Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Pastor: Traditional vs. Biblical


This post was quickly scribbled down in response to a question that I was asked on facebook this morning after I posted a status about how we have no traditional "pastor" who leads the weekly gatherings in our home. What started as a 3-line comment turned long really quickly. The question was "How can you have a church without the gift of God to the church, a pastor?".

My answer: Fantastic question Mr. Smith! One that I LOVE to answer actually. (First of all, I do find it interesting that only the lack of a “pastor” is what you brought up.) The issue with this is that the Body of Christ has errantly translated these roles into positions and titles. What you’re referencing as the definition of “pastor” is not the same as what Ephesians 4:11 is speaking of (at least I assume you would refer to a “traditional pastoral role” – ie: preaching sermons, visiting members, heading up “church” programs, etc.). None is elevated above another, when the Scripture is properly adhered to. Even the pastoral and apostolic roles are primarily to serve and take the lower position, simply enabling and teaching those who are younger in the faith. (The same translation/application error exists within the modern-day definition of “evangelist” and “apostle”. According to the original text, “apostle” (apostolos) is the more properly capable to be the messenger who is sent out, not the “evangelist” as most would refer to today. So, you see, it’s all about the original meaning of these things.)

As far as positions go, there’s a vast difference between offices held and functions. The best example we have is Jesus Himself. People wanted to elevate Him to an earthly position as a king, the “pastor of the ages” who would somehow make everything right in their religious worlds. He wanted no part of it. He laid Himself low and was as nothing when it came to lording over men, even though He was the only one with the right to do so. They wanted a leader-king, He washed feet. Jesus saw the eternal side of it all – something so much greater than any earthly position among men! Sadly, many “pastors” today respond out of the flesh and gladly fill this role – settling for earthly reward and status, unlike Jesus. The pastoral role, as is most common in nearly every “church”, is that the church is a business and the CEO is the pastor. The elders, deacons, etc. round out the pyramid of power until you get down to the lowly “laypeople”. Where is this in Scripture? What verses tell us of the “nobodies” in the Kingdom whose primary role is to show up when expected, give their money and carry out the designated leaders plans? There are no laypeople in the true Body of Christ - period. This is nothing short of yet another pattern of this world that has invaded the Body of Christ.

Christ is the Head and we are ALL the members. Can a physical body have 2 heads? It has one head and many members are controlled by it – ALL being equal, worthwhile and holding great value. Until Believers realize that they’re not meant to sit and “be fed” by an earthly leader, they will continue to lack personal revelation and the power that comes from grasping that each member is to be a vibrant, active, integral part of the Body. (Examine the people’s choosing Moses to go to God on their behalf because they didn’t want to do it themselves. The same thing happens today. “You, pastor, tell me what God is saying because that is easier.” It is a two-sided coin and both parties are responsible.)

I do have people in my life who fit the biblical pastoral role. Men that I look up to, seek biblical counsel on and gladly submit to as I know that they have walked in my spiritual shoes. The primary difference however, is that they wield no place of position over me. They enable me to walk further and deeper on my own. They heed my wisdom and listen to what I have to say on spiritual matters, seeing, that even though I may not be as far along, God speaks to and through me as well. They are humble and seek no earthly titles or recognition from men. They’re more interested in preserving and establishing biblical truth than age-old doctrines and traditions. Most of all, they live before me with Christ as their life. I know them. I eat with them. I love them and they love me. This is the deeper role of a pastor that simply cannot be established with a 1 per 100 (at best) system in order. It simply cannot work! I have seen first-hand what does work and it perfectly fits the biblical model (imagine that!). Those gathering as the Body of Christ were never meant to be passive observers. No one man reserves the right to solely manage a gathering of Believers – period. 1 Corinthians 12-14 might as well be removed from the Bible if churches continue to promote the clergy/laity model as correct. (Just ask your pastor if you can preach next Sunday and see what happens.)

Lately so many people say to me, in summary, “Joel, why don’t you just stop questioning everything and be like the rest of us?!? Stop offending us and asking us to examine why we believe what we do as Christians! You’re hurting my feelings!” *sigh* I’m not out to offend and anger anyone – it’s simply not my agenda whatsoever. I just want to know why even the thought of questioning the golden calf of religion is such a travesty deemed unmentionable? The response to such a reality is as simple now as it was back in the days that Jesus walked the earth. The Phariseeical mindset runs deep and long (see Matthew 22 and 23 for many familiar examples). Whether people like to entertain the thought or not, the religious order of today greatly mimics the religious order of Jesus day. They chose to cling to traditions and old, dead rituals rather than embrace the life that Jesus was about to usher in via His sacrifice. They were so enveloped in their own practices, speaking as God’s self-ordained mouthpieces, that they literally missed the Messiah Himself! A snippet for example’s sake, taken from Matthew 15: Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." And He answered and said to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?"

