Why we don’t have a senior pastor

From time to time people ask why we don’t have a senior or lead pastor as many other churches do. After my recent post Just call me Curt, I received quite a few questions regarding the nature of our church leadership, and why we’ve structured it this way. This is an important issue, and so we’re going to devote some attention to it. In this post, I’m going to give a basic overview of our leadership structure and the biblical reasons for it. In subsequent posts, I’ll tackle some of the most common objections to our type of church leadership.

While there are specific biblical reasons for our approach—and we’ll examine them—it might be helpful for me to share my experience in discovering these scriptural principles. My story is by no means unique. I’ve heard similar accounts from many others.

In the early 90s, I was part of a church in the Calvary Chapel movement. Calvary Chapels typically put great emphasis on being biblical in their approach to Christian teaching and ministry. Most of them show a healthy balance between heart-felt, passionate worship and solid, expositional teaching of the Word. I eventually was invited to become part of a small group of leaders being trained to become pastors. I felt God’s leading into a ministry of pastoring and teaching, which, as I understood it, meant serving under the leadership of a senior pastor or, quite possibly, as a senior pastor myself. Because I desired to do everything in a biblical manner, I sought to be a good student of the Word and see just what the Bible had to say to me as a future pastor.

You can imagine my surprise when I could find no mention of senior pastors in the Bible, and only one place where the English word “pastor” was used at all! That was it. There were no passages describing the “pastor” of a church, or directly addressing pastors. It was confusing, to say the least.

But I wasn’t satisfied with this, and resolved to dig more deeply into the original languages. The Greek word translated ‘pastor’ in that single reference (Ephesians 4:11) is poimēn. Unlike the English word ‘pastor,’ poimēn is used 18 times in the New Testament. It’s translated ‘pastor’ only once; the other 17 times, it’s rendered ‘shepherd.’ This made sense to me. I knew the English word pastor means shepherd. This connection is even more clear in Spanish, where there is only one word used. For example, El Buen Pastor is often used as a church name: The Good Shepherd.

So now I could search out what the Bible had to say concerning those who shepherded or pastored the churches. Again, I was surprised. According to Scripture, the people responsible for the shepherding/pastoring of the church are the elders or overseers of the church.

From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them, “. . . Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

Acts 20:17-18, 28

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder . . . : Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

1 Peter 5:1-3

As I studied these, and other, passages, it also became clear that the apostles were using the terms ‘elder’ and ‘overseer’ interchangeably. The Acts passage above demonstrates this well. Paul is speaking to the elders of the church, refers to them as overseers (or bishops in some older translations), and then tells them they are to be shepherds/pastors of the church of God. In 1 Peter 5, he describes one of the duties of these elders as “watching over” the flock, which more literally means ‘overseeing’ them, again using the terms synonymously. And, again, these elders are to be shepherds/pastors of God’s flock. Paul’s instructions to Titus provide us another example of the interchangeable nature of the terms elder and overseer:

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless . . . since an overseer manages God’s household.

Titus 1:5-7

Also, according to 1 Timothy 5:17, the elders of the church are the ones doing the preaching and teaching, not the “senior pastor.” I was finding that the biblical model of pastoral leadership seemed surprisingly different from what I had seen in church ministry.

The Bible never specifically addresses ‘pastors’ because it usually refers to the pastoral leaders of the church as ‘elders.’ The elders were the pastors of the New Testament church. There is no biblical distinction between an elder, an overseer/bishop, and a pastor of a church. Elder and overseer are different terms for the same church office, and pastor describes the function of these leaders (what they do, i.e. they shepherd the church).

Not only do we not find any churches in the Bible led by a senior pastor, we don’t find any examples of one man serving as the sole elder or pastor of a church either. But while the traditional office of pastor is strangely missing from Scripture, there is a clear pattern of each church being led by a group of godly elders/pastors. The first Christian church was led by a group of 12 apostles, with no one taking a separate office of “senior apostle.” This model is consistently followed and taught throughout the New Testament:

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders [plural] for them in each church [singular] and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Acts 14:23

. . . Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.

Acts 20:17

. . . To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons.

Philippians 1:1

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

1 Timothy 5:17

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

Titus 1:5

Is any one of you sick? Call the elders of the church to pray over you . . .

James 5:14

The Bible definitely shows a strong pattern of each individual church being led by a group of leaders. And, again, it never shows one man taking a senior pastor role. We are given accounts in Scripture of elders being appointed, qualifications for elders, and instructions given directly to elders. But with all of the issues the churches were facing, and all of the letters being sent to the churches, we don’t have even a single letter sent to “the pastor” of the church in Corinth, or Ephesus, etc. From our modern perspective, that’s a pretty shocking absence. We have no account of the appointment of a senior or sole pastor, no qualifications for a senior or sole pastor, and nowhere is “the pastor” of a church directly addressed.

If we are going to designate one leader as the pastor of a church, in distinction from the other elders, the burden is on us to show how this is scriptural. As Alexander Strauch has pointed out, the Bible gives us far more information concerning the plural leadership of the church than it does many other important teachings, such as baptism and communion. Can we ignore it?

By using different terms interchangeably for the same church office, Scripture demonstrates it isn’t the name of the leadership position that’s important but the nature of the leadership role. Whether we call these leaders elders, overseers, bishops, ministers, or pastors, the important thing is we’re following the biblical model of church leadership by a council of leaders with no leader promoted to authority over the rest.

The purpose of this post is to explain the reasons for our church leadership structure, not to attack any other churches. It was encouraging to me to find I wasn’t alone in seeing these discrepancies between common traditional models and the scriptural pattern, that pastors and scholars have been discussing these issues throughout much of the history of the church. The consensus among an overwhelming majority of biblical scholars is that the first century church was led as I’ve described above. And more churches every day are committing themselves to applying these New Testament principles of church leadership.

One last point: I find it very compelling that the only use in Scripture of the Greek word for a chief or head pastor (archepoimēn) is used specifically of Christ in 1 Peter 5:4. We need to be wary of encroaching on the authority of our Lord. The body has only one Head; the kingdom has only one King. The elders/pastors of a church are merely under-shepherds who look to the Chief Shepherd of the flock for his will concerning his sheep. Like good sheepdogs, we don’t draw the sheep after us; we direct their attention continually to the Shepherd. My prayer is we would be very sensitive to the leading and guiding of our ‘Senior Pastor,’ and that we would be faithful to fulfill his will, for his glory and the benefit of his people.

If you’re interested in studying more on this topic, I would recommend Alexander Strauch’s excellent book Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership. This book has become the standard work on church elders and pastoral leadership. (We have a copy in the church library.)

As I mentioned, I’ll be covering some of the most common challenges to this view in upcoming posts. If you’d like to submit a challenge of your own, let me know!

Elders and pastoral leadership series:

Why we don’t have a senior pastor [see above]

Challenge 1: Wasn’t each house church led by one elder?

Challenge 2: What about Peter and James?

Challenge 3: What about Timothy and Titus?

Challenge 4: What about the “Moses Model”?

A few remaining challenges

So what exactly do elders do?

Challenge 5: What about the angels of the seven churches in Revelation?

64 thoughts on “Why we don’t have a senior pastor

  1. Pingback: Why we don't have a Senior Pastor | exploring the faith – church news

  2. Very good post, and a very gracious, informative and great series on biblical eldership. I too am involved with Calvary Chapel now and am looking for ways to approach my pastor regarding my disagreement with our structure, but in a gracious way. Thank you.

  3. Thanks, Matt. I appreciate the encouragement. I understand where you’re at; I’ve had that conversation myself. I pray that yours goes well. There are a great many people who would love to see a Calvary Chapel with a biblical eldership.

  4. Just a quick question I didn’t see addressed. What was Paul’s title or role? Could it be that he never wrote to the “pastor” because he was the pastor? Great article, very interesting. Thanks!

  5. Hi, Adam. It’s very likely that Paul was one of the elders of the church in Antioch before beginning his missionary trips. In Acts 13:1, he’s listed as part of a group of prophets and teachers who apparently met together. He also shared with Barnabas in the teaching ministry to this church (Acts 11:25-26). But most of Paul’s ministry was in the role of an apostle. This is how he typically identifies himself. As such, he had an itinerant ministry of evangelizing unreached peoples, planting new churches and periodically writing or visiting the churches to strengthen and encourage them. A vital role without question, but not the role of a local church senior pastor. Thanks for your comment!

  6. yowza!! i was CC too for a long time till i could no longer justify the business like ‘corporate structure’ of the Moses Model and rebelled… oh what a sweet rebellion it has been. thanks for giving words to many people’s concerns.
    -mike
    -mike

  7. This was wonderful. Thank you for the time and effort you put into this! I’ve been questioning the Biblical support for a “Senior Pastor” (that’s actually what I typed in Google, which led me to this post), as I had only found Biblical backing of the contrary. Also, in Ephesians 4:11, where Paul mentions the different roles in the church to which men are appointed by Christ, pastor is plural (pastors), furthering strengthening the case for plural leadership in the Church. Again, you did an outstanding job, and I enjoyed how all your points had solid, Biblical support.

    Praying for you and your church!

    In Him,
    Alan

  8. thanks Curt, this is really helpful, am from Philippines and our fellowship just started and entering our fifth year, as one of the pastor of this church and instrumental of starting it, l’ve always been inclined to this thinking. The verses and chapters you quote are really helpful

  9. Curt, I just found this post by Googling, “Are lead pastors biblical?” I really already knew the answer to my question because I looked for biblical references supporting the lead or senior pastor but found none. Rather, I found support for a council or body of elders who submit to each other equally and to the Lord as the only head. I was Googling in hopes of finding other believers who are seeing things the way I have been for the last few of years because I would rather fellowship where the biblical model of plural leadership is practiced. Your post was so refreshing to find and read. Thanks so much for studying this topic so thoroughly and sharing it. And thanks for sharing the book on biblical eldership. I will definitely look it up.

    Marilyn
    Houston, TX

  10. Thank you, Marilyn. I know what it’s like to feel a bit lonely in one’s stand on these issues. There are a lot more of us than it sometimes feels like! I’m glad these posts could be encouraging and helpful to you, and I’m sure Biblical Eldership will be even more so.

    Blessings,
    Curt

  11. Great post Curt. Just one point of difference with you if I might.

    I’ve been seeking the Lord on some things related to this recently and He led me to realize that the use of the word “pastors” (which is a Latin word actually – history of it’s use goes back to the Geneva Bible of 1580 something which was the first one to incorporate this Latin word into the text) refers to the gift of shepherding. He did not give positions to the church. He gave gifts.

    Elder on the other hand (along with other words which you correctly surmised) refers to the position of church leadership.

    The church of today greatly confuses things by calling a man in a position of leadership after the name of the gift while limiting what we call elders today to being less than what biblical elders were meant to be.

    So elder and pastor are NOT synonymous. Pastor (the Latin word) refers to the gift. Elder to the position. The gift, like all gifts, can operate independent of any position. An elder is simply someone who has the gift of shepherding who has qualified to be an elder by virtue of mature character and a desire to operate in that gift to guide and shepherd a whole flock.

