Home Grown Pastors
It’s a wonderful thing to put down roots. We love where we live in Southside Virginia and already feel part of the community. One of the things I marvel at, however, is the constant turnover of pastors in our area. Typically a pastor will remain in a church for only a handful of years before moving on. Very few put down any roots in the community.
Contrast this with the New Testament pattern. In the early church we find local men leading local churches. They came from within the local church and were committed to that church. (Of course, by “church” I am not referring to a building but to a group of like-minded believers.) Thus the link between the church and the ministry was maintained. However, in our modern system, where the “ministry” is considered a profession, men seek for themselves, or are sent by authority, to occupy this or that post without any regard to the link which is thus broken.
The tragic result is that pastors often look upon churches simply as places that offer them opportunities to exercise their ministry gifts or else as steps up the ladder of employment. Seminarians often have to leave their local churches for seminary training and then rarely return to their own congregations for ministry. As Erik Svensen writes:
The purpose for calling attention to all of these passages is to show the apostolic pattern of training elders. Far from insisting that a prospective elder uproot and move his family to a new location to receive this training from the apostles, the reverse is true–the apostles went to the prospective elder. This pattern is by no means confined to the book of Acts but is also found in the pastoral epistles. Paul left both Timothy (in Ephesus, 1 Ti 1:3) and Titus (in Crete, Tit 1:5) for the purpose of setting the churches in order. A major part of this responsibility entailed the selection and training of elders (1 Ti 3:1-7; Tit 1:5). Again we find that this training takes place within the church and by church leaders.
When pastors are “parachuted” into the community there is little accountability. They know that, should they fail or get tired or bored, they can always move on to another location. In the city, where the population moves from place to place with ease, this evil is not so apparent. But in the country, where generation after generation has lived in one locale, the link between the church and its ministers is of great importance. The “importation” of a minister who does not know the people to whom he is ministering is a serious problem indeed.
In his article entitled “Leadership in the Church,” Paul Winslow has noted:
In the letters to Titus and Timothy we are given the qualifications for elders, that is, the means by which they can be recognized. If you look closely, you will see that potential elders have already been at work in the body with their gifts of teaching and hospitality, etc., so that the body is already responding to them. It is on that basis that they are identified as elders. I would say further that the Holy Spirit has a direct action involved in identifying elders. In Acts 20:28, where the Apostle Paul is talking to the elders of Ephesus, he says to them that “...the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” So the Holy Spirit is involved in identifying these men we call elders. They are qualified, as I have said, on the basis of spiritual gifts which the Holy Spirit has placed within their lives. Through faith they have begun to respond and act on the gifts they have; they have begun to serve others. It is only on that basis that they can be so identified as elders, not because they belong to some particular ethnic group, or they happen to be the local banker or whatever.
Let us remember that in the first century of the church’s existence the spontaneous growth of the church depended not only upon the freedom of its members to preach freely, but also upon the freedom with which churches could provide for any new groups of converts by giving them an organization like their own. Any new congregation chose its own members to assume pastoral roles, men who probably were already employed and thus providing for themselves and in a position to go on doing so. The church may or may not have paid a personal salary, since the practice was made a charge against the Montanists. At some point, however, the congregation may have offered these men some gifts in money to compensate for any loss of time through their pastoral efforts. Either way, whether they were paid or not, these men considered themselves a part of the community in which they lived and labored.
The upshot? A professional class of “ministers” does not easily encourage the spontaneous zeal of men who are not members of their profession. When we consider the organizational patterns of the New Testament, we see that the professionalizing of the ministry is not only unbiblical but positively evil. The New Testament church was a family in which all members were mutually responsible for the well-being of the whole. Together believers learned to grow in grace under the guidance of their most experienced and respected elders, men who had deep roots in the community and were therefore far less likely to uproot and leave once things turned sour.
Today the apostolic conception of elders as pastors of a flock, every member of which they knew by name, has been lost. It is difficult to believe that our current practices are either healthy or wise. We must, then, set ourselves to prepare local men to assume those positions which are now occupied by “professionals,” and we must encourage believers to look forward to the day when each local church will be directed by its own elders and deacons.
(For more on New Testament patterns of church life, please see our web page, Unleashing the Church.)
July 23, 2004
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. His latest book is Why I Stopped Listening to Rush: Confessions of a Recovering Neocon.