Even if the common approach to the roPublish Postle of a pastor were biblically correct, which it clearly is not, it is not being applied right. The verse in question states clearly, some are appointed, implicating several. So if this were to be held to correctly, from the mainstream Christian majority’s approach, should there not be scores of pastors within each separate organized church gathering? This is obviously incorrect as well as even in the largest of “mega-churches”, there is but one “senior pastor” who “oversees his flock”. It’s no wonder so many pastors who spent their lives attempting to be successful within this system fail miserably and get burnt out. The simple fact is they are trying to fill a position that was never intended for them to fill. To debate the fact that the position of pastor as it is commonly known is all about the ultimate servant is futile. Whose name is on the marquee out front? Whose salary is the largest on the payroll? Who preaches every service? Who generally leads communion? Who prays for those who come to the altar after the altar call? Who leads the altar call? (This could go on for days!)

The “lay people”? Of course not! The pastor! (Someone tell me, when is “Layperson Appreciation Day” again on the church calendar?) All eyes look to the pastor and he is clearly known as the leader of the local church. Ask anyone who is the head of the church, Christian or otherwise. If even 1 out of 100 say “Christ”, I’d be in awe. No, it is the pastor. We could all go back and forth and debate how your pastor doesn’t see things this way or how different your church is. The issue at hand is with the system that is in place, not just with the people who embrace it. Plain and simple, elitism runs rampant within the Body of Christ and it continues to push out the “lesser” and elevates the “greater”. Sitting down, [Jesus] called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.(Mark 9:34)

Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28)

It saddens me to no end to hear responses to my questioning of today’s “rule over” as opposed to “serve under” pastors. “Not my pastor!!!!” most say. “Mine preaches the Bible!”, “Our pastor is a nice guy!” and let’s not forget, “You’re just rebellious and un-teachable!” (my personal favorite.) Friends, this is not about hurting feelings or offending others, it is much deeper. What does the Word really instruct us to do as the Body of Christ? Do we even know? Once we find out, should we dare to look, will we adhere to it and leave our traditions behind if they in any way oppose the Word? We will all personally be held responsible for what we cling to as Truth!

What does your Christianity look like apart from structured religion? Sadly, the majority would not even know what to do if someone was not present to tell them what to do next (ie: a traditional pastor). I believe this grieves God deeply because it devalues His children and keeps them ignorant of their purpose and potential. For years I’ve said, after having a bird’s eye view as one on paid staff at two different churches, most congregations would be more up in arms if the pastor didn’t show up than if God did. As a matter of fact, I believe One can often go completely unnoticed.

In summary, all people and roles are welcome in the gatherings we’re a part of. All are on a level playing field and titles have absolutely no role to play. Unity is achieved because the Spirit is our Guide and Christ is our primary Teacher. So while most would say, “how can you gather as the Church without a traditional ‘pastor’?” I’d respond, “Why would we need one?” There is no business to oversee. Each one who is a part of the gathering is invited to teach (which is simply expounding on Scripture – not some privilege for the select few). There’s no salaries, building projects or power bills to pay, so we don’t pass offering plates – choosing to live lives that cheerfully give, that God says He loves. We don’t adhere to service orders so no one needs to tell us what to do next. The differences are too vast to adequately list here. One way, the wide way, is a business and many travel down that path without question. The other way is the high way, where God dwells. Christ alone is the Head and anything that hinders us from becoming more like Him is thrown out the window and deemed unnecessary. So, while many might say “how can you not have a traditional pastor?”, I say “I’d rather have the biblical pastoral role in place instead”. All who have been born from above have giftings and abilities ready and waiting to be used in the Body of Christ. I will continually seek to join the LORD in drawing them out. Everyone else can keep “going to church” and sitting in rows with hands folded while someone preaches to them…. again... and again... and again. I choose freedom. I choose a living organism that is The Church that Christ Himself is building. This Body is not built with human hands and no man can claim any credit or reward. It is all His.

35 comments:

Eric Stevens said...

I haven't posted on my blog in a while, so I debo'ed your post. hope that's cool:

http://greyareafaith.blogspot.com

Chris said...

Thanks for the encouraging post.

Chris and Natalie (Billi and Tim's friends from Alabama)

Joel Spencer said...

Eric: Of course that's fine Eric. I've got your blog open, hoping to check out some of your stuff this weekend.

Chris: Welcome! I'm glad you saw the piece as encouraging. Any other thoughts on the topic that you might have are welcome here.

Nathan said...

A friend of mine sent me a link to your site. I just read this post and I'm just not sure about what you've presented. I mean don't we all need someone to follow? Pastors go to God on our behalf, assisting us to learn. As a man of God, isn't it their part to impart to us what they hear? It seems that your approach would only promote chaos and lack of order, which the Bible says we need. I do want to read it again though and chew on it. Just my two cents.

Eric Stevens said...

what do you think about the role of elders in the church Joel--and do you feel that "elder" refers simply to older, more mature believers, or does it refer to people who are appointed as such?

Joel Spencer said...

Nathan: Welcome. Your approach is the typical one when defending the modern day perception of the role of pastor. The main issue is that Jesus came to be our mediator. When He was sacrificed on our behalf and the veil was rent in two, everything changed. Today, the Christian majority still choose to live according to the OT mindset which tells us that we need a "priest" to go into God's presence on our behalf and be out mediator. This makes what Jesus did completely void and useless and is in direct opposition to what we have been given the right to do because of Jesus' sacrifice.