    There is much more that could be said about this. If you want to know more I am working on a chapter (not yet finished) about this very issue that I have put online if you want to read what I have so far (I would love to get your input on it). Just go through to the link associated with my name above.

    Carlos

  12. Thanks so much for your additional input Curt. It’s difficult to find others interested interested in these sorts of things.

    I think you and I are mostly agreed Curt except for one thing. You state that elders and overseers refer to the position. I wholeheartedly agree!

    But you also say that pastor refers to the function of “these leaders”.

    What the Lord has led me to realize just in the last week or two (assuming for a minute that I am hearing Him correctly) is that the word “pastors” in Ephesians 4:11 does not describe a function (or gift if you will) of leaders but rather just a gift.

    In other words the gift of shepherding is not necessarily tied to a leadership position at all.

    While it may seem like a matter of semantics there are some profound and significant consequences to how we of today call a church leader after the name of a gift (click through my name to see much more on the consequences).

    I look forward to hearing what you think of what I wrote Curt. For some reason it is nearly impossible for me to get anyone to read much less give me input on what the Lord is teaching me and that I am writing about.

    Carlos

  13. Curt…something messed up the link through my name in the previous post.

    Here is the relevant section on the consequences of using the name of a gift for that of a church leadership position.

    [Edited by Admin.]

    Sorry about putting a link explicitly into a comment but I didn’t want to risk having WordPress mess up a second attempt.

    Carlos

  14. It did it again. I had the long link as my website attached to my name in the last response and once again WordPress switched out the URL for a completely different blog of mine. Weird.

    Oh well. Just follow the long link in my post.

    Carlos

  15. You’ve written quite a bit on this subject, Carlos—and that’s a good thing! I want to take the time to carefully read what you’ve written before offering any feedback. Do you want me to comment here in this thread, or to email you my thoughts?

    Let me offer now a couple of thoughts in response to your comment here:

    — First, regarding Ephesians 4:11, the specific wording here is important. “He gave some to be apostles, etc.” I would say the “to be”-ing here refers directly to function. He gave some to be apostles, that is he gave some to function as apostles or to fulfill the ministry of an apostle. Of course, what God calls us to do he also gifts us to do. Function and gifting are really intertwined. But I think the primary meaning here is of function (not office as you point out), and of gifting only by implication. (Actually the gift here consists of those who serve in these various capacities. God gives these servants to the church.)

    — Secondly, I would agree that the gift (or function) of shepherding is not tied exclusively to any specific leadership position. This is why I wrote above that not all pastors are elders. I don’t mean pastors in the traditional ordained ministry sense here, but anyone who fulfills the gifting and ministry of shepherding. OTOH, Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-3 specifically call on the elders to shepherd or pastor the church of God. I was basing my comments on elders pastoring/shepherding on these passages, not on Ephesians 4:11. Would you agree that these other two passages instruct elders to fulfill the function (i.e. ministry) of shepherding? Would this not make the church elders the only ones responsible for pastoring the entire church (thus equivalent to the “church pastors”)?

  16. No problem on the link, Carlos.

    It’s getting late here and I’m heading to bed. 🙂 So if you comment further, don’t be concerned if I don’t respond until tomorrow!

  17. Hello, Carlos! Thank you for the encouragement.

    Actually I agree with most of your comment. Although I didn’t go into this in the post above, I agree that the word “pastor” comes from a traditional Latin rendering rather than using the simple translation “shepherd.” I also agree that the word pastor refers to gifting or—as I put it in my post—to function. In Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-3, the elders are called to fulfill the function of shepherding the church. This is why I noted in the post above:

    There is no biblical distinction between an elder, an overseer/bishop, and a pastor of a church. Elder and overseer are different terms for the same church office, and pastor describes the function of these leaders (what they do, i.e. they shepherd the church) [emphasis added].

    So all elders are pastors, but not all pastors are elders. My intention in this post was to refer to those responsible for pastoring the whole church (i.e. elders).

    While I am bothered by the unbiblical distinction of one elder from (above) the others, I’m not really troubled by those who refer to the pastoral leaders of a church by their function—pastors—rather than by the term elders. Scripture uses the terms elders and overseers interchangeably, and overseer both describes a leadership position and a leadership function (those who oversee the church). The apostles didn’t seem to be hung up on the exclusive use of one term for our church leaders but on the underlying principle of co-equal, plural church leadership. I think this gives us freedom in terminology while tying us to the unchanging scriptural principle.

    (Alex Strauch noted that some churches may actually have difficulty implementing a biblical form of church leadership unless they adopt the terminology of “pastors” to describe all the church elders.)

    Thanks for the link! I look forward to reading your work on this. I’d be happy to offer any feedback I can.

    Blessings!
    Curt

  18. Thanks for your understanding on the link Curt. I wasn’t trying to spam your blog just so you know.

    I think there might be a bug in the comment plugin you are using that comes up when one uses the ‘#’ character in a URL. What it did is change the URL I indicated to a previous blog I had at WordPress.com

    Not a big deal mind you accept for the fact that the previous blog had some things on it that don’t reflect my current thinking. A bit embarrassing is all.

    Anyway have a great day Curt! You are blessed to be in Puerto Rico!

    Carlos

  19. Curt…I just saw your longer response above. I too would like to digest what you said without rushing as I only have a minute or two just now.

    But off the bat it sounds like you see a difference between function and gifting and position. Not sure that is biblical Curt but on the other hand you may be unto something there. I’ll have to pray over that and the rest of what you said.

    I am very grateful that you are willing to interact with me on this Curt. Being an elder yourself i can’t imagine how busy you must be. It’s amazing to me that you take the time to be on this blog. If I was in your shoes in Puerto Rico I’d probably be at the beach, drinking some cola, or some such LOL.

    Anyway…yeah…it’s up to you how you get me input Curt. Email is my preferred method but perhaps others who read your blog might have some insight to share so either way is good by me.

    Carlos

  20. Carlos, I edited the link in your comment since that wasn’t the post you intended to link to.

    Here are a few more thoughts regarding gifting and function:

    — Can a believer have a spiritual gift but not faithfully exercise that gift? Could someone be given by God a gift of shepherding but not use that gift—not ‘function’ in shepherding ministry? If so, this would show a distinction between gifting and functioning in that gifting.

    — There are things that all of us are to do as followers of Christ. For instance, we’re all to share the faith with others, thus functioning in an evangelistic capacity. But do all of us have a special spiritual gift of evangelism?

    — Elders must be able to teach, but does this mean they must have a special gift of teaching? If a man is otherwise qualified to serve as an elder—and is able to clearly and accurately explain scriptural teaching to others—but isn’t particularly gifted at teaching, should he be disqualified? (Parents are supposed to teach their children—functioning as teachers—but do they all have a spiritual gift of teaching?)

  21. Thanks very much about changing the link Curt. That’s very thoughtful of you.

    You bring up some good questions Curt. In regard to function vs gifting I see what you mean. That someone can be gifted but not functioning in that gift. That makes sense Curt however I think in the context that Ephesians 4:11 is a listing of gifts and not functions.

    What strikes me as really strange in our modern day practice is that we call a man in a leadership role by the name of the gift thereby limiting said gifting (or function) to only being allowed in connection with the position.

    The Lord led me to realize more fully a couple of days ago that there is no such thing as a Pastor biblically speaking. To explain why that is is too much to peck out in the tiny iPhone keyboard. I can expand that thought more tomorrow (when I get on my laptop) if anyone wants to know.

    Carlos

    P.S. By the way Curt, for what it’s worth, it is difficult to respond on an iPhone not only because of the tiny keyboard but also because the input box given out through your posts is super wide such that I can’t readily review what I am saying. Other sites have the same commenting system but it doesn’t happen that way there.

  22. Hi, Carlos. I hope to get more time to think through what you’ve written on your site in the next few days. BTW, I’ve changed the settings so the blog should be more accessible on an iPhone (including making comments).

    Carlos:

    What strikes me as really strange in our modern day practice is that we call a man in a leadership role by the name of the gift thereby limiting said gifting (or function) to only being allowed in connection with the position.

    What about the Scriptures that refer to the “overseers” of the church? This leadership description seemed to be used in lieu of “elders” in many places, and the apostles didn’t seem to have a problem with that. (They use the term themselves.) If they used this description to refer exclusively to certain church leaders, does that mean the apostles were limiting all supervisory functions or gifts to these leaders? Even though there were specifically designated overseers (who were committed to overseeing the whole church), could no one else oversee anything? What about referring to someone as “the teacher” of a class or study? Are we implying that the gift of teaching is limited (in that class or study) to that one individual?

  23. Hi Curt!

    Always great to hear from you. I’ll have to test things on my iPhone when I next access your site and feel compelled to comment on my phone :).

    In the meantime I am on my laptop and can comment freely without having to chicken peck each letter LOL.

    To address what you brought up Curt….

    In my understanding (please feel free to correct me if you think I am in error bro – I hope it’s okay to call you that since I…well…do consider you a brother in Christ) the word overseer refers to one aspect of the work that a biblical elder (as opposed to what we normally call an elder these days on a Board of Elders or a Council of Elders) does.

    In other words an Elder (the position) does the work of shepherding and overseeing the flock.

    They are overseers as well as Elders.

    The one refers to what they do watching over the flock the latter refers to the maturity of the man in that position.

    Neither refers to the gift of shepherding mentioned in Ephesians 4:11. There simply is NO verse anywhere that connects the gift of shepherding exclusively with the position of an Elder or overseer. None.

    In answer to your question Curt…I do believe that the apostles meant Elders, and only Elders, to be the one’s to do the work of overseeing the flock. No one else was given that responsibility or the authority to carry out that responsibility over a flock.

    Oversight is an interesting word. If you look at the root of the Greek word it comes from two other words. One of which means to watch as a guard or sentry might watch.

    It does NOT mean to manage the affairs of the church like a business manager might.

    There is no similar leadership role anywhere in the world that can be equated to leadership over a church. For there is NO other organism in which the one’s being led have the presence of a being within them that through his spirit speaks to them and leads them.

    For an overseer (or Elder if you will) to exert a leadership role as a worldly leader might is to encroach upon the Headship of Jesus and the role of the Holy Spirit.

    Calling someone a teacher is acceptable I think as long as we do not come to associate all teaching to only be done by the one we are calling teacher (against both the spirit and letter of 1 Corinthians 14:26 where EVERYONE is free to bring a doctrine to assembled believers). We are ALL called to teach the Word to each other.

    What absolutely boggles my mind to no end is how the church of today thinks that those we call Pastors today are the ONLY one’s who can engage in teaching the Word to the rest of us. Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

    There is a HUGE amount of Word locked up in the life experiences of every single Christian as the Lord Himself teaches them His truths and causes them to apply what they are learning to their lives. Most such insight is locked under a tradition that sees the pastoral role as more important and needful for the well being of the church such that the Pastor of today is given cart blanche to speak out as he might wish to do while the rest of us are pretty much tied to the pew where we are expected to be docile and uncommunicative of what God is doing in our lives.

