Most churches today are run using the ‘Senior Pastor’ model, where one man (almost always with a degree from Bible College) does most of the ministering and is looked up to as “the man of God”. Few could deny that pastors are truly the ones who are running the church today.
But amazingly enough, in the Book of Acts, which is the history of the first 30 YEARS of the early church, the word ‘Pastor’ is NOT EVEN MENTIONED ONCE. In fact, even in the whole New Testament the word is only used one time – and that is near the bottom of a list of ministries in the church, and in the plural: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers…” (Eph 4:11). This is the only place where the word ‘Pastors’ (plural) can be found.
There were elders and ‘overseers’ (these terms are interchangeable) in the New Testament church. But that is totally different from the position of “one man pastor” that we have today.
So how did a one man Pastor end up running everything? And what effect does this have on the church?
Well, when you study history it becomes obvious that we mostly got this concept from Rome – not from the Bible. As Beckham said (quoted in one of our previous articles): “Using a combination of the Roman governmental and feudal systems, Emperor Constantine developed a church structure that has lasted for seventeen centuries… People go to a building (cathedral) on a special day of the week (Sunday) and someone (a priest, or today, a pastor) does something to them (teaching, preaching, absolution or healing) or for them (a ritual or entertainment) for a price (offerings).”
In most cases, what we are seeing today is the continuation of this “Clergy and Laity” system that dominated the church during the Dark Ages. There is very little difference, really. The titles have changed but apart from that it is basically the old Roman Catholic system of professional ‘Priests’ running everything. We call them ‘pastors’ but the position is basically the same.
These are people who have gained a degree from Bible College, and now we pay them to be our “minister”. Never mind the fact that we are ALL supposed to be ministers!
What this results in is two different ‘classes’ in the church. -The “ministering” class and the “churchgoing” class (or ‘laity’). Which is something that God utterly detests. He cannot stand His people being divided up into ‘classes’ like this. It is the doctrine of the “Nicolaitans” (Rev 2).
But is it really that bad? What harm does it really do?
Below are the specific ways that this “one man pastor” model does enormous harm to the church:
(1) It puts one person on a pedestal – above all others. In many churches this veneration of the pastor closely resembles Idolatry. His word is law and the entire church revolves around this one man.
(2) This leads directly to PRIDE. The position that we place these men in is terribly dangerous for them and for the whole church. It is very difficult NOT to develop Pride when treated in this way. Pride is the most subtle and spiritually fatal of diseases. It wreaks havoc wherever it finds a home.
(3) Control, manipulation and spiritual abuse become common where power is concentrated in the hands of one ‘venerated’ figure. Power corrupts. Flattery corrupts. Veneration corrupts. And before you know it, people are being terribly damaged and wounded by the control and the “management techniques” being exerted from the top. Then new teachings on “covering” and “submission” are wheeled out, to lend an air of legitimacy to the oppression that is being visited upon people. Everyone is told to ‘submit’ and not to question. The “one man pastor” system lends itself to this whole scenario like a hand in a glove. It is virtually made for it.
(4) It turns the church into a bunch of “spectators”. In other words, everybody sits around and watches while the ‘professionals’ do most of the work. It is their “job” after all. This is an absolute disaster. For we ALL have gifts and callings and anointings from God.
(5) The position lends itself to “robes and titles”. Jesus said to his disciples, “You are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ.” (See Matt 23:5-12). None of this seems to stop men from taking on “titles” today.
(6) Many pastors by their nature tend to be “play it safe” types. They don’t like the boat being rocked and they are often resistant to real change. The fact that today’s church is in the hands of pastors, rather than apostles and prophets (as it should be) who are the “risk-takers” of the church, means that it is slow to react and is easily out-maneuvered by the enemy. We desperately need anointed ‘risk-takers’ and change-oriented leaders today.
Because the position of Pastor is usually the “only job going” in the church, it forces many who are actually evangelists or prophets to become Pastors, just so they can get to minister. Often they are quite out of place, and many times this leads to disaster.
All of this creates such a load on the shoulders of the man that is appointed Senior Pastor, that this job has one of the worst BURNOUT rates in the western world.
At the end of the day, just like church buildings, the best reason for rejecting this model of leadership is that it is simply NOT IN THE BIBLE.
Some people say that having a ‘board of elders’ who can hire or fire the pastor keeps all of this in check. Not so. It may keep the “control” side of things down, but the mere fact that they feel the need to “appoint a pastor” just shows how hooked into this system they really are. It is centuries old, and all we are doing is perpetuating it.
So how did they do things in the New Testament?
Well, the first thing we need to realize is that the apostles were not “professionals”. Apart from Paul they had never been to Bible College. (These were run by the Pharisees!) Most of the apostles were simple fishermen and tax-collectors. But they had spent MUCH TIME WITH JESUS. That was their qualification.
And it is clear that Pastors were never in charge of the church. It was the APOSTLES who were given that role. But they never “lorded it over” the people. And wherever they went they appointed elders or overseers (plural) to watch over the church in their absence. Unfortunately, some translations of the Bible use the word “Bishop”, which gives the impression of a ‘hierarchy’. But this was not in the original. As Greek scholar W.E. Vine states: “‘Presbuteros’, an elder, is another term for the same person as bishop or overseer. See Acts 20:17 with verse 28.” So these were just simple “elders” – that’s all.
It was only when the church fell into serious decline and then into Romanism that the complicated “hierarchies” began. Before this, it was all very simple. Perhaps one day it will be so again.
Now, some will want to ask – Does all this information make me “anti-pastor”? Not on a personal level. In fact, I tend to get on with pastors pretty well. I meet them all the time. But we have to realize that a lot of them are struggling inside a system that is completely unscriptural – and change has got to come.
You have supplied an idea a point of view that I have never even considered! I enjoyed hearing your thoughts, and I do agree that perhaps it would unite communities a bit more without one sole person in the leadership role.
thank you for this information. I am going through this at my church. I teach some on wednesday nights to our congregation. My pastor agrees with this. He wants me to teach the word of God. But some members still wants the pastor to preach. Some members even said they want come if the preacher not preaching.