Secondly, in response to your "chaos vs. order" statement: To suggest that when a traditional pastor is not present that chaos ensues is just juvenile and making a mockery of what Church Christ is building. The other thing that you stated that I'd like to bring out is that you said, "your (my) approach". Nathan, this is not "my" anything. Not my plan, not my idea. I'm using the Word alone as my Guide and textbook to learn how to gather as the Body of Christ.

Lastly, I'm glad you're reading it again. I just urge you to ask the LORD to reveal what is truth within it and go from there. Be open. Be as clay that can be worked so that all impurities, should there be any, might be removed until only the Christ in you remains.

Eric: I do embrace the role of "elder" being as ones who are older and more "advanced" in life, both spiritual and natural. But even within this context, I still promote horizontal relationships within the Body of Christ. Humanity is so driven to exalt one above another, this seems almost impossible, but I still cling to it as biblically correct. We've got to break free from the patterns of this world that permeate the Church so. In this case, the mindset that says "well surely SOMEONE has to be the 'boss' or else it won't work." This is just another facet of Christian pride, telling God via our actions that we need to set pyramids of order in place because He's somehow just not capable of running things.

So, in summary, I fully embrace the role of elders, when properly viewed outside of the "lording over" mindset.

Anonymous said...

I see rebellion here. Without church attendance, a Christian has no chance in this fallen world. The pastor's job is to hold the flock together and teach them what he knows (have you gone to seminary?). Without my pastor who knows where I'd be! To question ordained authority is the epitome of disobedience, period.

Joel Spencer said...

Anonymous: Thanks for sharing your view, though incorrect as it may be, at least regarding my "rebellion". Or perhaps you're right as I am willing to rebel against anything that Christian traditions oppose in regards to biblical truth. My friend, church attendance means absolutely nothing - period (and please don't respond with the common "do not forsake the assembly..."). Attending a service each week says nothing of ones spiritual condition and is a redundant point to me.

No, I've not attended seminary, nor do I feel it is a requirement to speak about God's Word. While I do believe that it can give one an advantage of knowledge, if used correctly, it is surely no secret key to studying/understanding the Bible correctly.

I find it interesting that you would state, "To question ordained authority is the epitome of disobedience, period." If this were true, then Jesus was one of the most disobedient men to walk this earth. In the Gospels we see clearly that Jesus "rebelled" against the religious authority by challenging their traditions and forms of godliness. All they cared about was knowing "[what priest] gave You this authority?", proving that they completely missed who His real Authority was, His Father in Heaven.

I challenge you, Anonymous, to study the Word and see that no man is to be your lord, sole teacher or leader. You are responsible to study and show yourself approved.

Tim Harman said...

Joel...an interesting read. I completely agree with you about "horizontal relationships within the Body of Christ." We are all sinners saved by grace and therefore should look upon one another as equals. You also obviously know there are roles within the body (Christ being the head). I also agree with the fact that the American model of a "pastor" is in many cases way off base.

I'm happy to say I have a pastor. Its funny that you mentioned people always saying, "not MY pastor!" So true. I can safely say (and my pastor would agree) that yep, my pastor has in fact fallen short.

I believe there is a scriptural basis for pastors to be in *servant* leadership/teaching role over a group of believers *if* that pastor has other elders sharing in his duties and keeping him to account. There is not one case in the NT of a church having one leader and therefore we can safely conclude that churches today should not have one big CEO under which everyone bows. There is however instructions to follow the *leaders* God has chosen. Hebrews 13:7 - Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. I don't think the term "leader" would have been used if it didn't in some way reflect a position of authority. Hebrews 13:17 - Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. Its not crystal clear that the verse is speaking of *church* leadership, but given the context surrounding the verse I'd say it is.

So, what's my point? There *should* be those in leadership roles. There are qualifications for these roles as outlined in Scripture. The reason I wouldn't get up and preach on a Sunday is the simple fact that I haven't been tested and approved under those qualifications given in Scripture. Furthermore, its not my gifting given by the Spirit. Its that easy. So, no, not everyone should be teaching within a church.
There are in fact defined roles.

So, in many ways I'm agreeing with you. I just think that at some point in your home church you'll most likely find the need for those in leadership authority. How you will address this is the issue. You may not have "business to oversee" now, but you *should*. What about caring for the windows, orphans, and the poor? I know you're concerned with that, so you do in fact have "business to oversee". I'd also like to know how you'd handle church discipline.

I need to keep up with your blog man. Thanks for taking the time to write. Blessings.

Richard said...

Good article: good comments. 1Peter 5 states that leadership is not to lord itself over God's heritage (i.e. the believers). Traditional church structure follows the contraty pattern. ANNOM: Who informs believers that they cannot learn from Holy Spirit what the Bible says and how its advice applies to our lives? Unteachableness/rebellion to traditions is EXACTLY what Jesus did, yet HE did not commit sin when HE pointed out the error of the Jewish traditions that were being taught as doctrine. WE have been given traditions with the same weights that are taught as doctrines but cannot stand the test of Biblical study. Many seminary-taught men were instructed in tradition that commons Biblical research proves to be in error. Just because something is commonly accepted does not make it truth. God's word, rightly divided, it TRUTH.

frank miguel said...