    I could not believe my ears when I heard a well known Pastor actually ask the Lord once, in an introductory prayer, that He would give the saints docile hearts to hear as he as the gifted one, laid out the Word before them. He didn’t come out and call himself the gifted one mind you but that was all but said in how he was praying and what he was asking the Lord about.

    I could say much, much more on this Curt but given that you will apparently be reading what I said…I will leave it at that.

    Incidentally bro if you do actually follow through and read what I said you will be the ONLY one of many Christians that has ever done that. Sad to say I am loosing count of how many Christians have told me they will read what I have said and give me input only to never get back to me at all. It’s very frustrating.

    Having said that please do not feel any obligation Curt! Really. If you get so busy with other things or whatever and just don’t feel like reading what I said or getting back to me on it please feel free to set aside the reading of what I said indefinitely bro.

    I am still quite surprised at your graciousness in even being on here given your other responsibilities.

    Carlos

    PS. Incidentally bro if it interests you I have started a blog to…well…blog about the Lord’s dealings with me as I try and bring in some of these things into a very traditional Calvary Chapel Church. The Head Pastor here has given me cart blanche to talk to others about whatever the Lord lays on my heart (though not officially as anyone in leadership which is wise and perfectly understandable). The freedom that I have been given is absolutely unprecedented and something NO Pastor, EVER has given me before. It’s interesting what the Lord is teaching me through this experience. I HATE the Sunday churchy thing. HATE it. But here I am…stuck in an ULTRA Sunday church thingy trying to live out the life of Christ in the midst of a church that is anything but what I think the Lord would a church should be. The blog, if you are interested, can be reached through my name URL above.

  24. Hey bro,

    I read your page on The role and function of an elder. I first have to commend you for investing the time and effort to research and think through these issues. I can see that you care deeply about the church and about following God’s plan for the church. As you might guess, much of what you write strikes a loud chord with me. You bring out the biblical role of the elders, point out the all too common over-emphasis on “the pastor,” challenge the unbiblical practice of having a head or senior elder, and you remind your readers that the Bible doesn’t require an elder to have gone to Bible college or seminary. I like it!

    There are a few things with which I would disagree, so let me share some thoughts.

    Gift of shepherding

    Many, if not most, of your points in this paper seem to be based on your view of the gift of shepherding. I wouldn’t argue with the claim that there is such a gift that God gives to believers. But you make quite a few very strong assertions about this gift, and state in one place that it is not explicitly associated with certain roles. Okay, let me challenge you a bit here, bro:

    Where is the gift of shepherding explicitly taught in Scripture?

    Let’s look at the passages that speak of shepherds or shepherding in the church (passages taken from the NASB):

    Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

    Acts 20:28

    There is nothing explicit here about gifting. The elders are just told to shepherd the church.

    Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.

    1 Peter 5:1-3

    Again, nothing at all explicit about any form of gifting. One might say that since the elders are shepherding voluntarily and with eagerness that this implies gifting. Maybe. But that would be implicit not explicit. It’s still not a clear, unambiguous reference to a gift of shepherding. The passage says nothing about such a gift.

    (And we can have desires without having a corresponding gift. We should all eagerly desire to share our faith; that doesn’t mean every Christian will have a spiritual gift of evangelism. I Timothy 3:1 says “if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” You might connect the work he desires to shepherding and then assume a gift of shepherding—but that’s an assumption not a clear scriptural reference.)

    And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, . . .

    Ephesians 4:11

    This seems to be the passage you draw from the most, but where does this passage explicitly say anything about a gift of shepherding? What are being given by God to the church are shepherds (and apostles and prophets and evangelists and teachers). Now that doesn’t mean we should read this as referring to the traditional role of “the pastor,” but there is absolutely nothing here that explicitly teaches a gift of shepherding. In this passage, the shepherds aren’t receiving a gift, they are the gift. At most, we could say that if God puts people in the role or function of being shepherds then he probably also gives them a corresponding spiritual gift. So gifting could be implied here. But we’re now speculating. This passage doesn’t say anything about a “gift of shepherding.” We need to be careful not to read into the text something that’s not there.

    This is really important because you use your understanding of a gift of shepherding as the basis for evaluating almost everything else you talk about in your paper. If what you’re saying about the gift of shepherding isn’t clearly, unambiguously, explicitly taught in Scripture, then you’re basing much of your writing on your own speculation—and that’s dangerous.

    I would also challenge this statement:

    Carlos:

    You will not find the gift of shepherding explicitly associated with oversight or authority or anything else that is normally associated with church leadership anywhere in the New Testament. There are no verses making that direct association.

    What about Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-3? Do they not directly and explicitly associate shepherding with the church leadership, oversight and authority of the elders? Is anyone else to shepherd the whole church?

    Gifting and position

    You make a couple of provocative statements:

    Carlos:

    The church today equates the gift (i.e. shepherding) with a position . . .

    In other words we say that shepherding can only be done through someone in that position [your emphasis].

    Can you give me some quotes supporting these claims? I don’t know anyone who believes this. Even in Calvary Chapel—which strongly emphasized the dominant role of the senior pastor—I never heard anyone suggesting that no one else has or uses a gift of shepherding. I remember hearing references to women who shepherd other women, leaders who shepherd youth or Bible studies, and fathers who shepherd their families. Now, they never would have allowed this to encroach on the unique (as they saw it) role of the senior pastor in shepherding the whole church—but they definitely did not teach that only pastors can shepherd others. And this is commonly taught and discussed in most evangelical churches that have senior pastors. In fact, observing that someone is gifted and faithful in shepherding is often the very thing that prompts them to be appointed as a leader (women’s pastor, youth pastor, small group leader, etc.). So the reality of what people actually teach and say seems to contradict the problem you’re trying to address here. Who is saying that only “Pastors” can shepherd?

    In 1 Timothy 3, we’re given the qualifications for two church leadership offices/positions/roles/functions: episkopos and diakonos. What’s interesting is that both of these words are descriptions of the function of these leaders (i.e. what they do): they are the ones who oversee and who serve or minister. The word presbyteros isn’t used in this list of qualifications at all (although both are used in the list in Titus). We can also note that in Philippians 1:1, Paul specifically addresses the overseers and the deacons (i.e. servants or ministers) of the church, and never mentions elders in the letter at all. What does this mean?

    1. We can’t simply say that “elders” refers to the position and “overseers” refers to what these leaders do when Paul specifically and explicitly uses the word overseer to refer to the position itself.

    2. Paul didn’t have any qualms about using a word that describes what someone does as also the designation for their position. He is definitely not communicating that only overseers have a gift of overseeing and that only deacons have a gift of serving or ministering.

    3. Paul didn’t exclusively use one and only one word to describe these church leaders. Jews commonly used the word “elders” to designate their leaders, and Gentiles commonly used the word “overseers” to designate theirs. Paul (and Peter) used both. There is no example in Scripture of using the word “pastors” to describe these leaders, but there is also no biblical principle that would prohibit such a usage either (as long as the word isn’t used to single out one elder and give him a separate position over the others).

    Open church meetings

    I’m not a fan of the traditional sermon. It’s not how Jesus and the apostles taught, and it brings with it a lot of unnecessary baggage. When I teach, I teach interactively. I ask the other people questions and they raise their hands and ask me questions. Also, I spent a few years in the house church “movement,” so I understand the push for open, participatory meetings. The problem is that I was misusing—at the time—1 Corinthians 14:26, and a lot of people still are.

    What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

    First, note that Paul doesn’t say here, “When you assemble, it’s really important that you each have something to contribute.” He simply notes what is going on in the Corinthian meetings; they were all coming with something to share. But then he says, “Let all things be done for edification.” I used to read this “Let all things be done for edification,” meaning if all these things weren’t able to be done the body wouldn’t be properly edified.

    But there’s a problem with this interpretation. Paul immediately begins limiting the participation of the people. If people are going to speak in tongues (and notice he does say “if”), there are to be no more than three, and if there’s no interpreter they must not participate in this way during the meeting. They must allow two or three prophets to speak (again, it’s allowed but not necessary), but no more than three, they must relinquish the floor if another prophet has something to share, and the prophecy must be properly evaluated to see if it’s legitimate. If Paul’s point in verse 26 was that everyone had to be part of this open meeting for edification to take place, why does he seem to immediately contradict his point?

    But there’s another, equally natural, way to read this sentence: “Let all things be done for edification.” In other words, ‘you guys all come wanting to share your own stuff with everyone, but make sure that whatever is done is done to truly edify the body.’ (That’s been his primary criterion throughout this chapter: what best edifies the body?) This interpretation fits the context: Don’t let people speak in tongues at the same time. Why not? It’s not edifying. Don’t let people speak in tongues if there’s no one to interpret. Why not? It doesn’t edify anyone but the speaker. Don’t let more than three people speak in tongues or prophecy during a meeting. Why not? Because too much participation becomes unedifying. He actually makes the point in this chapter that the individual is responsible for controlling their own gift from the Spirit (e.g. v. 32).

    Paul ends this chapter by telling them to seek and not stop healthy participation (“desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues”), but he also tells them to appropriately channel the flow of these gifts (“but all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner”) to avoid confusion and chaos. Blood must flow through the body for it be alive and healthy, but it doesn’t flow in a completely unrestricted manner. It flows through arteries and veins. The life and gifting of the Spirit must flow, but it must flow through appropriate channels. In my time in house churches, I learned that it’s very easy to err on the side of being too open! This chapter actually gives the churches the responsibility to not leave the meetings totally open guided only by how people feel led by the Spirit. Such a meeting is just as out of balance as one that allows no participation, and it violates the biblical principles Paul teaches here.

    Miscellaneous

    Must a church have elders to be a church?

    No, but according to Titus 1:5 such a church is deficient, with something remaining that needs to be set in order.

    Meaning of episkopoi

    You can’t just take the different parts of a word and add them together to get the definition. This is an example of what’s called an exegetical fallacy (an error in interpreting Scripture). (This is why a “butterfly” can’t be defined as “flying butter,” etc.) In the first century the word episkopos commonly referred to a superintendent, overseer or even a governor. It doesn’t just mean someone who watches as a sentry or scout. If your word study requires you to assume that all English translations are inaccurate, you probably need to keep studying! 🙂

    Elders and teaching

    It’s true that the elders aren’t the only ones who can teach in the church and that they are not to exclude everyone else from such ministry. However, the elders are specifically and repeatedly given the responsibility to teach the church, and they are also tasked with guarding the church against false teaching and with refuting those who contradict sound teaching. We don’t want to exclude other teachers, but we also don’t want to diminish the God-given responsibilities and role of the elders. We also don’t want to diminish the crucial role of teaching in the life of the gathered church. The frequent references to teaching in the church show that it is necessary and indispensable in the life of a healthy church. Of course, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to teach.

