By Les Sherlock, March 2021, but originally posted c2009
This is written from a position of complete bewilderment on my part. It is not me saying,
“I am right and everyone else is wrong,”
“I don’t understand!”
In everything that follows, although I write giving opinions as statements of fact, this is simply shorthand. At the end of every sentence there should be a question mark meaning,
“This is what I read; this is what seems to be the logical conclusion; I don’t understand — why are things so different?”
At a meeting I attended the speaker said,
“I don’t know how to do church. You don’t know how to do church. But God knows how to do church. So we should do what He says.”
Or words to that effect. He was referring to the Toronto phenomenon; but regardless of one’s position on that, I am sure most people would agree God knows far better than any of us how church should be ‘done’.
This being the case, I am baffled that the very core of church life in the case of the vast majority of Churches is so clearly and obviously at odds with the pattern laid down in the New Testament. Surely, if God knows better than we how to do church, we should be doing it His way, not ours? Or to put it another way, if what we find in these churches today is what God wants, why did He start it off so differently in the beginning? Why would God direct the first apostles to organise it for the first few decades with a completely different leadership structure from what He really wanted?
Or, if the structure was right for then, but a different one has been right for the centuries leading up to the present day, then what could possibly change to require this difference? Human nature remains the same. The way of salvation remains the same. The human need for God remains the same. The only difference between then and now is the accumulation of scientific knowledge that has enabled us to make use of devices that did not previously exist.
New Testament Teaching
In the past two or three decades, I have very frequently heard reference to the ‘five-fold ministry’ - Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers. This was written by Paul in Ephesians. However, there is a good case for the view that since the word ‘some’ only appears four times in Ephesians 4:11, this is only four ministries, not five, ‘pastors’ and ‘teachers’ referring to the same people: i.e. pastoring and teaching are two sides of the same ministry.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
What about the other things Paul said and wrote in relation to the Church, though? It is no use taking one verse, applying it according to our own understanding and ignoring the rest. For example, on his final journey to Jerusalem and then Rome, Paul sent for the elders of Ephesus, not the pastor! He did not say to them,
“Go and support your pastor.”
Feed and shepherd God's flock—His church, purchased with His own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders.
If the current church system of pastor/ vicar/ priest in charge as leader of the local church congregation had been what he had in mind when establishing the Church at Ephesus, then surely his final words to them would have been radically different from what we read in Acts 20:17–35?
(Different branches of the Church have different names for their leaders. For simplicity I shall refer to ‘pastors’ in future, although this equally relates to ‘vicars’, ‘priests’, etc.)
In Acts, relief was sent to the elders, not the pastor.
This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
In Acts 13:1–3 it was the prophets and the teachers (not the pastor) in the Antioch church who fasted, prayed, laid hands on and sent out Paul and Barnabus.
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
Paul and Barnabus appointed elders in every church, not pastors.
So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
The people who settled the issue of circumcision were not the pastors, which certainly would have been the case had it happened today, but the apostles and elders.
Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question… And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them… 6 Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter… 22-23 Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings… 16:4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.
Acts 15:2, 4, 6-30; 16:4 (Some verses omitted to conserve space)
When Paul reported back to Jerusalem, it was to James and the elders, not the pastor.
On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.
The Thessalonians were told to recognise those (plural) over them and esteem them (plural): they were not told to recognise and esteem the pastor.
And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves.
1 Thessalonians 5:12–13
Timothy’s gifting was by the laying on of the elders’ hands (not the pastor’s hands) as well as Paul’s.
Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.
1 Timothy 4:14
Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
2 Timothy 1:6
It is the elders (not the pastors) who rule well who are worthy of double honour: so a task of eldership is to rule in the church.
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.
1 Timothy 5:17
Titus was left in Crete to set the church in order; this involved appointing elders, not a pastor.
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—
The Hebrews are told to remember and obey those (plural, not the pastor) who rule over them.
Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct… Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
Hebrews 13:7, 17
It is the elders who pray for the sick, not the pastor.
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Peter says it is the elders (not the pastor) who are the shepherds and overseers of the church.
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
1 Peter 5:1–4
He says that the younger people should be submitted to the elders, not the pastor.
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "GOD RESISTS THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE."
1 Pet 5:5
If someone is caught in a sin, it is those, not the pastor, who are spiritual who should restore him. Some English translations use the word ‘you’ here rather than ‘those’ in this verse, but in the Greek it is a plural word.
My friends, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right; but you must do it in a gentle way. And keep an eye on yourselves, so that you will not be tempted, too.
Galatians 6:1 (GNB)
I have read the New Testament many times (and the Old too for that matter!); but during the course of this study I have read right through it once again, specifically looking for every mention of church leadership. There is not one example anywhere of one-man leadership in the local church: it is always a group - the plurality of equals. The only place I can find one man prominent in a church is 3 John 1:9, and he is condemned!
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.
3 John 1:9
2 Corinthians 13:1 says,
By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.
As we have just seen, Luke (who wrote Acts, of course), Paul, Peter and James all accept eldership as the body which rules/leads the local church — four witnesses!
In fact, even amongst the Apostles there seems to be group leadership, rather than one man.
apostolos; ap-os'-tol-os; From G649; a delegate; specifically an ambassador of the Gospel; officially a commissioner of Christ (“apostle”), (with miraculous powers): - apostle, messenger, he that is sent.
(Strong’s Hebrew and Greek dictionaries)
The Roman Catholic Church considers Peter to have been the leader (the first Pope). Others believe it to have been James. But Paul says quite plainly that it was a group of three — James, Peter and John.
and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
From what we read in his writings and the description of his missionary journeys in the book of Acts, the method Paul used in establishing a local church seems very clear. He, along with other apostles, preached the gospel in an area. When a group of Christians resulted from that witness, he formed the local church, teaching them what Jesus had personally shown him.