I have read the above articals and if I may add some light . Lets go back to 1 Peter5 1 Peter says something very important Here.To the elders, and I a fellow elder, oversee the flock. He was not talking as a Apostle or a Pastor but as a elder ,Not older man but a bishop himself. The apostle and pastor or prophet,,,, are gifts for the maturing of the saints,The bishops were for governing the church and HE stated them plural. They are not the same. Timothy says ,If a man desires the office of a bishop he desires a good thing and it begins to explain what that entitles, Eph.4 says that these gifts are given by the Lord not the choosing of man or a mans desire.Peters authority was not in that of the gift but in the position of an elder. They are not syn.bishop and elders here are. In Timothy elder means older one in regards to a rebuke. However as peter an apostle and elder one can be a pastor and elder or prophet and elder or just a prophet or just a pastor or evangelist. The gift or calling is not the same as the government. When you come together let all seek to prophecy to build up the others. Is that happening when you come together?If one has a song or a teaching when you come together, is that freedom there to share, are you free to be who you are in Christ when you come together? Not in most religious systems. and even in the ones that give some freedom there is still the control of the Holy Spirit as to how far they will let Him move.Your rebellion is what keeps you in these churches because you can hide there.It might be a problem for you to have to go and get quiet before your Father and here from Him directly then to have to depend on some man to do it for you on Sunday. Who would want to fulfill what Jesus prayed in John 17 anyway why would you want to be one with the Father like Jesus was and do what He did and maybe have the world take notice of a real living God. Keep preaching the word brother Jesus did not offend anyone it was the words of the Father that they were offended by.

Joel Spencer said...

Sorry to all that I've not responded yet to your comments and great questions. Have had little to no time on the computer for the last 10 days. Will get caught up soon.

Joel Spencer said...

Tim: Thanks for stopping by and commenting - you asked some very valid questions. First of all, as is true in any and all things we strive to understand coorectly, we must go back to the original meaning and definition of the words used and what they meant within the time period and culutre. As I've stated within this thread, I have people that play biblically-defined leadership roles in my life. The main difference is that they hold no office or title and my willingness to "follow" them is purely motivated by unfettered, unstructured love for them and a desire to mature into the amount of Christ that in them that I see. I developed an intimate relationship with them *first*. All submission given them is never out of duty, positional placement or expectation. Too often I see people inherantly submit to Christian leadership blindly, only because of their title. I believe this is just ludicrous really. Earthly positions and titles given by other men in positions with titles, whether within "the church" or not, should not instantly demand nor dictate our submission. Sharing life with another and desiring to follow them as you see them follow Christ is an entirely different story. You travel together, arm in arm - learning and maturing side-by-side, under Christ alone. No one lords over the other.

I can somewhat agree that not everyone within the Body should be teaching, BUT they should all be doing something. Ephesians clearly speaks of each and every member being active and necessary. Sadly, the modern-day pastoral role strives to replace most every other facet and gifting within the local Body, therefore nullifying hordes of others giftings and contributions.

Within our "home church" (we don't really call it anything), we'll not have a need for such clergy/laity roles.... ever. It is simply not necessary. We've been meeting in our home for nearly a while now and with another group for two years plus. There is no "leadership" in place that everyone looks to for the final say on any matters. As difficult as it is for people to grasp this, Christ alone truly is the only One in charge. We all gather to worship Him, edify and enable one another and grow. It truly is a beautfiul thing! There are no power bills, salaries, parking lots to pave, sound systems or building funds.... I could go on and on. Our only "business" is to be more and more conformed into the image of Christ. ALL ELSE FLOWS OUT OF THIS AS THE GOAL.

As far as true and undefiled religion, this approach to "church" is the epitome of just that. Our entire lives are about such a thing. There's no need to form committees or teams to "organize" helping others if that is your 24/7 lifestyle, in and out of the gatherings.

Lastly, church discipline issue. I assume you mean something along the lines of what if someone gets out of line or something? It happened at our house within our first 6 months! (Seriously) Let me sum it up like this. As it was in my home, I am responsible to oversee (as we both stated earlier) what unfolds within the gathering. I don't have all say and it's not a position held but I had no problem addressing what took place as it unfolded because I fully relied upon the Lord for guidance, ability andwisdom. Clergy may have had the one who acted up escorted out and scolded, never to return to the Body of Christ again. In love, I spoke biblical truth the best I knew how and relied fully upon the Lord to be the One who handled it all - which is EXACTLY what took place. Whatvere comes, I trust and rest int eh fact that God is preparing us all for it now, so that when it arrives, we handle it correctly, as He desires.

There is SO much more to share on this topic, but hopefully, this adequately addresses some of your thoughts and questions, Great dialogue Tim - thanks.