    Training for elders and teachers

    While I agree that it’s inappropriate to require elders to have formal degrees, solid training is a must. Too many churches have been harmed by poorly trained elders, pastors and teachers. The elder has to be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2), to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict (Titus 1:9). We can’t just trust our perceptions of what God is revealing to us regarding the correct interpretation of Scripture. (If we do, we have a problem, because different people are claiming different interpretations and attributing them to the revelation of the same Spirit!) This is why Paul instructed Timothy to be diligent, one who accurately handles the Word of truth. It’s also why some elders will specially dedicate themselves to a ministry of laboring in studying the Word and communicating the content. (The picture here is of someone who pushes up their sleeves and goes to work—in the Scriptures.) Such teaching must not be done in a haphazard, slipshod manner. The more we (anyone) will be active in a teaching ministry, the more we need solid training in the principles of sound biblical interpretation. This doesn’t mean Bible college or seminary. In fact, I think the church is the very best place for such training, training by other experienced teachers and leaders. But the training is necessary for sound, accurate teaching of the Word of God.

    Carlos, I mean all the above to be helpful and not overly critical. Hopefully, I haven’t come on too strong. I definitely encourage you to continue studying and writing on these issues. We need more Christians working hard to apply these kinds of scriptural principles to our lives!

    Blessings!
    Curt

  25. Wow! Curt…I don’t know what to say. I have never, ever had another Christian extend the grace to critique something I wrote as you have. I will be studying what you said very carefully bro. Truly I will. It may take me a few days but I WILL get back to you either by way of agreeing with what you said and accepting any implied or explicit correction of what I wrote or to respond by way of clarifying and or supporting what I see from the Word.

    You bring up some excellent points Curt.

    Incidentally you don’t know me but let me assure you that the ONLY thing I want is to express the heart of God accurately on what the church ought to be and what He would wish it to be.

    So I will be the very first, the very first in line to admit to some erroneous thoughts on my part if what I say does not turn out to reflect the Lord’s heart Curt. I value your input a great deal bro. It is regrettable that I have not been able to get much such input from the Body as I would have liked and as I have probably needed but thank God I got yours before I published my book (even though I will be giving it away for free).

    Thanks again Curt. Give me a couple of days to digest what you said bro.

    God bless you!

    Carlos

  26. I was re-reading what you said just now Curt and would like to respond to one of the points you made. I hope you don’t mind bro but I will take the liberty of only addressing one point per post to keep my responses organized.

    As you correctly surmised I do base a lot of what I say on what I believe to be a distinction between the gift of shepherding and the position of church leadership alternatively referred to as elder or overseer in the New Testament.

    In other words in my understanding to this point in time…there is a gift, namely that of shepherding others, and there is a position of church leadership which operates in that gift to oversee the church (otherwise known as elders) but the two, the gift and the position, are not tied together and do not necessarily operate together (though every duly appointed elder operates in this gift).

    With respect to Ephesians 4:11 you said…

    Curt Parton:

    “…where does this passage explicitly say anything about a gift of shepherding? What are being given by God to the church are shepherds (and apostles and prophets and evangelists and teachers). Now that doesn’t mean we should read this as referring to the traditional role of “the pastor,” but there is absolutely nothing here that explicitly teaches a gift of shepherding. In this passage, the shepherds aren’t receiving a gift, they are the gift. At most, we could say that if God puts people in the role or function of being shepherds then he probably also gives them a corresponding spiritual gift. So gifting could be implied here. But we’re now speculating. This passage doesn’t say anything about a “gift of shepherding.””

    I do not believe that Ephesians 4:11 is talking about a list of positions in the church Curt. Nor do I believe that it is a list of roles or functions in the church either (at least not directly though certainly persons operating in a gift will of course perform a certain function when they express their gift). I believe the list in Ephesians 4:11 is a list of gifts.

    Some gifts among many in the church.

    Here is why I believe that Curt.

    Let me quote the context a bit out of the AKVJ (American King James Version)…I use this version because it’s not copyrighted and I can copy it freely not because I don’t think other versions are not valid or something.

    But to every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
    8 Why he said, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.
    9 (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?
    10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
    11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
    12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

    Notice the word “And” at the beginning of verse 11 (forgive me if some of this is a given Curt…I am not trying to be condescending bro just trying to be clear in my response). The Greek as well as the English word are conjunctions. Meaning that they connect words or groups of words.

    Which previous verse is the “And” of vs 11 connecting with?

    If we take verses 9-10 (those in parenthesis) as an aside then the verse being connected to must be vs 8. Assuming that this connection is the correct connection intended by the “And” in verse 11 then we have vs 8 talking about Christ having given gifts to men. GIFTS (sorry for the caps I don’t know how to bold anything through this comment box).

    So vs 11 is a list of GIFTS. That is the context.

    Not positions of church leadership. Not functions per se. But GIFTS.

    These gifts are not given to the church to equip the rest of us (who do not operate in one of these five gifts) for ministry. Rather, again in the context, these five as well as all other gifts given to the church are gifts through which the Body is perfected, equipped, and edified.

    In other words it is Christ who perfects, equips, and causes the Body to edify itself in love through the gifts. ALL the gifts.

    It is NOT these five gifts who do the perfecting and equipping.

    A subtle but profound distinction. Between saying that these five gifts are given to equip the rest of us to do ministry and saying that they are a representative sample among many gifts by which the church is perfected and equipped by Christ through His Spirit.

    The common perspective (of these five gits being given to to equip the rest of us) exalts the position of the Pastor way beyond what the Lord intended for this position then becomes absolutely vital to the well being of the church. Whereas with the latter view that I am proposing the gift of shepherding (as well as the position of an elder) takes a rightful place ALONGSIDE all other gifts to allow the Body as a whole to do the work of ministry.

    Again GIFTS. That is the context.

    As an aside the word “pastors” in Ephesians 4:11 is a misnomer in that the underlying Greek word should never have been translated that way. “pastors” is a Latin word (that came out of the Latin Vulgate) which should have more appropriately been translated “shepherds” and was in the first English bibles. The first bible to use this Latin word was the Geneva Bible (created under great influence from Calvin who had an excessively exalted view of Pastors as different from elders). It was found not only in Ephesians 4:11 but also in a number of verses in Jeremiah most all of which had to do with leadership over the people of Israel. Interestingly the New King James Version went back to correctly translating the Hebrew word translated as Pastors in Jeremiah to shepherds while keeping pastors in Ephesians 4:11. There is NO logical reason why they should have left “pastors” in Ephesians 4:11 other than this word has come to be so strongly associated with church leadership that to take it out would have left church leaders being called by a word that would have no longer existed in our bible’s!

    The fact that the gift of shepherding as such is only mentioned this once, in Ephesians 4:11 does not invalidate what I am saying about this being a gift.

    There are a number of other gifts mentioned only once but which are clearly gifts if I am not mistaken (I can look those up if you like).

    What do you think of what I have said so far Curt?

    Incidentally my belief that the five gifts are not for the purpose of equipping the rest of us is much more grounded in the Word than just the “And” in vs 11. I have written another whole chapter on this. If you analyze where Paul listed gifts elsewhere and compare it with what he said in Ephesians 4 this view becomes even clearer. The similarities between Romans 12 and Ephesians 4 are striking for example only they list different gifts.

    Carlos

  27. Curt,

    I spent a bit of time this morning praying and thinking through some of the things you said and as discouraging as it is for me to admit it I must embrace what the Word says and not what I would wish it to say.

    You are correct in saying that the gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 are the people. I have been so focused on the gifts aspect of Ephesians 4:11 that I missed what was right under my nose.

    Again I agree with you that the gifts given to men in Ephesians are the gifted one’s.

    I was looking at the list of gifts as a list of gifts and not a list of gifted one’s.

    This may seem like a nit picky case of tomatoes, tomatos but I think there are some implications to the view of the list as being of gifted one’s that may require a change in what I wrote.

    I am not sure what those implications are yet Curt so other than to acknowledge the truth of what you said in this particular I’ll have to wait on the Lord to give me additional insight (unless you have more to share on this or anything else bro).

    Nor am I saying that everything I said about the list as a list of gifts no longer applies. I just need to process the new understanding you gave me bro to see what needs to change in what I wrote.

    It is discouraging to me because quite frankly I don’t want to give Pastors an excuse to boast in what many seem to see themselves as. Indispensable to the Body more so than anyone else. Of more importance to the Body than anyone else. Of greater worth to the Body than anyone else.

    While no Pastor would come out and admit to such a view of themselves (and there are undoubtedly some that do NOT have that view) the way they react and respond to any perceived threat to their position and status is indicative of many having an overly exalted and proud view of themselves within the church.

    In my 30 some odd years of being a Christian I have come to see the modern Pastor as the number 1 hindrance, bar none, to the work of God in and through the Body.

    I do not mean anything personal by this Curt. You seem like a great guy. I am just explaining a bit of why it is discouraging for me to admit that the list in Ephesians 4:11 is of gifted one’s.

    Because it seems to give those we call Pastors a bit more of a leg to stand on as far as any wrong attitude of self-exaltation on their part.

    But I MUST embrace whatever the Word says if I am going to be true to the Lord.

    I am still praying about and thinking through what you said bro so there may be other things in what you said that I need to embrace Curt but this was something that came to me this morning and that I wanted to acknowledge.

    Carlos

  28. God bless you, Carlos, for your receptive attitude. We all need to be open to reconsidering our views and interpretations. I know it’s not easy! But it shows a commitment to God’s truth above our own agendas.

    Just to encourage you regarding Ephesians 4:11, this doesn’t mean the passage is pointing to one Pastor in each church as the gift from God to the church to equip the people. It doesn’t even focus exclusively on the elders, although they should be pastors and teachers. Instead it includes anyone in the church exercising gifts of shepherding and teaching. All of these people are gifts from God to the church to equip the church. This is just part of what we see in verse 16 of the same chapter—this is the body building up the body. So there’s no place for any pastor to feel that they, exclusively, are called and given to the church. I find it contradictory to Scripture to think that only one man in each church shepherds and teaches, or even that only the elders shepherd and teach.

    And teachers are to teach those who will, in turn, teach others (2 Timothy 2:2). So instead of just one man or a small group of leaders equipping everyone else, there should be in each church a culture of equipping, with many believers equipping and edifying each other. This should be the norm in the lives of our churches. I hope that helps, bro!

  29. You made my day by your encouraging response Curt. Really.

    In that I am coming to realize that not everything the Lord has supposedly been showing me is a wash.

    You see I have what one might call a Peter type personality in the sense that just like Peter who dragged a whole net of fish ashore when the Lord asked him to get some for breakfast, I too go whole hog one way (thinking I am completely right on) or the other (thinking everything I believe is now suspect).

    The Lord reminded me of that tendency a couple of days ago.

    The problem for me Curt is that I sense and experience a great big problem in the way church is today. Huge. But it’s difficult for me to grasp what the problem is exactly at times. My writing is an attempt to define the problem and work at a solution. When I am faced with having to admit that I was in error in something it’s like I end up thinking that there is no solution and start to lose hope that church can ever be different.

    I just do not understand the preoccupation with spiritual activity (listening to sermons, prayer meetings, home group mini-church services, and what have you) rather than RELATIONSHIPS. I am starving for an enhanced relationship with Christ through members of the Body while feasting on spiritual activity and busyness.

