Pastors and Elders Today

Most of us would once have thought that the role of a pastor was fairly obvious and simple. Basically, caring for and feeding the sheep. Yet there seems to be tension between what some of us expect of a pastor, and what some pastoral roles actually involve.

These days in some church models, the caring and feeding seems secondary to inspirational vision casting, gathering and directing resources. Resources including both people and money. Church growth is the great justification for all this vision and activity, and it seems somehow that individual growth and genuine conversions are expected to emerge automatically as people participate in the process. Visible church growth is so important that the means aren’t debated too much, except for tracking their numerical effectiveness. Marketing is an integral tool.

On an earlier thread, MN said:

Despite what seems like constant crap being dished out, I think most here would know that being a pastor is a very, very tough gig.

It is not for the faint hearted and without being in that place because that is where God wants you to be potentially disastrous both personally and for those at the other end of it.

And that old dictum always applies: You can please some of the people some of the time…..

I really think there is an issue here over what pastoral authority actually means….what is it, how do you get it and lose it, how is it to be exercised, what the role of the elders is in all of this, and from a pente view point is there room for democracy.

So what is the pastor’s role, really? What are they really there to do? What kind of authority have they been given? Should they automatically teach, preach, direct and administer? If not, what is it that makes them a pastor? Is pastor even the right word? Does what we see reflect what we understand from scripture? Are our hopes and expectations from pastors too high, or wrong?

Likewise, with elders, which many Pentecostal churches have now replaced with board members. Is that a reasonable thing to do? Is there still a place for a traditional elder? How do we recognise an elder these days? Do we even know what they are for?


13 thoughts on “Pastors and Elders Today

  1. I’d like to see this as a chance for some genuine discussion rather further opportunity for bagging out.

    What does the breadth of Scripture say, not just the odd bit here and there?

  2. First of all this is a big subject that books could be and have been written about. And one that people study for years.

    I’ll probably let you guys write comprehensively and I will read and learn. But on a basic heart level, I want to say that the Church worldwide is crying out for shepherds – whether you call them Pastors, elders, overseers, home cell leaders or whatever depending on the group you are with. People who are concerned for someone’s soul. Someone who “feeds” sheep, rejoices when they get fat, and will leave 99 to go after one that goes astray through accident or their own silliness, stubbornness or whatever – but who then rejoices when that one is found. We need more shepherds.

    And, I think many of you regulars are that kind of ministry.
    Seriously! Regardless of the different doctrines and thoughts represented here, there are probably anyone of you that I feel that I could email and get help, advice and prayer from. This may be seen as an anti-church blog, but if you didn’t love the church, you wouldn’t bother. So, I don’t think it is. It’s obvious that many of you are shepherds who are ready to heal battered sheep.

    Dumb post I know, but it’s my opening un-intellectual comment.

  3. And it explains why some of you get emotional and seem overly hostile to certain things. Part of it is that true shepherds hate seeing sheep beat up. (Disclaimer – this is not a Word of Knowledge or prophecy….!) But.. I “feel” it in my spirit! (Bones? Gut?) You know what I mean.

  4. This is probably the wrong way to start…

    Elders are referred to on a consistent basis from Exodus to Revelation: they have a very significant role in the scheme of things. They are often mentioned in the same sentence as judges, and are expected to have wisdom, discernment, and obey and seen to obey God’s precepts and law – the latter assumes they know it, understand it and live – by so doing both modelling for those of us that follow, and teaching the population at large.

    When the Lord speaks judgement against the people of Israel he often singles out the elders and the leaders for doing the opposite of the above.

    Jesus does likewise and suffers at the hands of the elders, teachers of the law, and chief priests – not the hoi polloi.

    It is the ruling elites including the elders who subsequently try and shut Peter and the disciples up after Jesus has been killed and resurrected.

    The true men and women of faith having suffered at the hands of, and being seriously and potentially fatally mislead by the elders of Israel, then with the example of Jesus, and through the auspices of Peter, the apostles and the disciples then set about appointing a new eldership for the Christ’s church.