Jeremy L. said...

I've always been told I was wrong and rebellious for thinking something was wrong with one man attempting to lead an entire congregation of people. The Scriptures you've pointed out help explain what I've felt all along. How in the world do we redefine this mentality though? Is it even possible? It seems way too overwhelming of a task to even approach to me.

Anonymous said...

Joel I tip my hat to you my brother.You have stated all I could have or would have said.Tradition have kept Jesus and His Spirit in bondage for many years.For He who came to set captivies free,churches have bound.Thank God our ministry is like yours God is the Head we seek Him in service and it is wonderful.We all have a part whether it is a arm,toe or leg.We have no program we allow God to conduct His service as He see fit after all Jesus did tell Mary and Joseph He was about His father's business.So it is God's business so let Him do His job.May God continue to bless you in all you endeavour and His Grace and Peace be with you.The only High priest we need is Jesus

Joel Spencer said...

Richard: When you stated, “Just because something is commonly accepted does not make it truth”, you surely said a mouthful. We must be willing to lay aside EVERYTHING that we find opposes Scripture. Even if it’s found to be outside of what the majority follow. It’s obvious that the road religion has been going down is not producing what the Scriptures teach us that Christianity is to be. I’m grateful for others who see this error and only desire to cling to God’s definitions.

Frank: Well said. You stated, “Eph.4 says that these gifts are given by the Lord not the choosing of man or a man’s desire.” There is a vast difference between leadership appointed by God and those appointed by other “leaders”. In the common “churches” positional structure, positions are earned by studies, tests, status or denominational approval rather than appointed by God. The cycle continues, passing down more and more traditions of men that only duplicate what those errantly did before them. To step out from under this order invokes slanders of heresy and rebellion (I’ve personally found). What many don’t seem to grasp is that God is FULLY capable of Shepherding His Church and appointing godly men to assist others in becoming maturing sons and daughters.

Joel Spencer said...

Jeremy: How do we redefine the mentality of a congregation relying upon one man? Unless people are willing to throw out what they *think* the Church to be, I’m not sure it’s even remotely possible. Sadly, most people get so offended at even the question being posed, they just shut down, leaving no room for change. Christians are surely the most stubborn group of people on the whole planet. I too have to CONSTANTLY remind myself that what I deem as right is not always such. I must always be flexible to allow God’s Word to be explained to me from a perspective that I may not yet see or understand. So, until the Church as a whole is teachable and ready to turn loose of their traditions, I’m not sure. God is calling many out, some hear and heed, some do not. Only the Spirit can bring about unity under the banner of Christ. We do what we can and rest in the fact that Christ will surely take care of His Church.

Anonymous: How great to be a “toe” in Christ’s beautiful Body! Perhaps one of the main problems is that too many pulpits teach that being a “toe” is not enough, so aim higher! Or the opposite, you just go “serve” in the nursery and be quiet. It excites me to hear that you have gatherings where freedom reigns. We are all on the same horizontal position of humility under the lordship of Christ. I desire no other place or position. In Him, we are all made complete and in Him, we have all been called, gifted and enabled to be workmen in His fields.

Melissa said...

Hi Joel,

This will have to be a multi-comment comment because not all of it would fit in one. I apologize in advance for my long-windedness. I found your blog when I was doing a search on "double-edged sword", and I decided to read it.

I think it is wonderful that you have a church in your home without a pastor. It reminds me of Acts 2:43-47 where the early church met together and grew together without any apparent leadership other than the apostles. All had all things in common, and God blessed their time together and added to those being saved. It also reminds me of Colossians 3:11-15, which states that we are all equal in the body of Christ for "Christ is all, and is in all." Verses 15-17 are particularly relevant. They state: "15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." So all are equal in Christ; all may teach and admonish one another; and all Christians have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to do great works through him.

I agree that there is a lack of understanding about this among some in traditional churches and some who are not a part of the church, but I also wanted to urge you not to think that all churches are only about the pastor and leave no room for others to lead and share God’s gifts in their lives. It sounds like you have had some bad experiences with organized churches in the past, but I assure you that not all churches are this way. I’m not writing this comment to disagree with your post, but just to enlighten you a bit about what happens in some churches with a pastor and how God can use pastors to do wonderful things, even if that structure may not seem to you like the Biblical ideal based on your understanding of churches with pastors.

I have attended 4 different churches throughout my life. I grew up in a United Methodist church in Atlanta; then attended a United Methodist church in Macon, GA; then attended a Presbyterian church in Virginia; and now I am at a United Methodist church in Gainesville, GA. While at college in Macon, I was also involved in the Baptist Student Union, Reformed University Fellowship (the Presbyterian student group), and was part of the leadership and one of the founding members of Wesley Foundation (the Methodist student group) on campus. I used to attend and help lead worship at chapel at the interdenominational Christian law school that I attended, and I was part of several different organized, interdenominational groups of Christian lawyers that had some sort of leadership structure, though it was not pastoral. I have also been in Bible studies that friends of mine have organized or that I have helped organize on our own without any direction or guidance from church leadership. So, I am very familiar with organized religion, leadership in the various churches to which I’ve been a part, and spontaneous Christian gatherings outside of organized church groups.