    Most Pastors just don’t get it. They are so overly preoccupied with the seeming importance of their gift and the eloquence of their preaching that they on keeping on while the saints scurry around trying to find the life of Christ in the midst of the Body.

    I rarely get much of anything from pastoral teaching these days. What I thrive on is the sharing of hearts. Discovering what the Lord is speaking and teaching members of the Body where I am free to ask questions, share something myself, or burp (if I have to).

    This sitting docile while being forced to listen to someone else’s view on what they think is important in the Word strikes me as just a clanging symbol in that there is usually no real relationship between Pastors and me. Relationship where Christlike love can be expressed one to another.

    Carlos

  30. Curt…I don’t know if you are still following this thread or not but I am wondering if and when you find yourself having a spare minute…if you could clarify for me something you said.

    You said “This chapter” (referring to 1 Corinthians 14) “actually gives the churches the responsibility to not leave the meetings totally open guided only by how people feel led by the Spirit.”

    I am not sure I understand what you mean by that statement Curt.

    How is the meeting described in 1 Corinthians 14 not totally guided by how people feel led by the Spirit? Are you referring to the restrictions on the number of tongues speakers and prophets that can speak during a meeting? Perhaps the restriction on the expression of gifts on the part of women in the assembly?

    Apart from these and other restrictions is there anything else in the text that would lead you to believe that we are NOT to allow the Holy Spirit to lead our meetings as He prompts whomever to express their spiritual gift?

    In other words…assuming for a minute that we are meeting the restrictions and abiding by them how does the Holy Spirit lead a meeting of the church (as described in 1 Corinthians 14)?

    Is that leading pre-planned? Organized ahead of time by church leaders? Or is rather a case where we are to allow the freedom for all members of the Body to express their spiritual gifts as HE (not church leaders) lead?

    Is the meeting described in 1 Corinthians 14 a meeting where the Lord gets to spontaneously express Himself as He sees fit?

    Assuming no one is violating a restriction imposed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 are we ALL free to bring a teaching, a psalm, or otherwise to the assembled believers? I mean as far as 1 Corinthians 14 is concerned not with respect to how it is done today.

    Any further input on this would be most appreciated Curt.

    I am still thinking about and praying through what you said and hope to put up a greatly revised page on the role of elders and their function in the church soon.

    Carlos

  31. One other question that comes to mind that I would like to pick your brain on if and when you have the time Curt…

    With respect to the word “overseer” and how it may not always or even usually mean to watch as a sentry or scout might…

    How do you see the role of an elder to oversee the members of the Body (or the church if you will) and the role of Jesus as the Head of every man (1 Corinthians 11:3) working itself out in practice?

    If the role of an overseer is NOT to watch as a sentry or scout might from a background position of letting Christ lead every man as the Head and stepping in only when His leading to every man is not being followed then in what sense does Christ lead every man as Head?

    Can Christ AND an elder both lead a man at the same time? How?

    If Christ leads a man through an elder then in what sense does Christ lead any man at all?

    How does Christ leading every man through an elder (or church leadership if you will) differ from the Catholic concept of Catholics being led through the Pope?

    Is the leadership of Christ over every man a practical leadership or something else?

    Again any input you care to give me would be appreciated Curt.

    I am trying to understand the role of an overseer in the church and how Christ as the Head over every man fits into that role.

    It seems to me that much of what passes for leadership in today’s church usurps the role of Jesus as Head and takes upon itself that which should be reserved for Jesus alone through His Spirit but I could be mistaken about that and want to learn what I can from your perspective Curt.

    Carlos

  32. Thanks so very much for your added input bro! Really.

    You are a Godsend (I think that’s the word) even if it takes you a long while to respond bro. I figured it was just a lack of time.

    I don’t care how long it takes, your input is well worth waiting for.

    To do justice to what you shared I want to take what you said and talk it over with the Lord Curt.

    I don’t want to miss anything that is of Him in what you said and I want to learn and remain open to correction.

    Carlos

  33. Hey Carlos,

    I’m sorry it’s taken so long to respond to your questions. I haven’t had any available time lately for interacting on the blog.

    Okay, let’s back up for a minute. How does the Spirit lead us in our lives? Is it only through spontaneous, overwhelming impulses? When the Spirit speaks to us through the Word, is it only through random and haphazard (to us) Scriptural passages, or does he speak to us and lead us through our systematic study of the Bible as well? When the biblical writers communicated God’s Word through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, did this only happen extemporaneously? or did the Spirit also inspire and guide them in their planning and organization of what they would write? If we use the spiritual life the Spirit gives us and the wisdom he gives us and are manifesting the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and are submitting to him as he transforms us by the renewing of our mind and are thus seeking to follow his will as expressed in the biblical principles we study—is this not being Spirit-led?

    Now let’s look again at 1 Corinthians 14. I’m sure you recall the context we find earlier in Paul’s letter. The Corinthian church was not lacking in any spiritual gift, but it was severely lacking in spiritual maturity, to the point where they were quarreling and dividing with/from each other. They were eager to use their spiritual gifts, but they were behaving carnally like spiritual infants.

    In addressing their questions about spiritual gifts, Paul has to clarify that they are each part of the body, but they are each only one part of the body. They are all needed, and they all need each other. He has to interject a long section on the preeminence of love right in the middle of this discussion on spiritual gifts in the church. They were rich in giftedness but not in love for each other.

    Following this is chapter 14, where Paul immediately draws their focus to the priority of edifying the body. Yes, this gift is good or that gift is good—but the most important thing is to edify the body, to lovingly build up each other. For the use of a gift to be edifying, it must be clear; it must be discernible and meaningful to those for whom it’s intended; the use of the gift must be orderly and not chaotic; it must be in harmony with the rest of the body; etc.

    Now we come to verse 26. Paul tells them:

    When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation.

    Notice again that he’s not saying ‘when you come together, you must each have . . .’ This isn’t an instruction, it’s an observation. Remember who he’s writing this to. These are people who are eager to show their gifting, but not so good at loving each other and edifying each other. He again brings the focus back to what is most edifying:

    Let all things be done for edification.

    And then he immediately begins limiting the gifting that will be shared during the church assembly.

    So let’s look at some of your questions:

    Carlos:

    Assuming no one is violating a restriction imposed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 are we ALL free to bring a teaching, a psalm, or otherwise to the assembled believers?

    I think we need to see that Paul’s main point in verses 27-40 is the same as it has been throughout the rest of the chapter. I don’t think his point is: ‘Here are a couple of restrictions, but otherwise everyone go for it!’ His point throughout this chapter is: ‘Do what is most edifying for the body.’ The verses following v. 26 illustrate this in the use of the two most controversial gifts in Corinth (which he’s been using as examples throughout the chapter).

    But even with looking only at these restrictions, what of the 4th person with a gift of tongues or a prophecy? Are they not free to bring their gifting in to the public meeting? No, Paul says, they’re not. Because it’s not about all of us being free to use our gifts; it’s about all of us being focused on what is most edifying to our brothers and sisters. If there is no one with the gift of interpretation, the tongues-speaker is to be silent . . . they are not free to exercise their spiritual gift in the assembly. What of a woman who has the gift of teaching? According to other Scriptures, she is not free to exercise her gift of teaching to the mixed gender assembly.

    You ask:

    Carlos:

    How is the meeting described in 1 Corinthians 14 not totally guided by how people feel led by the Spirit?

    Apart from these and other restrictions is there anything else in the text that would lead you to believe that we are NOT to allow the Holy Spirit to lead our meetings as He prompts whomever to express their spiritual gift?

    Let’s look at verses 29-30:

    Let two or three prophets speak . . . But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent.

    Do you see what’s happening here? Both people have a revelation from the Holy Spirit, but the first one is told to stop giving his revelation and let the other one speak. Either the Holy Spirit is intentionally causing confusion, or the giving of a revelation doesn’t mean that we must speak that revelation right now in the gathered assembly. The giving of a revelation does not constitute the Spirit’s leading for me to speak. In fact, I’m responsible for when and how I share the revelation:

    . . . and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace . . .

    So the exercise of spiritual gifts should not be seen as something that must be spontaneously shared now. I don’t see anything in the letters to the churches that teaches such an understanding.

    Carlos:

    Is the meeting described in 1 Corinthians 14 a meeting where the Lord gets to spontaneously express Himself as He sees fit?

    Of course, the Lord can express himself whenever and however he wants! 🙂 But is the consistent theme in this chapter and the surrounding context one of God wanting to spontaneously express himself through his people? Or is it more a concern that God’s people use his gifting wisely and in a self-controlled way to most effectively edify the whole body? (Remember, self-control is part of the fruit of the Spirit.) Does the Lord’s self-expression through his body have to be completely spontaneous to be spiritual?

    You ask about how the Spirit leads in the church meeting:

    Carlos:

    Is that leading pre-planned? Organized ahead of time by church leaders?

    Now, I’m not defending the typical, traditional church service, but is there anything in Scripture indicating that a certain amount of planning or organizing is inherently unspiritual? Obviously, something can be excessively planned, organized and controlled, but isn’t there an equal danger of something receiving too little planning, organization and control? Imagine a meal at a large gathering. Does planning and organization ruin the meal, or can it actually enhance the enjoyment of the meal? Think about the physical body. The blood carries life to the rest of the body. Does it do this spontaneously and without organization, or is this spreading of life planned, organized and flowing through specific channels?

    Too much human organization can choke off the life of the Spirit. But prayerful, biblically-informed planning and organization can be one way the Spirit leads the body, and can make the flow of the Spirit’s life through the gifting of the members more effective in building up the body. I’ve seen both an unhealthy over-control and an unhealthy and chaotic under-control. In my experience, when no one is serving the body by using their spiritual gift of leading, the meetings tend to be characterized by spiritual immaturity. Someone may have a gift of teaching or exhorting, but not yet have the maturity needed to properly use their gifting. (Remember the standard is what is truly edifying, not what provides the least restriction.)

    This is getting really long, but to briefly answer your other area of questioning: The leading of the elders/overseers is primarily of the whole church. It’s not my job to provide the same kind of oversight to an individual that Christ does. There are many issues in people’s lives that are not my business to address. They’re between the person and God. When I do interact with people individually, I do so as an older brother. I can teach and counsel on what the Bible says about marriage or financial wisdom for instance, but it’s not my role to tell Bill to marry Sally and not Jane, or whether he can buy a new car or not.

    In the church, the elders lead as stewards of Christ. Acts 20:28 tells us that the Holy Spirit makes some men shepherds of his church. There is only one Father, there is only one King, but he entrusts his people to the daily care of the church elders. This doesn’t mean Christ doesn’t lead himself, but in every area of the Christian life, God chooses to work through his people. Instead of telling people directly the gospel, he sends us. Instead of (only) directly comforting the afflicted, he sends us. The same principle is at work in the leadership of the church.

    Hope that helps!
    Curt

  34. A couple of comments on the leading of the Spirit Curt (I’ll confine my responses to one comment per topic) I acknowledge that the Spirit can lead us through the systematic study of the Word and that He most likely inspired and led the authors who wrote the words in our bibles through some disciplined means of organizing their thoughts and putting them on papyrus (or whatever they used) as opposed to controlling their fingers to write the exact words used in a fit of trance-like inspiration.

