The New Testament on Church Leadership
Modernity and Church Leadership
The terminology regarding church staff is a result of the church growth movement of the 20th century. Though there may have been forerunners of the staff in past ages, the most recent model began in the southern part of the United States. Metropolitan areas around the 1950s that were running a membership of 200 or higher, began employing associate pastors out of necessity. As the years progressed and the churches grew larger, additional pastoral positions were added along with training to provide oversight in more specialized departments of ministry: music, youth, children, singles, young adults, discipleship, counseling, seniors, missions, and so on. As pastoral teams increased, support positions were added in order to facilitate the necessary administration that accompanied the growing numbers of programs churches produced. Between the 1950s and 1990s, these larger churches experienced growth.
The New Testament has much to say about the appointment of leadership in the church. As Paul traveled on his missionary journeys he made it a practice to appoint elders in every church. He instructed Timothy to recognize those elders who rule and especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. Paul exhorted Titus to appoint elders in every town. Notably, Paul used the terms, elder and overseer interchangeably when writing to Titus. The apostle helped us understand, both the character and teaching of the elder are inextricable.
What is the role of 'pastor, elder, overseer' according to the New Testament? Pastors teach the authentic gospel of Jesus Christ and lead the church. The authority of the pastorate rests solely in the gospel of Christ, the Word of God, and not in the person of the pastor. Pastoring is servant leadership. Just as every member of the body has been gifted by the Holy Spirit, the New Testament reveals these men are gifted to humbly guide the ministries and administration of the church. They are to set an example for the flock of God as they provide oversight to the church and await the return of the chief Shepherd. Pastors pray for the sick and the repentant. They lead the church to love the Lord and carry out his Great Commission.
Though context is ever-changing, the Lord moves among his people today just as he did in the early church.
Here are some takeaways from the Scripture:
- The apostles prioritized establishing Spirit-filled leadership in the New Testament church.
- The terms shepherd (pastor), elder, and overseer are used interchangeably.
- The New Testament teaching promotes a plurality of elders in each local church. Some elders are vocational and some work outside the local church. The plurality of elders includes any man who is called, gifted, and recognized by the church, no matter their vocational status.
- Pastors are provided by the Holy Spirit to equip the church to grow up together in Christ.
- The apostles knew it would be impossible for pastors to lead the church without the deacons serving the ministries of the church.
References: Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5-7; Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Ephesians 4:11; Titus 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:17; Matthew 16:13-20; 1 Corinthians 12:4-7; 1 Peter 5:1-2; James 5:14; 1 Timothy 3:8-13; Acts 6:1-7