I can say with assurance that the 4 main churches that I have had experience with were not at all organized around the pastor. It is part of the United Methodist church structure to rotate pastors every few years, and this is perhaps part of the reason that my churches did not become too overly attached to ours. We respected the pastor and his or her leadership and we were thankful to have him or her (we had one female pastor), but while we appreciated all of the pastor’s efforts, we did not depend upon him or her entirely either. . . .

Melissa said...

Some of the pastors that we had were really wonderful preachers, but didn’t do much in terms of other leadership. Other pastors were wonderful at visiting the sick and nurturing the congregation, but they were not as good at preaching. Other pastors were good at both of those things, but were lacking in something else. God used each pastor to grow our church in different ways, and where a pastor was lacking in any particular area, the congregation filled in. Even in areas where the pastor was gifted, the congregation was always invited to help him or her. As long as I can remember, the Methodist church has had a yearly laity Sunday where lay people lead the entire service. We often also had a youth Sunday where the youth group led the entire service. Other times we had guest speakers. And lay people always had opportunity to participate in the service even when the pastor gave the main message. In the church that I attend now, the pastor has frequently invited a lay person to come and give their testimony as the main message, and I have full assurance that if I asked him if I could speak one Sunday, that he would say yes, provided that what I wanted to speak about was not contrary to the Word of God in any way. I have also heard lay speakers giving testimonies or speaking what’s on their heart at Baptist churches where I have visited. When I first started attending a Presbyterian church during law school, it was just finishing the process of choosing a pastor. Their pastor had been called to Iraq as a military chaplain, and they had been several Sundays without a pastor, having guest pastors or speakers come in, but yet they were still a fully functioning church. A retired pastor started attending and volunteered for the job, and so the church voted him in as their interim pastor until their old pastor returned, but I know that God sent that retired pastor to that church just for that purpose and that it was through God that he led faithfully there while he did. I know that I benefited from his wisdom, servant-leadership, and love, not because he held the position of a pastor, but because he was a good example of what it means to live like Christ. He had been gifted in the area of pastoral leadership, so it was only right that that be the place that he took in the church. My favorite part of his leadership is that he led church-wide Bible studies and Sunday school classes in addition to preaching on Sunday mornings. At these classes, we would all sit in a circle and discuss the Biblical passages. He led discussion, and we respected his leadership because we could see that it was in line with God’s Word, but all were invited to contribute and all did contribute to the discussions at Bible studies. Though he led, it was clear that we were all equal.

In the student ministries that I have been involved in, there has also usually been a leader, a Campus Minister, but the leader’s role has been primarily to start the organization rolling and then to transfer as much authority as possible to the students. Students are invited to speak, help choose speakers, lead Bible studies, elect their own student leadership who take on larger roles in the organization as the old leaders step out and as the organization becomes more self-leading, etc. Though the Campus Minister position usually remains, as the organization grows, the Campus Minister’s role mainly becomes one of keeping the organization going as students graduate and move on and helping to show the new student leaders what sorts of things should be done. It becomes mostly an advisory role. . . .

Melissa said...

In the United Methodist churches that I have been a part of, there has also been plenty of room for lay leadership in Bible studies, Sunday school classes, on the board of trustees that decides the pastor’s salary and who to hire in other ministerial positions, etc. Sometimes members of the congregation start up Sunday school classes and Bible studies on their own, and other times, the pastor has been involved at the beginning as a facilitator to help set up the class or study and get it going, but gradually steps out as he is no longer needed, transferring authority to people within the class or study much like the campus ministers that I mentioned above. I have seen pastors step in to help lead the choir or youth group or to start a choir or youth group until someone else could be found, and I’ve seen pastors and their wives start up Sunday school classes for an age group that was barely coming to church, only to transfer leadership to the individuals in the class once it had a steady and faithful attendance and people who were willing to step up to those leadership roles. I have also seen strong leadership among the lay people at the Community Church where I attend some group meetings. I know that there is strong lay leadership at the Assembly of God church where my brother attends as well. In addition, when I went to law school, I met people of all different Christian backgrounds, and Bible studies and worship sessions and prayer meetings would spring up among us without church leadership all the time, and yet each of my peers there, at law school, attended some church or another that had a pastor, whether it was a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Evangelical, Catholic, Assemblies of God, Pentecostal, non-denominational, Messianic Jewish, Four-square, or some other kind of Christian church altogether. The fact that they attended these churches led by pastors did not in any way give them the impression that church attendance was their only role as lay members of the church. These were Bible-reading, Bible-believing, Holy Spirit-seeking, living, active, growing members of the body of Christ, who were always seeking to grow more and more and be more and more the people and leaders that God had called them to be. Our law school motto was “Christian Leadership to Change the World,” and yet the vast majority of the students, probably 99% of the students who were seeking to be Christian leaders at this law school, were lay people who had no intentions of ever becoming pastors but whose only intention was to lift up Christ in all that they did and live their lives to his glory. It is a testament to me to the good work that churches do that all of these individuals who came from organized church backgrounds or who became Christians because their fellowship with others in organized churches clearly saw that the church is not a pastor or a building or a place where we must attend to get to heaven, but the church is the body of Christ, and every piece of it, each member in it, has a leadership role in God’s kingdom. . . .