    So yes, the Spirit can definitely lead through what might be looked upon as mundane or seemingly uninspired, methodical, logical means.

    But, however much He may chose to lead in that way at times (as opposed to the extemporaneous or immediate type of leading) He leads EVERY Christian. In one way or another.

    When it comes to a meeting of the Church why is it that the leading of the Spirit through the Pastor (assuming that he is in fact allowing himself to be led) is allowed free expression while the leading of the same Spirit is NOT allowed free expression through other members of the Body according to their gifts?

    I do not mean all at the same time Curt or in any other manner that is completely chaotic, unloving, or otherwise of the flesh and not the Spirit.

    I mean legitimate promptings of the Spirit to say something through someone to the assembled believers other than through the Pastor or with his approval or permission?

    Today’s church practice makes the Pastor, not the Living Christ, the focus of the church meeting. In other words church services today revolve around the pastoral role.

    Like the lean cows of Pharaoh’s dream who consumed the fat ones the pastoral role of today has risen up to become THE most pronounced and visible expression of the Spirit’s presence and leading during an assembly of the church. Other gifts have taken on a subordinate role or have become entirely dormant.

    The legitimate leading of the Spirit through other members of the Body is suppressed, denied, frowned upon, taught against, or outright not allowed in our services.

    Paul’s instructions summarized in 1 Corinthians 14:26 fly in the face of that I think.

    As you rightly point out Curt the text does not say that everyone MUST bring something to edify others. But what it says is that everyone CAN (within the restrictions and limits imposed).

    In most churches today EVERY ONE is NOT free to bring some Spirit led expression of edification to others in the Body. Rather most every one (other than the Pastor) is expected to sit passively, listen, and learn from what the Pastor teaches.

    The result is a bunch of passive sheep who all look to the one man (not to Christ) to feed them. Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

    File in, sit, listen and learn, sing, stand up, and file out. Week after week.

    For most that’s all of church life that they will ever know.

    I believe the Lord wants the freedom of expression indicated in 1 Corinthians 14 to be brought back into the life of the church.

    Does that make sense Curt?

    Carlos

  35. Hey there Curt and Carlos
    I am actually doing a study for a home group on the book of Titus. I got to verse 5, and decided to further investigate the original greek meaning for the words overseer/elder and deacon. In addition, I looked into Pastor and Bishops. Obviously I don’t need to state where the references are since both of you have been mentioning the exact passages I’ve read.

    To be honest, Curt, I haven’t read the rest of your blog with the exception of your post about Timothy and Titus – which obviously is related to this one. I spent the greater part of this evening just reading the comments between you and Carlos. Obviously there’s a lot here, and you both speak with grace. I can tell regardless of what you say, your intention isn’t to be ‘a victor’, but to truly understand the word of God. Bravo!!

    Interestingly, I am also an elder at a Calvary Chapel, and frankly I love the Calvary Chapel movement. I have found it exceedingly hard to find churches that aim to stay true to the context of what the bible really says, and the CCs really aim to do that through expository verse-by-verse teaching. I’m not a fan of ever deeming a denomination or group as being the ‘most correct’ or biblical since I think that leads to arrogance – an “I follow Paul, I follow Apollos” sort of thing.

    Carlos, I noticed you seem a little put off by sitting in a pew and listening to a pastor preach. Might I encourage you to remember that God can speak his word through a pastor of a church and minister to believers should he choose to do so. Even if that pastor incorrectly is ‘in charge’ of the church, it doesn’t negate his spiritual gifting of teaching that the Lord has given. If led by the spirit, he can exercise that gift and minister to the church.

    It’s late, so I won’t write much more. I would ask this question though:
    If overseers/elders are truly overseeing a church, and recognize and deem, say 3-4 people as teachers/pastors each having the opportunity to teach, but giving one the responsibility of teaching on a Sunday morning, would that not still be biblical?

    According to what I read, pastors are to feed the flock – to give them knowledge and understanding – as concluded from verses in Jeremiah 3:15. Would not Overseers/Elders still be doing their job if they all appointed a pastor to teach on Sunday mornings.

    Now assuming this actually is the case, the elders should continue to oversee and encourage other believers in the fellowship to use their giftings as well. Even other pastors/teachers. Maybe one to teach some believers on Wednesday nights for example, or like in my case, teach a home bible study.

    I am going to pray about all of this, but I think my thought right now is, doesn’t all this depend on the perspective of the elders and the pastors in a church? My own father happens to be a pastor, but I know for a fact that his position was given to him by the elders in the church.

    Note: I should mention that my father being a pastor doesn’t influence my desire to know the truth found in God’s word. In fact, if he was sitting here, he’d probably say the same thing.

    I also agree that people tend to rely on the teachings of the senior pastor and as a result, most churches aren’t really filled with people having an opportunity to share what God has shown them in their own personal studies. Then again, I’m not sure it’s appropriate for a large Sunday morning gathering anyway, and may be better suited for a smaller more intimate setting – as you mentioned what is going to be most edifying is key.

    Anyway, blessings to you both. I will type later, but I would be curious to know if you have any thoughts concerning what I wrote so far.

  36. Hey Carlos,

    I don’t think we’re faced with a choice between only a traditional service rigidly controlled by the pastor or an open free-for-all. When Paul taught in the churches, he was teaching interactively, but he was definitely teaching. I’m sure there were other elements of the meeting and no doubt the people could ask questions and interact with him. But the meetings seemed to be focused on what was the most edifying use of the time. This is still a good principle for us today.

    The Scriptures don’t give us a model “order of service” for a church gathering, and different churches are going to find different balances. But the key issue for all of us should be: “What is most edifying?” IMO (and in my experience), a totally open meeting can quickly become unedifying. Unless you’re going to limit the size of the church to 8 or 10 people, you just can’t have the same openness in the church gathering that you do in a small group setting. And that’s okay. Nothing in the Word says that every meeting must be exactly the same and accomplish the same purposes. We tend to do much more of the “one another” edifying in smaller group settings because they work better there, and we tend to focus much more in the larger meetings on corporate worship and teaching/training of all the people because they’re most edifying in that context. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for any other use of gifting, it just means that these areas of gifting and service work well to edify the body in a larger group setting.

    The balance we strive for in our church is to make the service as interactive as possible without the interaction becoming distracting and an impediment to edification. Hope that helps!

  37. Hey Jason,

    Thanks for your comment and for your encouraging words. My early leadership training was in a Calvary Chapel, so I appreciate a great deal about your movement too.

    According to 1 Timothy 5:17, some elders are going to be especially committed to a ministry of studying and teaching the Word. Some churches designate different elders according to their ministry focus, so some may be teaching elders or pastors, some may be administrative elders or pastors, some counseling elders or pastors, etc. I don’t have any problem with this as long as all are equally considered elders (or pastors if this is the terminology used for those who pastor the whole church).

    I would have a couple of caveats: Jeremiah 3:15 is speaking of the shepherds God would give to his people. According to Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-4, the people who God has given to shepherd each church are the elders of that church. Now they are going to shepherd in different ways—and I think it’s fine to recognize that—but they are all the shepherds of the church. I don’t think it’s helpful or biblical to distinguish the elders from “the pastor.”

    I also would advise caution in appointing only one elder or pastor to teach regularly on Sunday mornings. Sometimes this is unavoidable because of the size of a church and the qualified teachers available, but I would counsel a church to broaden their Sunday teaching team as soon as possible. If there’s only one guy doing the teaching all the time, people will tend to look at him as “the pastor” of the church, which, again, is not biblical. Many churches now have a team approach to the Sunday teaching, and I think this is much healthier for churches. I came from a large church in California that had three regular teaching pastors who took turns teaching expositionally through books of the Bible, supplemented by other elders and leaders occasionally teaching. It worked very well, provided the church with a balance of teaching from quite different teachers, and it would have seemed odd to speak of any one guy as “the pastor.”

    Blessings,
    Curt

  38. Curt,

    I understand what you are saying about what is most edifying being uppermost in Paul’s mind when he wrote what he did.

    I agree with that assessment bro.

    However if I may say so Curt and without meaning any disrespect to you at all bro but rather in the interest of continuing our honest and frank discussion – may I say that what seems most edifying to you based on your experience is not necessarily what Paul meant in my reading of your input and what is written in the text.

    You say that “IMO (and in my experience), a totally open meeting can quickly become unedifying.” But apart from the restrictions stipulated by Paul (i.e. no more than 2 or 3 prophets and tongues speakers, no tongues speakers without interpretation, etc.) that is precisely the kind of meeting Paul instructed the Corinthians to allow!

    Open and participatory.

    The question is really one I think of how we can have open and participatory meetings (following Paul’s instructions) WITHOUT having them degenerate into a free for all, non-edifying session of navel gazing or some such.

    Surely there IS a way to have both open and participatory AND edifying at the same time in the same context Paul spoke to (i.e. an assembly of the whole church).

    You say “We tend to do much more of the “one another” edifying in smaller group settings because they work better there, and we tend to focus much more in the larger meetings on corporate worship and teaching/training of all the people because they’re most edifying in that context.”

    While I do not wish to invalidate your experience Curt, far from it – I value your input and experience and it is good for me to be constantly challenged by such, I also do not wish to invalidate what Paul said to do because of anyone’s experience.

    Regardless of our experience bro I want to understand what Paul said first and foremost and then trust the Lord to show us how to do it in an edifying manner.

    If Paul said to have open and participatory meetings overall and in the larger context (not the small group context alone) then I want to trust the Lord to show us how to do that. For if that is what he said then surely there IS a way to do that (regardless of our experience so far to the contrary).

    If I may Curt I would like to ask some questions…and again I mean no disrespect but I feel that these type questions ought to be asked and considered…

    What gives Pastors the right and the authority to all but use their authority to give themselves cart blanche to operate in their spiritual gift (assuming it is teaching) on Sunday mornings while everyone else is expected to sit and listen and watch them operate in their gift?

    Most Pastors would say that they do so because they feel that their gift is beneficial to the well being of the church. That may well be but where in the Word does it say that their gift is so superior to others in bringing edification that they alone should give themselves (or be given) the right to minister the Word to the Body??

    Knowledge puffs up but love edifies.

    We of today focus our church services on the impartation of biblical knowledge (primarily through ONE man I should add) while minoring in LOVE.

    That is NOT the way the Lord meant things to be!

    How is it that one of the lowest gifts on the list of gifts in Ephesians 4:11 has risen above EVERY other gift in the church as a whole to all but become the face of most churches today?

    I believe that at it’s root the whole Pastoral system of today is rooted in pride. In the exaltation of ONE man above his fellows.

    Again…that was NOT how the Lord intended things to be.

    I’ll add more in a response to Jason.