    As a simple point the bible gives you two models of eldership – one that undermines God and leads people to destruction, and one where their clearly defined role is as a protector and discerner of the truth, and to be examples to the rest of us about how to live our lives in Christ – to show us how to live in Christ.

    They exercised authority appointing missionaries.

    Elders direct the affairs of the church and those elders who preach and teach are worthy of double honour.

    Accusations can be brought against elders where there are two or three witnesses, and those who are found to have sinned to be publicly rebuked. No partiality or favouritism is to be shown.

    We also see that elders or those with this particular role of laying on hands actually shouldn’t be overly keen to lay on hands.

    Elders should be blameless – basically in control of their own households and living a good example – one should think about how this occurs before commenting about what it means in terms of being an elder.

    Elders are to be shepherds, not greedy or lording it over the flock, but live as examples.

    They are pray for the sick within their church.

    And finally they fall down before God and worship and praise.

    It is possible to do a quick study on shepherds as well – leaders of the flock – to see what characteristics they are to have, and how they are seen.

    What is interesting about this though is there are a gazillion references to elders, fewer to shepherds and mostly OT, with the NT ones in the context of elders (my opinion), and very few about overseers.

    Eldership in that context is the predominant theme, and teachers and preachers are elders.

    One thing which may be added to this is that of apostleship – elders and apostles in the NT are often mentioned in that same breath. But they are also elevated above prophets and teachers in terms of giftings. They are heraldic and are often teachers also. Apostles seem to have quite a different role to elders, but seem to have a parity also.

    Back to elderss – this lines up with reformed thought which largely sees what most call a pastor as a teaching elder.

    One thing is clear – the scripture which I quickly scanned does not concentrate in the NT on pastors – it’s strongest focus is on elders with apostles going out to new places.

    May be others can take this up in terms of elders and pastors.

  5. That’s a great summary, MN. I’m going to have to put more thought into this before I can reply in any kind of worthwhile way. I haven’t realised that different emphasis before. Very interesting.

    My old church had elders, and the new pastor wanted to replace them with board members. At the time I left, the congregation had won out, and elders were still part of the running team, much to the frustration of the new pastor. It may have changed by now, as that was the pastor’s intent. Elders and pastors were seen as distinctly different roles.

    There are teachers who aren’t necessarily good at what I think of as pastoring. They can be gifted at teaching but still not so great at the caring aspect of the role. That’s not a criticism, just a reference to different kinds of gifting.

    Regardless, it makes sense to require that teachers and pastors should also be elders. So I like that bit of reformed thought, where the pastor is a teaching elder, among other things.

    Have to do more study on this.

  6. Biblical church structure and pastoral leadership is a plurality of elders not one ceo/pastor and board of directors.

  7. RP church has board members that are elected by the members – in this case board members, elders, same thing.

    The Board members have fixed terms after which the normally say they’re happy to continue and get voted back in. In my current church never been in the position where someone who was nominated didn’t get voted in (if they accepted the nomination).

    As the church grows some thought was given at one point in time of having pastoral type elders, in addition to the Board members, leaving the latter to think on the strategic issues, focus on prayer and seeking God’s broader directional leading. I guess the home group leaders and other ministry leaders fill that role in some ways.

    I guess in this sense it is possible for people to be elders and fulfill different roles, or be in different roles and in effect be an ‘elder’.

    One of the things that strikes me about all of this is as Mosco has said – the plurality – that is the focus on a number of elders, not a Harvard Business School model, or a pied piper.

  8. I believe everyone has the fivefold ministry gifts of the Spirit. We are all to grow in these giftings. I’m having more difficulty trying to separate prophet from pastor, pastor to evanglist, evangelist to healer, healer to apostle. I believe the apostle simply is ‘one who is sent on behalf of’.

    I believe we are all capable of starting and founding people on God’s word and building the church. I believe any Christian can understand the bible and correct people as teacher, defend people from deceivers as pastors, help people with their prayer-life as prophets, help lead people to the Lord as evangelists and heal people of physical, emotional or spiritual abuse as healers.

    From who’ve I’ve met personally on Signposts02, I’ve seen many people here, I believe, operate in these positions. RP and Heretic obviously. But many people look up to you Teddy.