Melissa said...

Last, I want to point out that even when a pastor is appointed by higher church leadership (as when a pastor is sent to a particular congregation in the United Methodist Church), that does not mean that the members consider the decision of the higher-ups to be like the spoken word of God. God can guide church leaders’ decisions on who to appoint to a particular church just as well as he can guide individual Christians to make the right choices in their faith-walk, and the decisions of church leadership are respected to a large extent because of that, and rightly so I think, but it is also understood that all leaders sometimes make mistakes and that the congregation members have the ability to hear God's voice and discern his will too. Within the United Methodist Church, members frequently voice their disagreement with the pastors that the higher church leaders appoint, and pastors are often switched out because of the congregation’s complaints, so just because a pastor was appointed doesn’t mean the church members hang on his every word and direction. The congregation is also welcome to talk with the pastor about even the structure of church services and ways that they think it should be changed, and the pastor often makes such decisions in conjunction with the church board, which is made up of primarily lay people who either volunteered for their various church positions or were elected by the rest of the congregation.

I hope my thoughts and experiences helped to expand your view of churches in which there is a head pastor. While I think your home church is a wonderful thing (I have been involved in Bible studies and worship sessions outside of the organized church and with no pastor too and it is wonderful), at the same time, I also think there is a role for pastors in our world, so long as we don’t elevate them to a place that they were never intended to fill. You cannot deny that many have been led to Christ because of things that they heard in church sermons, and many have been encouraged to grow in their relationship with Christ because of their pastor's leadership too. But in churches where there is a pastor (and in churches where there isn't too), Christ must always remain the head and lay persons should always be encouraged to develop and use their spiritual gifts to their full potential, whether within the church or outside of it. My experience with pastors has been that they were always encouraging lay people to get more involved and spurring them on to read the Scriptures themselves and seek the spiritual gifts and seek God’s purposes for their lives and step up to leadership wherever God leads. I have heard my pastors say numerous times that God does not call all to be pastors, but he calls all to something, and the role of pastor is no higher than any other that God calls us to. I know that not all churches with pastors understand this, and I know that there is sometimes misunderstanding among the members even in churches where the pastor and members are considered equals; but I just wanted to be sure to point out to you that in some churches, things are functioning as intended, with the pastor and members as equals, encouraging and strengthening one another and using the gifts that God gave them to the best of their abilities. . . .

Melissa said...

While a pastor-less church is wonderful, I think God can also work marvelously through the pastoral structure where this is the case, and I don’t think it is contrary to Scripture to allow a pastor to use God’s gifts to him as a teacher by giving sermons on Sundays or to use his gifts as a facilitator to start programs in the church or to use whatever other pastoral gifts he has been given in a pastoral capacity, as long as he is not elevated above others in the church for filling the positions that he fills, just as it is not wrong for any of us lay people to take the leadership positions within the church that God calls us to as long as we don’t elevate ourselves above others because of our callings.

As Christians, we need to live in harmony with one another whereever possible (Romans 12), supporting the various ministries that each of us has, whether it be ministries set up or led by pastors or by lay people. We are all one in the body of Christ, and we are all equal and working toward the same goals; we just have different roles. I would hate to see anyone dismiss the good ministries of some organized churches and the good ministries of some pastors because of the failures of other churches or pastors to maintain an appropriate church structure with Christ as the only head. Thank you for reading through my incredibly long comment. I'm sorry that it took me so long to say all of that.

Dave said...

Right on bruthaah! :) Great post! Thanks for sharing. Have a cool week and God bless!!!

cloudedglass said...

Joel
We are going the organic route and meet without a "pastor". We are led by the Holy Spirit whose job it is to point to Jesus. We like the starfish approach to movement. I'm so excited to discover that we are on the same path together. You will always hold a dear place in my heart.
cloudedglass in Waycross

A Peculiar Person said...

I would like to invite you to follow my blog. I would love to get your comments on my posts!

http://alonganarrowway.blogspot.com

God bless!

Joel Spencer said...

Melissa: You surely have won the award for longest comment ever! ;) Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'll fast forward to the statement that you made that I feel summarizes your point and mine - and where they differ greatly. You stated, "As Christians, we need to live in harmony with one another whereever possible (Romans 12), supporting the various ministries that each of us has, whether it be ministries set up or led by pastors or by lay people."

The Word of God simply doesn't uphold these levels of ministerial importance. There is no biblical support for such a clergy/laity gap post-Christ. When this order is in place, as it is most everywhere, one man is instantly elevated above another in value, importance and ability. It is not in any way true to all being equal parts of the Body of Christ.