    Carlos

  39. Jason,

    Just a couple of comments on what you said if I might…

    You said…”Carlos, I noticed you seem a little put off by sitting in a pew and listening to a pastor preach.”. To say that I am little put off is quite gracious of you to say in that I am absolutely APPALLED by how the church of today has become a spectacle of the sheep coming into a building on Sundays and sitting in a docile manner (I once heard a prayer by John Piper – you may know him – that the people listening to him would listen with docile hearts!) to be spoon fed the Word by pastoral leaders.

    Even the word appalled might be too tame.

    The Lord through Paul gave some instructions. These instructions are NOT just opinion. They are commandments of the Lord!

    1 Corinthians 14:26 AKJV

    “How is it then, brothers? when you come together, every one of you has a psalm, has a doctrine, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done to edifying.”

    Let me if I may focus on just one word in the above verse.

    My gift, if I am understanding what my gift is correctly before the Lord – I think I am though I am certainly open to thinking or hearing otherwise from anyone, is prophecy.

    Let us say that as a Prophet before God (I hesitate to call myself that because so many Christians have so very many incorrect hangups about prophets today) the Lord gives me something to share. Some doctrine if you will. Not a systematic teaching as a teacher might lay out a truth but a doctrine nevertheless (what Jesus said was referred to as doctrine even in little snippets).

    Anyway…here I am. In your church Jason.

    I want to bring a doctrine to the Body assembled.

    That IS what Paul said I could do. Right?

    Can I do that? At your church?

    Bring a doctrine when and if the Lord prompts me to do so?

    Without your permission? With or without your approval? Just as a prophet should be able to do and as Paul says they can do?

    If not…why not?

    If I may be so bold (hopefully not presumptuous) as to say so…it’s because the church practices of today are so far removed from the what the Lord intends for the church to be that we have all but ceased to even see it when it is staring at us right out of the pages of our bible’s.

    Do you believe prophets are for today Jason?

    If you do then why (I speak in the belief that Calvary Chapels do NOT allow such persons to speak up even if some of their churches believe they exist today) are they not allowed to open their mouths to bring a Word from God to the Body in the way that Paul said they could in most churches of today?

    Please don’t take my questions in a bad way Jason. I mean nothing personal or disrespectful but am rather trying to express things in way that will challenge your thinking as well as the thinking of anyone else reading these comments in the future.

    Carlos

  40. Dear Curt,
    I miss reading your blogs. They are incredibly insightful, informative, and a true blessing for those of us yearning to know more. I am hoping all is well with you and pray for your anointed leading.

  41. Carlos, one more comment regarding your response to Jason. I would disagree with your characterization of prophecy with “doctrine.” The word translated doctrine in older translations is almost always translated “teaching” today. Doctrine would correspond with teaching, and “revelation” would correspond with prophecy.

    You asked Jason if you could bring such doctrine or prophecy to his church:

    Without your permission? With or without your approval? Just as a prophet should be able to do and as Paul says they can do?

    Can you show me where Paul explicitly says any of this? Where exactly does it tell us these people had no permission or approval? How do you know the prophets in 1 Corinthians 14 weren’t previously approved by the elders of the church to minister in this way? Again, bro, I would caution you to be careful to see what the Scriptures actually say without reading into them your own ideas. You are in danger of strongly opposing, even rebuking, brothers and sisters based on your own perceptions and not the clear teachings of Scripture.

    Blessings,
    Curt

  42. Carlos, I think we may be reaching the point where we’re talking in circles. In your latest responses, you’re assuming an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:26 that I’ve already shown to be problematic. Now, maybe you don’t agree with my thinking on this passage—and that’s fine—but you can’t just keep repeating your understanding of this passage and then claim that those who don’t follow your understanding are somehow ignoring the teaching of Scripture. If you’re going to keep using this passage as a divine command for completely open church meetings, you need to address the arguments against such an interpretation.

    I’ll reiterate my view (shared by a great many commentators):

    — In the verses following 14:26, Paul immediately gives examples of restrictions to the expression of Spirit-gifting in the church assembly. The idea that Paul was teaching a completely open church meeting in verse 26 would mean by necessity that he was contradicting himself in the following verses.

    — Throughout this section of 1 Corinthians, Paul has used the gifts of tongues and prophecy as examples to make his points. He continues to do so in these verses, listing restrictions specifically related to the expression of these two gifts. Because of this ongoing context, it’s very doubtful that these examples constitute all of the restrictions against an otherwise completely open meeting. (As if Paul were saying, “Have completely open meetings, except for these few exceptions . . .”) In context, he is again specifically using tongues and prophecy to illustrate his point (that the edification of the church is more important than everyone expressing their Spirit-gifting).

    — We know from the larger context of this letter that the Corinthians were enthusiastic—even prideful—about exercising their spiritual gifts. In light of this context, it’s natural to read Paul in 14:26 as observing this open exercising of their gifting—not commanding it or even encouraging it.

    — In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul addresses a series of issues about which they (the Corinthian church) have inquired. This church was divided, with two sides quarreling about each of these issues. Early in the letter he rebukes their spiritual immaturity and then, one by one, he clarifies each issue, correcting error on both of the opposing sides. He does this as well in his section on spiritual gifts (especially focusing on the gift of tongues). In chapter 13, he centers the whole spiritual gifts discussion on the primacy of love and, in chapter 14, he focuses repeatedly on the essential goal of edification in the church meeting (flowing naturally from the church’s love for God and one another). He doesn’t demean the gift of tongues but does show that, in the church assembly, prophecy is generally more useful for edification. After contrasting these two gifts repeatedly throughout chapter 14, Paul concludes (14:39-40):

    So, my dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues. But be sure that everything is done properly and in order.

    These are clear, divine, concluding commands in this passage, as everyone recognizes. But to take verse 26 as command or explicit instruction is highly questionable, ignoring both the grammar and the context of the passage, which is why most biblical scholars of whom I’m aware don’t interpret it that way.

    Carlos, is there any other passage to which you can point that clearly teaches a completely open church assembly? (not just some level of participation, but a completely open church meeting?) If not, I would advise against trying to establish some biblical requirement for such complete openness by using one at best ambiguous passage, especially when Paul himself didn’t reiterate the point (you think he’s making) in his concluding commands.

    ************************

    FYI: I wasn’t interpreting the passage based on my experiences; I was using my experiences to illustrate the wisdom of the passage (and the danger of reading an unwarranted, extreme view into the passage).

    ************************

    The listing of gifts in Scripture differ in order, so we need to be careful about assuming some qualitative significance according to the order. In Ephesians 4:11, most commentators see the leaders Christ gives to the church as listed chronologically: the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, evangelists spread the gospel and help people come into the faith, and the pastors and teachers shepherd and equip the believers. To label one area of ministry as “one of the lowest” is to make the same mistake the Corinthians made who were quarreling about whether Paul’s ministry was greater or Apollos’. Paul rebukes them for this in no uncertain terms (1 Corinthians 3).

    While no member of the body is of greater value or importance, not all members work in the same way at the same time. And in the church assembly some gifts are more useful for edifying the gathered body than others (e.g. 1 Corinthians 14:18-19). One with a gift of teaching is by no means more important than one with a gift of administration or one with a gift of counseling. But should these different giftings be equally exercised publicly before the church body during the actual church meeting? Are not some gifts more edifying in the church meeting and others more useful outside the main assembly? (Did not the Jerusalem church meet both in the temple courts and in their homes? Would not there be differences in the purposes and expressions of gifting in these very different settings?)

    Again, I’m not defending the traditional, non-participatory church service. I too am concerned about the obsession with a sole pastor in many churches and the way we turn these men into celebrities and rock stars. But we are taught, over and over again, that the church meeting is primarily for the edification of the body. And some gifts are more useful for edifying the gathered body than others. And the most frequently repeated command we have concerning the church assembly is for the elders to teach the people the Word of God. IMO Carlos, you’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

  43. I’d like to also briefly address what you said about my comment to Jason if I might Curt.

    I am not sure why you think I characterize prophecy with doctrine bro. I don’t really see a connection between the two per se. To my thinking prophecy is one thing. The teaching of doctrine is another.

    I suppose I may have said something to leave you with the impression that I equate prophecy with doctrine but I just can’t remember what I may have said to that affect.

    I completely agree with you that doctrine is normally associated with teaching and revelation with prophecy.

    With respect to asking if I could bring a prophecy into a church meeting without pastoral permission or approval…I base one being able to do that on my reading of 1 Corinthians 14:26 bro (in context) as being an instruction and not an observation. Also on the nature of what prophecy is in that none of the Prophets in either the Old or the New ever got permission to say what God laid on their heart to say before they said it.

    It defeats the very nature of what prophecy is to have to get permission to speak it out to whom God would have the prophet speak it to.

    I absolutely agree with you Curt that we should not read into the Scriptures something they do not say but I would disagree that 1 Corinthians 14 is not clear in saying that prophets are to speak out openly when the LORD gives them a revelation.

    It is not the pastor who approves or gives them permission to speak out. To say it is, in my mind, is to likewise read something into the text that simply is not there. There isn’t even a mention of pastors anywhere in the entire book of Corinthians.

    All 1 Corinthians 14 says is that prophets are to speak to the assembled believers when they get a revelation and that no more than 2 or 3 should speak. That if a prophet gets a revelation while another is speaking that the first prophet needs to become silent to allow the one getting the new revelation to share it.

    That’s it.

    Nothing about permission or not and from whom anywhere in the text.

    Just wanted to clarify that.

    Thanks again for having given me the opportunity to express myself on your blog bro. For having read and corrected me on some of what I wrote about elders and for sharing your heart on this blog Curt.

    God bless you for all that!

    Carlos

  44. Hi Curt,

    You may be right about us having reached a point where our respective positions have been expressed and where there is little value in talking round and round over the same things bro.

    However I think you are misunderstanding some things I have said or perhaps I am misunderstanding some things you have said. In a desire to clarify things I would like to make a few additional comments if I might.

    I agree with you that Paul is NOT advocating completely open, participatory meetings of the kind where anyone can speak up at any time, all the time, during the entire time during which the church assembles.

    That is clearly unscriptural bro and not in line with what Paul taught so if I said anything to lead you to believe that I think that…sorry but that is not what I believe.

    Paul put definite and clear restrictions on both the opportunity to participate and the way that any participation was to happen.

    When I talk of having open and participatory meetings I mean meetings that allow ANYONE to express their spiritual gift (whatever that may be) during a meeting of the church as the Spirit might prompt them to do but WITHIN the restrictions Paul placed on such open participation.

    In other words open and participatory meetings where anyone can participate but where, due to Paul’s restrictions, not everyone will be able to during any given meeting of the church.

    If there 10 prophets in a church only 3 (maximum) can participate for example. For those three it’s open and participatory. For the other 7…well…they can’t really exercise their gift during the assembly if 3 prophecies have already occurred as an example.

    I also agree with you that Paul’s restrictions were within the context of edifying the church. That it is unlikely that he meant to only restrict tongues and prophecy and to let every other gift have carte blanche and unhindered expression as often as desired throughout a meeting of the church. So there is no contention on that point from me at all Curt.