    Most of us on here observe and speak publically. What role is that? It’s very prophetic, shepherd-like, teacher-like, messenger like, evangelical and healing.

    I also believe that an elder is someone who manages these offices respectfully and knows when to take humble pie, unlike young dickheads who pioneer churches with hyper-spirit wank.

  9. Regarding Elders and Deacons:

    Elders and Deacons are both selected/elected in the same way in our church. Individuals are selected by the elders and then proposed at a church members meeting. The members go away and eventually hand in anonymous confirmation slips. A tick represents a yes.

    Deacons are subordinate in my church setting. To the extent that they are marginalised by the Elders who try and do the management tasks of the deaconate while neglecting the elders tasks of praying for the church and seeking God’s guidance and so on. (They were all deacons previously …)

    You could say that my church has a bunch pf people who ought to be deacons but aren’t allowed to be while we don’t have effective elders because they are spending all their time being deacons. We can’t replace them until their terms are done and even then, the only people put up for ‘election’ are people who are similar!

    Frustrating right?

    20 years ago … it worked really well. The Elders were real elders and the deacons were real deacons. Then the deacons got ‘promoted’. That was the real mistake made about 10 to 12 years ago. Once the spiritual people subsequently retired … the church began a downward slide in teaching even though numbers have grown slowly since that time. The quality of teaching has sunk like a stone.

    It’s gotten much worse over the last three years.

    Deacons should run the church. Maintain services. Handle the practicalities of things like building maintenance or soup runs for the local residents and so on.

    Elders should be praying for the church, teach the church and so on. They should not be involved in the day to day running of the church. That’s the deacons role.

    Ah well.

    Time for a coffee!


  10. I agree with Mosco’s point about the plurality of elders also.

    I also believe that as we grow in Christ over, we should all reach the maturity of elders. So every body of believers will grow elders, and over time add more. That doesn’t mean that everyone in a church will function in the office of elder. However, it would mean that in a healthy church, you’d find plenty of people who could serve in that capacity if you wanted to rotate the roles. Plus, you’d find plenty of people who can operate in that capacity just amongst their brethren, whether it is recognised officially by a title or not.

  11. Bull, your post was interesting food for thought.

    Deacons were used at my C3 churches for functional stuff, like organising the offering collection, or any kind of administrative task in the service setting. There were head deacons at PP’s church who co-ordinated those who reported to them. They took on practical roles, but didn’t have any real input as far as I am aware into any real decision making.

    Looking at Acts 6, my understanding from scripture is that deacons oversaw very practical things. This involved some decision making. For example, how the offering was distributed amongst the needy. Being a deacon required good character, and they were to be full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom (Acts 6:3). Both spiritual and practical.

    To me, it seems as though the deacon role was entrusted with more than it is these days, in terms of the effects upon the lives of the congregation. The apostles did not have to concern themselves with the matters that the deacons took care of. The deacons freed them from those things, in order that they could pray and so forth.

    These men included Stephen, who was later stoned to death.

    ” 8Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. 9Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, 10but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. ”

    Imagine the wisdom that Stephen had, and he was chosen as a deacon. It seems that our roles are pale shadows of what they once were. But then, we are living 2000 years later. I am not sure we can really regard the roles in our churches as being the same as those that carry the same name in the NT at times.

    If we are trying to emulate the example of the NT in how our gatherings are run, then the elders would definitely be dedicating significant time to prayer and ministry of the word, as their most important task. At the same time, I don’t think they’d consider themselves being above doing more practical tasks. I’d also imagine that the elders counsel would be sought when difficult issues came up, or when practical issues that weren’t yet addressed needed some thought. At the same time, the elders would trust those to whom things are delegated, to look after them, and let go of those things. After all, they would be delegating people of good character, wisdom, and full of the Holy Spirit to look after them. They’d be the kind of people whom the congregation would approve of, due to their demonstrated character etc. Being known by the congregation seemed important.

    The elders seemed to be shepherds. Correct me if I’m wrong. I haven’t done extensive revision reading here.

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