So, I remove all of the "church stuff" that resides above this simple, yet vital matter and focus on the origin of how the Body is to function. Until the Body of Christ realizes that there is to be no pyramid of power, the majority will continue to be spiritually belittled and removed from the equation. We must see that the "ministry" of Christ that we have been invited into is a horizontal one - with He alone as the Head of us all.

Joel Spencer said...

Dave: Thanks.

Clouded: The "starfish" approach is a good analogy. The Body of Christ was never meant to be led by any other than Christ Himself. As soon as men took the reigns, it became a business and businesses need a hierarchal order in order to function. Fast forward to where we are now and the fruit of such a mindset has removed the members of the Body and made them spectators - ones that have been duped to believe that the "ministers" minister.

It excites me to hear that you're breaking the mold. We sure don't need a new movement or new anything really. We simply need to return to where the Church started. Gathering in one accord, with Christ as the sole Head of it all, edifying one another as we lavish our love on Him.

It's time to leave the business to the world and empty our gatherings of her ugly patterns.

(Email me and clarify who this is, although "Waycross" sure closes the possibilities.)

Joel Spencer said...

Peculiar: (I like your name.) I'll be sure to check out your blog asap. Thanks!

Melissa said...

Joel, thanks for the reply to my comment. I think where we differ is that you see pastors as elevating themselves to a different level in "value, importance, and ability" than lay people, and you are right that "there is no Biblical support for such a clergy/laity gap." I see pastors differently, however. In the churches that I've been involved in, and with the upbringing that I've had, I have never felt that the pastor was above any member of the congregation in value, importance, or ability. We were all equal parts. Just because the pastor preached most Sundays didn't mean he was the only one of us with something to say. Others preached if they felt led also, and when others weren't preaching, they were actively leading ministries of their own, whether in the church or outside of it. I mainly wrote my comment to share that not all churches with pastors elevate their pastors above equals and also to point out that it is very possible to have a heirarchal structure for the sake of order while at the same time considering those at the top of the structure to be equal to those at the bottom in power, importance, and ability. I know that this is not the case with all churches, but I believe that it is the case with at least some. Those churches who have pastors but who do not elevate them above lay people deserve our support and encouragement as much as churches without pastors.

Anonymous said...

What does your group do about tithing? What do the children do while you meet?

Joel Spencer said...

Anonymous: Thanks for your questions. First of all, I don't agree with the common teaching of "tithing" as mainstream Christianity defines it. In summary, we live LIFESTYLES Of giving. If there arises a specific need within our Body specifically, it's shared and people can give towards it. This also happens according to when, for example, someone within the group knows someone in need and makes it known to the rest of us. There's no need for "tithes and offerings" to support staff, buildings or expenses, for there are none. This frees us to share with others as we see a need. For the sake of becoming repetitive, you can go here (http://desh412.blogspot.com/2009/05/pleasing-and-acceptable-allowing-word_21.html) for a much more thorough explanation.

Regarding children, they are always an active part of the gathering. Ages 0-teen are encouraged to actively participate in the discussions, prayer, worship. Sometimes the deepest truths of a night come from the mouth of a child. We don't see the need to put them aside in another room and entertain them. Most would be in awe of what a child can learn spiritually, when given the opportunity.

Great questions. :)

Anonymous said...

As I understand it, only a justice of the peace or a licensed minister can perform marriage ceremonies so that the marriage is considered legal. So if there are no licensed ministers, how would you handle weddings?

Joel Spencer said...

Anonymous: The way I see it, there will always be "licensed ministers" to perform such activities as legal marriages but there are other avenues such as the justice of the peace, as you mentioned. This is a completely seperate issue entirely as it addresses national law, not biblical function of the gathering of the Body. If performing weddings is the best reason to cling to traditional pastoral positions, then we're desperately searching to justify a grand error in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

After reading your blog and your response to comments, I am left with the impression that you disagree with the Biblical role and concept of Pastor/Teacher. It appears that you are rejecting the many scriptural teachings concerning such a role within the church. I cannot agree to simply toss out the scripture that supports the role/office of the Pastor/Teacher or Elder/Bishop. We must take the whole counsel of God's Word. How do you handle the Scriptures that lay out the role of these offices within the church? Surely as a spiritually enlightened man you do not ignore them, do you? Simply stating that you are reyurning to the early church model is not sufficient. The church had an infancy period and had to grow. As the church grew Jesus made adjustments as needed. Some have abused and misused the teaching of the Word for their own gain I agree. But let us not throw out the baby with the bath water.

Joel Spencer said...

Anonymous: I'd encourage you to read some of the many comments above discussing this topic further in order to answer your questions. There's simply no place for a "lording over" role in the Body of Christ - period. He alone is the Head (Col 1:18, Eph 1:22). As it stands in traditional church, men hold man-made titles and positions that serve no purpose other than elevating men above other men. (I know this first-hand after being on staff at two separate churches.)

The roles and offices you mentioned are in fact in place, but not as the average denomination recognizes. I have others "over" me by my choice and by their example, not because they hold a position that demands my submission to them. One lords OVER an earthly kingdom, the other lord WITH (Kingdom of God, "on earth as it is in heaven" life together). There is a vast chasm of difference between these two approaches.