    Edify the church through the gifts. Absolutely. No question. Unrestricted expression of gifts whenever and however anyone might want to express their gift at any time during an entire meeting of the church is also not something I believe Paul is advocating.

    I also agree that the Corinthians were prideful, immature, and overly focused on spiritual gifts at the expense of love. I do not however, and this is one point where I disagree with you Curt, believe that such means that Paul was simply making an observation of what the Corinthians were doing when he wrote 1 Corinthians 14:26.

    The question he asks at the beginning of that verse “How is it then, brothers?” is like saying “In view of everything I have said about the need to operate correctly in spiritual gifts so far how is it then to be?”.

    He then outlines how it’s supposed to be.

    “when you come together, every one of you has a psalm, has a doctrine, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done to edifying.”

    In other words every one is to have an opportunity to bring something to the meeting (within his restrictions). Where a psalm, doctrine, tongue (with interpretation in context), a revelation, an interpretation, or whatever. But that something must be brought to edify others.

    This is not an observation of how things are being done by the Corinthians but rather an instruction on how things ought to be done. At least that is how I read it Curt. I don’t really see how it could be otherwise in the context and in the flow of what Paul is saying.

    As for there being other verses that instruct us to have completely open meetings (i.e. unrestricted where anyone can share whatever they want at any time and as often as they want during an entire meeting) I know not such a verse bro. There aren’t any such verses as far as I know and as I mentioned above, I don’t take any verse in 1 Corinthians 14 to indicate that such is God’s will either.

    What I DO (forgive my capitalizations but it’s the only way I know how to draw attention to a word in the comments) see however is a degree of openness that we do not generally practice in our church meetings today.

    I suppose that comes from seeing 1 Corinthians 14:26 as an instruction for how things ought to be done and not as an observation of how the Corinthians were doing things.

    Paul’s conclusion in 14:39-40 does not at all negate an interpretation of 14:26 as an instruction and not an observation in my reading bro.

    Paul’s instructions for how tongues speakers and prophets can speak openly (subject to there being no more than 2 or 3 and of tongues speaking needing interpretation) certainly lines up with what 1 Corinthians 14:26 says to do I think.

    You rightly point to the Word as being one of the most edifying things to bring the Body bro. I agree with you on that.

    And you also rightly point out the need for elders to teach. That’s one of the things they do.

    But nowhere in the Word to my knowledge does it say that only elders are to do this Curt. In other words the ministry of the Word is NOT the exclusive domain of elders.

    ALL Christians can engage in the ministry of the Word by teaching one another the things that the Lord is teaching them. The Word is the Word and EVERY Christian is taught the Word by the Lord through His Spirit and can pass along to others that which the Lord is teaching them.

    Certainly some are gifted teachers but what I am saying Curt is the elders are NOT the only one’s who can and ought to be expressing the Word. All of us can and ought to be doing that to one degree or another to one another.

    Hopefully I have clarified some of the things that seemed to be a misunderstanding between us.

    If you see it profitable to keep discussing this by all means bro but I have pretty much laid out what I wanted to say on this.

    Carlos

  45. Chris, your story is a hard one to read but, sadly, all too common. I’m so glad you’ve gotten out of this toxic atmosphere. I pray for you, and for those still in this church, and that this pastor would see how destructive he has become. Blessings to you!

  46. Curt hi. I found your article very interesting. I attend a church that has a ‘senior pastor’ and she is a woman. Ive read in the Word that women are not to teach over men. I cant help but see this as unbiblical although Im a woman myself. I dont know if God really wants me there and am really praying about it. Am I reading the bible correctly on this issue? Ive heard Christians say that God puts people where He can use them, however I dont believe God steps out of His word either. Also would it be asking too much for an emailed reply to this question? Many thanks and God bless.

  47. Hi, Alana. Yes, I do believe this is the biblical view, and that puts you in a tough spot with your church. I’ll write a blog series on this issue some time in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future. I don’t want to send this comment thread in a different direction, so I’ll email you about this.

  48. Hey Curt, I agree with just about everything you have stated. I recently returned from Africa where I was charged to teach on some of these things to a group of about 200 church members and others who just wanted to hear teaching. I want to encourage and thank you for your diligent work and study on this topic. I have studied many things over the years and although I am 29, I am always searching the Truth. This article and response smorgasbord has been awesome and I have also enjoyed your discussion and response to Carlos. It is refreshing to see a discussion on doctrine that has been hospitable and has used The Word as the final say so, although I know some passages can be tricky without looking at context. I also know how much Satan wants us to get mad at each other when we are studying doctrinal differences, so keep doing your thing Curt.

    Carlos, I appreciate your diligence to finding the Truth. May God Bless you in your work as well.

    In Him,

    Aaron

  49. Thanks, Aaron. I checked out your website, and I’m moved by what you’re doing in Kenya. May God bless you in this vital work. We’ll definitely be praying for you.

  50. Marleen here,…..wow! My husband and I have been only a few in our area that embrace what has been talked about here…..Like Curt says, it can be a lonely road, but a road with peace that we know we are doing the right thing regarding Church Structure. We too have read Alex Strauch’s book and for years we have known this to be true in an area where there are a lot of “IC’s”..Institutional churches of which you both speak and which Carlos hates!! I actually loathe it many times as well and cry out to God to help us to say and do what he wants while others continue in this rote like, and most often dangerous church government. Time and time again we have seen churches are destroyed with the one man rule, and we have batted some heads at times, told we are nuts, but God is always good. Curt…right on the money…..so much of what was said, we have been there, so we now have a house group…and we attend an IC…( mostly because my husband is a musician) but he is mainly a teacher who has taught for many years and a few have come around to the scriptural way of church leadership. I could say more and I was almost going to get off here and I just stumbled…( NOT) on this….always good to hear it and it helps to not be as lonely when I see this…so refreshing!!! Thanks Brothers for your insights….it really helps!!!
    Marleen

  51. I have been told that all mega churches have a strong CEO type senior pastor. My reaction was: Maybe that’s what’s wrong with many of them. Maybe, being the visionary is an excuse for non accountability to real fellow elders and a lack of real personal relationships to temper temptation.

  52. That’s a great observation, Gary. I agree. There are some very large churches that are elder-led without a senior/lead pastor (and they do really well), but most mega-churches have the dominant, CEO-type leader. Unfortunately, we also have way too many examples showing how dangerous this kind of centralized power can be.

  53. I was a legalistic preacher for over twenty years and have come to the same conclusion as you. I currently attend a Calvary Chapel but disagree with them on so many different fronts. I have seen the abuses of the “senior pastor” concept. It even affects our teaching of Scripture. Currently, I’m teaching the book of Revelation. We’re in chapter one. Our “senior pastor” says that the “seven stars” in Jesus’ right hand are the “senior pastors” of each of the seven churches. Of course this is impossible because there were no “senior pastors” in John’s day. In fact, in the 29 occurrences of the Greek word, “angelos,” John always uses it to mean “angels.”

    One thing I’ve learned in my now forty-one years of ministry: if you stay true to the Word of God, many will label you a heretic. However, we are called to teach the Word of God accurately and faithfully regardless of the consequences. God bless you!

  54. I just stumbled upon your website, and I applaud your desire to hold to Biblical truth. I found this all very thought-provoking, primarily because I have always worshipped with congregations that had elders (or pastors) that function as described in the New Testament. There are many that function in this way (thousands, even.) My father served as the congregation’s preacher (or evangelist but never called a “pastor”) where I attended throughout my youth, and when he later became an elder, he could have been called “pastor”, but because of the confusion in the world, the name “elder” was used. As the preacher, he was already mistakenly called pastor or reverend by people out in the world.

    It is so foreign to me to think of there being any other way for a congregation to organize itself than how it is described in the New Testament, with a unified body led by elders and deacons who are qualified, and often with designated preachers, though all Christians are to be evangelists and preachers. Not every congregation I attended had full-time preachers/evangelists, but all had elderships and deacons.

    And while I have been aware of the various ways different denominations organize themselves today, I just assumed, I guess, that those groups had made a conscious decision after having read the New Testament not to follow the New Testament pattern, and, instead, added to that pattern in ways that they believed themselves authorized to do so (if it does not say not to, then why not?) That is what I thought led to all of the extraneous activities pursued by other groups – they found the Biblical pattern wanting, or at least thought they could improve upon it somehow, and since there was nothing explicitly prohibiting them, they did so. It did not occur to me that they may truly not understand what elders are and that “pastor” is just another name for “elder.” It did not occur to me that lack of Biblical knowledge was at the root (and, yet, it is so obviously the cause.)

    It just goes to show all of us who have love for God’s word that if we just read His word, and listen to what He has to say about His church, we would all have a better understanding and there would not be so much division among those who proclaim to be Christians. Imagine what effect all self-proclaimed Christians, unified in their understanding of God’s word and His way of doing things could have on this dark, divided world.

  55. lovely article.
    i am very aware when reading the terms, ‘leader’ and ‘overseer’ etc in English – that the meaning in koine greek (according to my own understanding) – was something very different.

    for example – guiding examples may be closer to ‘leader’ – and an ‘overseer’ – more like the way a gardener cares for a garden with understanding and insight – giving the garden every chance to flourish from the life that is within it. (maybe a bit wordy there 🙂 )

    with such understanding – i see even the ‘leadership’ spoken of here being even more beautiful – where the guiding examples are AMONG the flock.
    i enjoyed the article – thank you

    ps i read a challenge recently that in the N.T. ‘exousia’ (authority) – in NEVER used for one Christian to have Authority ‘over’ another. i took the challenge – i could not find one either.

  56. Although I do understand this model, having been involved as a deacon (we also have Elders and a senior pastor) in a small church plant for the past year, someone needs to be in charge. I think the saying is ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’? Is someone paid in your church? If so, wouldn’t they be referred to as the head elder? What difference is a paid head elder than a pastor?

  57. Hi, Patt. Thank you for your comment. From a purely human perspective, I would readily agree with you: Someone usually needs to be in charge. But it’s striking that the New Testament doesn’t teach this apparently necessary role. Instead, it presents an amazingly consistent pattern of churches being pastored by groups of elders with no hint of a senior leader among them. Scripture teaches a leadership model that cannot practically work . . . unless the Holy Spirit is strongly involved in the hearts and minds of the elders. Any group can have a strong, sole leader, regardless of their beliefs; but only the genuine body of Christ can demonstrate this kind of strong yet humble, shared leadership.

    Here are some questions for you: Why do you think one person needs to be in charge? Is this a pragmatic assumption on your part, or can you show a clear New Testament teaching or pattern of the necessity of a head elder/pastor? If this senior pastor role is so crucial, why is it completely absent from the New Testament? Are you aware that thousands of churches have operated for decades (and centuries) without a head elder/pastor, and work well that way? Why does financially supporting an elder (say for laboring at preaching and teaching) necessitate him being somehow in charge of the other elders? Shouldn’t the someone in charge of the church be Christ? And if Christ has shown in his Word that he entrusts the pastoral leadership of the church to a plurality of pastoral elders who collectively shepherd the church, shouldn’t we obey? Should we follow the scriptural pattern, or our own pragmatic assumptions?

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