Recovering Paul’s Perspective on Pastoral Leadership
Recently I read a book that contained this quote: “leading the church is the most difficult job in the world.” The church being envisioned was one led by a solitary pastor upon whose shoulders the weight of preaching and administration was placed.
Is this how the Lord Jesus planned for His church to operate, however? Perhaps our difficulties are self-induced.
If pastoring a church is the most difficult job in the world, it is not because our Lord designed it to be that way. Jesus never entrusted congregational leadership to a single individual. He gifted His church with pastors (note the plural in Eph. 4:11) whose main responsibility was to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. Pastors and people are to serve together so that the gifts of the whole Body may be exercised. That is what pastoral leadership is all about – not buildings, budgets, books, and broadcasts.
Today I am glad to say that among many young Christians I know, careerism is beginning to take a back seat to humble, team-style leadership. I am beginning to see more and more students come to the realization that every Christian is a minister and that God has given each of His saints, men and women alike, gifts that make an important contribution to the health of the church (1 Cor. 4:7). These students are eager to begin working in a leadership team for the purpose of equipping the saints. They are anxious to labor among servant-leaders who differ in giftedness but who have equal responsibilities. They see themselves as a “fellowship of leadership” (I owe this wonderful expression to Michael Green) who serve as equals, not as CEOs in a chain of command. They understand that Christ is the only head of the church, its only Senior Pastor, and that under His leadership elders are always plural (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 20:17; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 5:17-25; Tit. 1:5; James 5:14-15; 1 Pet. 1:1; 5:1).
The book I referred to above also made a statement to the effect that pastoring is the only job in the world in which one’s impact depends on a 30-minute sermon delivered weekly. Biblically, nothing could be further from the truth. Although the Lord Jesus has provided pastor-teachers for our benefit, and although we should avail ourselves of their ministry, we are not to be dependent on them for our understanding of the Bible. Each one of us has the privilege and duty to approach God directly and to search the Scriptures to determine what is true. Moreover, I believe you will look in vain in the New Testament for the well-crafted 30-minute sermon or the carefully-alliterated homily. I think it is significant that pastors are never described in the New Testament as “preachers.” In Eph. 4:11 they are rightly called “teachers,” because nothing is more necessary for the equipping of the saints than sound biblical teaching from the Word of God. Likewise, in 1 Tim. 3:2 Paul emphases their ability to teach (or to be “teachable” – the Greek allows both renderings). The ultimate purpose of all such teaching is the building up of the church – a church in which all the members are equipped for their various ministries. I have not found a clearer explanation of this truth than the following words of John Stott (Ephesians, p. 167):
What model of the church, then, should we keep in our minds? The traditional model is that of the pyramid, with the pastor perched precariously on its pinnacle, like a little pope in his own church, while the laity are arranged beneath him in a serried rank of inferiority. It is a totally unbiblical image, because the New Testament envisages not a single pastor with a docile flock but both a plural oversight and an every-member ministry.
Do I have no sympathy, then, for the solitary pastor engaged in “the most difficult job in the world”? On the contrary, I pray for many of them daily. Yet I am afraid that we have brought upon ourselves our own difficulties. A greater, wiser, and more efficient pattern for church leadership exists in the NT, and when we ignore it or disobey it we may well expect to suffer the consequences. I myself have not always thought that this pattern of leadership was important or believed this way. But I am learning that God’s Word is the framework into which I must fit my thinking, my beliefs, and my actions.
When builders in the nineteenth century sought to complete the Cologne Cathedral, it was not necessary to prepare a new plan but only to retrieve and study the design as it was first conceived by Meister Gerard in the thirteenth century. I often wonder why good and thoughtful people so easily forget the scriptural injunction to make all things according to the pattern shown to us on the Mount. We would be wise to pause a moment and consider how much we need to understand and then put into practice Paul’s broad perspective on leadership in the church.
June 30, 2007
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.