Ordained to Fail

Life on a Tight Rope

I feel sorry for those who claim the mantle of “Pastor” – a position and a title never bestowed on anyone anywhere in the New Testament. For example, where did Paul or anyone else ever appoint or recognize a “pastor” over a church?

Over the decades, I’ve seen great dis-functionality among such men and women. They are operating within a framework, and on assumptions and traditions, that God never ordained.

How can someone seriously believe that the Lord intends for anyone to bear that burden or take on such prerogatives over His people? It can’t help but twist you, and eventually you will fail.

17 responses

  1. Hi Jim, here is a passage from 1 Thessalonians 2. It reveals some true ministry taking place and for all the right motives.

    1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.

    4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness.

    6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7 Instead, we were like young children[a] among you.
    Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. 9 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

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  2. WordPress, may have thought my post a bit long? It was not allowing me to edit it or add my last statement. Pastors do have a near impossible job. But to run a business these days and call it church, it requires a full blown team of professionals. It’s easy to get greedy too when these folk look around and folks doing similar jobs in “real companies” are making big bucks.

    I like one organic church leader’s comment to the issue: We need to lower the bar of how we do church, and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple. It is recorded a comment by the Jews that Jesus’ disciples were ignorant and unlearned men. Maybe we need a few of these type of men, with hearts of gold, and feet not made of clay.

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  3. It is a great responsibility to place on one man. Maybe if the flock is acting according to the scriptures, and actively supporting their pastor in the ministry, but this seldom works. They’d rather let the pastor do all the work, and complain when things fall short of their expectations.

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    • More fundamentally, Mike, where is the office of pastor even established in the New Testament? Rather, pastoring, in the meager three times that the word is found as either a noun or a verb in the NT, is simply referred to one of the several roles that elders perform.

      From reading your web site, I think we agree on this.

      The modern title and position of a one-man “pastor” over a church, or as an office distinct from or separate from a diversity of elders, or as one who primarily is responsible for a church, simply isn’t found – either by example or by precept – in the NT.

      Such a position eventually almost always distorts and consumes those who hold it. The problem isn’t so much with the man (or woman), but the office itself. Even if some pastor or some congregation have the best of intentions, the office of the “Pastor” structurally induces problems. Such a position robs God’s people of their heritage as kings and priests – and their calling to be ministers one to another according to our individual gifts and grace.

      The tradition of organizing a church around a pastor can’t help but create passive, dependent Christians who always expect to be fed. So we become trapped in having to put on our podium-directed and orchestrated Sunday morning God shows.

      The office of “Pastor” is not healthy for the pastor, or for the church.

      We need to eradicate the clergy/laity divide and return to our Biblical roots, and let the Lord also restore Biblical leadership based on servants who emerge from fellowship (which is the pattern we also see in the NT, rather than fellowship from eldership).

      Elders are those who simply emerge from among us to serve (not control). to persuade (rather than command), be examples (not lording over) and to lay down their lives as mentors (and not our “spiritual covering”) in the faith.

      Some of us are actually learning to chill out and participate together in the joy of expressing Jesus in us and among us, and it has been wonderful. The fruit that’s coming forth is amazing, powerful, and transforming.

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  4. Semantics! Whether we call them pastors, elders, leaders, managers, shepherds, under-shepherds, preachers, teachers, Rabbis, ministers, or reverends, the principal of godly leadership is found from Genesis to Revelation in Holy Scripture, and is strongly implied in countless verses in the NT. All such leaders are called to a solemn task and should lead in humility, like all Christians (Phil 2: 1-5; Heb. 5:1-4). The Christian life is impossible for any natural man in the first place. I have personally known many people who call themselves Christians, who lord their authority over many people, including pastors – who have also forsaken meeting together. Falling, due to pride is not exclusive to those called to lead. Pray for your pastors.

