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.