion to Christ. They need to make sure all the congregation’s members know the Gospel and are on a path of spiritual maturity. When the church is well established and able to be independent, he should begin to prepare to move onto the next congregation in need.
Third, the congregations themselves need not presume to be able to “fire” the preacher for any reason. If they are so unhealthy or immature that they need a preacher to come and help them, they should submit to the preacher’s guidance and teaching unless the preacher falls into immorality.
If we- the preachers and congregations- make these adjustments, then I believe the Church as a whole will start to become more and more healthy, mature and wise. As a result of that, the Church will be more known for not its hypocrisy and ignorance, but its love.
Why was this Blog Post Made?
I am a student of Central Christian College of the Bible (or CCCB) and the creation of this blog entry was a direct result of the encouragement of my professor Dr. Stevens while I took the class Pastoral Epistles from him. Because of his push to do this blog, I got to think about and study in more depth the original pattern of Biblical leadership. I have grown in my knowledge of the scripture and in my faith as a result of my time here at CCCB. If you would like to learn from quality professors about the Pastoral Epistles or the Bible in general, become a student yourself. Apply right now!