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    • Anomymous, This goes way past “semantics”. We could get into a whole single discussion on the inapproriate use of “Title’s” period. The titles are only functions. We are all brothers and sisters thus placing the titles in front of a persons given name every time you address them is a problem itself…

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    • Telling an old battle-hardened trial attorney and college prof like me that a real issue doesn’t exist because it just’s a matter of “semantics” is really dangerous! Words have meaning. Unfortunately, the meanings given today to the words “pastor”, “elder” and the like are not the meanings found in Scripture. Saying it is just semantics, I humbly submit, is an effort to obscure and thus avoid having to deal with some fundamental and thus some very, very real issues.

      See my rely below to Jim Cefaratti.

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      • Not to mention the definition of “semantics”: “the meaning of a word, phrase, sentence, or text” Funny, that! “Just ‘semantics’” is the equivalent of saying, “Just meaning.” Just? I don’t think so!

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  5. The setting up of models within a Christian community and giving them an official authority is extremely dangerous.

    It usually ends in broken psyches for both ‘leader’ and ‘follower’ following the desire war that breaks out as mimetic rivalry.

    There is hope though – it doesn’t lie within hierarchical structures or mindsets though!

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  6. Pastor, Bishop , elder, overseer. All the same word in the NT. If it make everyone feel better just replace pastor with elder. Paul did appoint elders and there is an office of an elder. No big deal. Every one is getting real hung up over nothing. The issue seems to be more that elder(pastor) has become an occupation and a career path in a corporate type organizational structure. Don’t knock the office, it is Biblical. Question the organizational structure and hierarchy that departs from the NT. When the pastor (elder) become like the OT priest, speaking for God and acting like the HS in our life, we have a problem. My observation though is that no man takes that power, it is willingly offered. So let’s not point the finger at others. Point is at ourselves. We need to change the way we behave and take our responsible place as sons (or daughters) priests an the royalty that we are in the household and kingdom of God. Enough already with the complaints. Just do it (that which is Biblical, pleasing to God and scary to most people), let the HS lead you into all truth as Jesus prayed for all of us.

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    • Jim, you are right. I know of no scholarship which disagrees with your point that in the New Testament, the English words of pastor, bishop, overseer and elder are all referring to the same leadership role in the church. They are synonymous terms.

      As you point out, however, that is not the reality in our churches today. In practice, it’s even worse than you state. Over the centuries, folks looking to justify positions and titles over God’s people have created the “office” of pastor as distinct from the Biblical mandate for a diversity of functioning elders in a local church. As you and others state, there is in fact no such office in the New Testament that looks anything like what we typically call a “pastor” today.

      Others have taken it even further, creating the “office” of Bishop which then is over the “pastor” who in turn is over or distinct from the “elders” (which may not even exist or else are typically regulated to functioning more like a corporate board of directors).

      We are left with having to deal with words that are found in Scripture, but are now used as titles in ways that bear no resemblance to their original meaning in Scripture, and in ways that have no actual warrant in the New Testament.

      This is a scandal, because it is a self-perpetuating deception (because the words “pastor” and “bishop” are found in the Bible, those words must mean what my pastor wants them to mean based on what has evolved through human tradition – rather than what they actually meant when the New Testament was written).

      This exegetical lie has entrapped God’s people in a self-serving institutional system long enough, and God is beginning to free His people by shaking up our nice neat tidy churches with our nice charming CEO “pastors”. It ain’t often a pretty process, but then, birth pangs seldom are.

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  7. I could not agree more. The simple fact is that we do not understand what the true “office” of an elder is. It has become much more of an organizational/administrative role. Biblically elders are responsible (not THE pastor) for the spiritual health, genuine teaching of Scripture, avoidance of heresy, teaching and giving example of godly conduct, resolution of certain conflicts elements of church discipline, equipping the saints in the local body for the work of the ministry and prayer. All to be done with the attitude of a self sacrificing servant who seeks no personal gain or reputation. We do need to get back to basics. The places I see this model working the best is in the persecuted church and in certain foreign mission organizations involved in church planting. In the good old USA we have done a good job merging Biblical roles with corporate roles and structures. I can only thank God that He still chooses to bless what we have built. Yet I believe that there is a better way. Seems that each generation may start out with one view but over time and successive generations morphs into something else. And the cycle happens over and over again.

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  8. Glad to see that someone pointing out that the word pastor is very much in Scripture. No question its meaning fluctuates from “shepherding the flock” to “flogging the flock” depending on the tradition. I knew we were in trouble when a person candidating for the job, when asked about working with the “elders,” said emphatically there can only be ONE pastor in a church! I think the problem comes with the attitudes of the individual leaders.

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    • Actually, Tom, the Greek word translated as “pastor” is found as a noun only once in the entire New Testament in the context of ministry in the church and that’s in Eph. 4. It is also once used as a verb when, in the Book of Acts, Paul admonishes the elders in Ephesus to “shepherd” the church there. Otherwise, the word is only used in reference to Jesus himself.

      Yet from that one use of the word “pastor” as a noun, we have through human traditions created the modern but unbiblical office of a “Pastor”.

      In the noun context of Eph. 4, most scholars agree it is referring to the dual role for elders, who Paul is describing as those who serve in the church as both “pastors and teachers”. That passage also admonishes those elders to in turn equip God’s people to do the work of ministry. So you are right, the idea of “ONE pastor in a church” is entirely unbiblical because God’s people generally should be pastoral – not as a consolidated office, but simply as one of the many ways we are to minister one to another. It is the job of elders – as those who equip God’s people through example and persuasion and mentoring – to help bring that about.

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      • Agreed! I’m sure translation issues cloud the issue::
        Eph 4:11 ff (NIV) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
        I’ve heard in a sermon somewhere that “perfecting of the saints” should not be followed by a comma before “for the work of the ministry”–the work of the ministry is a job of the saints, not exclusively of the ministry-gifted ones listed in the passage.

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  9. Tom, by way of tradition, and in that I mean in many charismatic or non-charismatic churches that have emerged over the last 30 years, a concept has taken form called “first among equals”. This term often looks like the following: The elders agree that they as a group are to shepard the local church. The pastor is identified as the first among the elders, normally because he has the vocational calling (employed as pastor) and the others are bi-vocational (work a “secular” job). It all seems to make sense but in most cases what actually happens is that the influence of the pastor expands and that of the other elders shrink. Before you know it everyone is ascribing to the principal that the elders rule the church but in practice it is far from what is going on. It is amazing how many things we can agree to in principal and end up practicing something very very different…and not ever realizing it. Consider each other more highly than yourself. It is time that every eldership examine their practice and identify if each is considering the other “more highly” or not. In their hearts ever elder know if they are really shepherding the flock or practicing an Biblical form of caving (not yielding) to authority that reflects a form of manipulation. Having conducted an assessment it is now up to each elder to make a correction in a God honoring redemptive manner. This tends to be hard. Instead often the “Pastor” just becomes another victim…and the cycle continues.

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  10. We should understand that the ministry gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher (EPH 4:11) are purely functional (EPH 4:12). They do not carry with them any implied title or rank in terms of an organisational hierarchy. They are not ‘bosses’ or ‘lords’ but are ‘supporters’, as pointed out by the Lord Jesus and Peter (MARK 10:42-44; 1 PET 5:2-3), and they are no better or more important than the less ‘exciting’ gifts in the Body of Christ (ROM 12:4-8; 1 COR 12:21-25, 28).

    The moment we install an organisational ‘pyramid’ in the Body of Christ, with a ‘top-down’ hierarchy, regardless of whether we call them cardinals, arch-bishops, bishops, directors, pastors, priests, vicars, regional coordinators, area coordinators or home cell leaders etc, we are furthering the “Babylon” system. Jesus and Peter declared that Church leaders are not to be ‘controllers’ (irrespective of how little the degree of control exercised) but ‘supporters’ – servants.

    Have you ever watched a serving waiter in the act of supporting a tray of food? He supports it from underneath – not by trying to hold it from the top! If he attempted to carry out the latter method, the restaurant would be in one almighty mess! Unfortunately, many Church ‘leaders’ are trying to control the ‘delivery’ of spiritual ‘food’ from the top, instead of serving from the bottom (which requires humility). This is why so much of the Church, today, is in an absolute ‘mess!’ Likewise, a building can only be built from the bottom upwards – not from the top downwards! The same principle applies with God’s “building” – the true Church (1 COR 3:9; EPH 2:19-22).

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