But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Before moving on, he established elders, whose responsibility was the running of the church from then onwards. His position over these churches was that of an apostle, not a pastor, and his authority over them was because he had brought them to the Lord.
For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
1 Corinthians 4:15
In the past two or three decades, I have heard it said by pastors of churches where God has moved mightily, that
“God wants His church back.”
By that, they usually mean that should the Holy Spirit move during a meeting, then the original programme will be thrown out in order for God to have His way. But what about the rest of the time? How can God be said to “have His church back” when it is governed in a manner radically different from what He has made plain in His word? There is only one High Priest — Jesus.
Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus,
Hebrews 3:1; 8:1
There is only one head of the Church — Jesus
And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
We are looking for the Church to recover all that has been lost and return to the power and dynamism seen in the New Testament. In different parts of the world, in comparatively few churches, glimpses of that vibrancy can be seen. Surely it will only be when the church is governed the way God has shown that the local churches can expect to see Him move in the way He has said He longs to do?
Romans 4:16–22 tells us of Abraham, who like God, called things that did not exist as though they did, ignoring the fact that he and Sarah had been unable to produce a child throughout their marriage.
And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God
The result was that God accepted his faith as righteousness and a child was born to them. If, then, Abraham came into the experience of what God had provided for him through declaring that what God said about his personal life was true, then how can I ignore what God says about my church life? In other words, if I say that the New Testament’s clearly presented pattern of Church life is not relevant to me today, then how can I, like Abraham, claim by faith anything it says about my personal life?
The Bible says,
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding
This tells me two things: firstly that God knows better than I do; and secondly that there will be times when my own sense of logic, knowledge and understanding will contradict what God says (otherwise I would be able to lean on my own understanding). Therefore, when there is a clash between the two, I have no option but to believe, and do, what God says - particularly when it is revealed in His word.
How then can I, or anyone else, justify a style of local church government that is quite clearly at odds with what is found in the New Testament?
Culture of Honour
Culture of Honour is available here as a paperback, or here in Kindle format. Most of this page was written before Culture of Honour was published!
In Danny Silk’s book, Culture of Honour, published in 2009, an apparently different style of church leadership is described, which he tells us was operational in Bethel Church, Redding, California, at the time he wrote the book. He tells us that it is essential to have a leadership structure that is perfectly in line with New Testament teaching if we wish to experience all God wants to be seen in the local church, echoing what I said a little earlier. It is worth taking a brief look at the structure he promotes to see if the system, which is different from that which I have described here, is indeed scriptural.
The entire case is based on one single verse, which Danny interprets inaccurately:
And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.
1 Corinthians 12:28
Danny Silk says:
Paul clearly lays out an order of priority in this passage…
(Culture of Honour, chapter two.)
He relates it to the local Church government: i.e. the apostle is the number one leader, under which are prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. There is nowhere else in the Bible that repeats what is said in this verse, so the case rests solely on it. However, it is clear from the verse that this does not refer to the local church, but the world-wide Church - the body of Christ. If it meant what he claims, it would say,
“And God has appointed these in each church.”
“And God has appointed these in the churches.”
Because the word ‘Church’ is singular, it can only refer to the Church as a whole.
He quite rightly points out the scripture:
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,
Once again, however, this refers to the world-wide church, not individual, local churches. Indeed, there is a case for claiming that ‘first apostles, second prophets’, etc., refers not to their seniority, but their chronology. In other words, this is the order in which they were established when God set up the Church. It is certainly the case that the Apostles were the first leaders in the Church in its first days and weeks, and this could very well be what is meant by them being its foundation. It would be very difficult either to prove or disprove this, since there is no mention of them being ‘first’ anywhere else.
When a study of New Testament is made to look into what the apostles did, it is very clear that their function was overseeing the whole, global church; they were not individual leaders of local churches. We can see two distinct functions.
...At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
The apostles remained together in Jerusalem, and as a group, following the Bible principle of plurality of equals, watched over the growing, world-wide Church. This can be seen in the way it was the group of Apostles along with the Elders who settled the issue of circumcision, as was mentioned earlier.
The other function was for individual apostles to have an itinerant ministry, travelling to different towns, evangelising, establishing a new local church from the resulting body of believers, and appointing elders and deacons to run it (I discuss the specific case of Timothy later). The elders were responsible for the spiritual welfare of the church, while the deacons looked after the material things.
diakoneo; dee-ak-on-eh'-o; From G1249; to be an attendant, that is, wait upon (menially or as a host, friend or [figuratively] teacher); technically to act as a Christian deacon: - (ad-) minister (unto), serve, use the office of a deacon.
(Strong’s Hebrew and Greek dictionaries)
Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word."
There is very little mention of deacons: the word only appears in Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8–13. It seems reasonable, however, to assume that the seven mentioned here were undertaking this role. Certainly the word ‘serve’ is noticeable, appearing twice in the description of deacons in 1 Timothy, while in Acts 6 we are told this is the task of the seven men. However, this is a minor point in the discussion and I think one that most people would accept.
So, while in the early stages of a new church an apostle would certainly be present there, this was not a long-term situation and there is no example anywhere in the New Testament of a permanent ‘resident’ apostle as the number one leader. Indeed, if it were the case that Apostles had been present and leading the local churches, then the letters of Paul would have been completely unnecessary. As an apostle he wrote directions he received for them directly from God. If the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians and the Thessalonians had had their own resident Apostles, this direction would have been received by their own apostles, not Paul. The fact that we have those letters in the New Testament is evidence that the elders in these churches were not led by ‘resident’ apostles.
It would seem to me that by requiring an apostle to be the senior leader in a church, Danny Silk is presenting a style of local church leadership that is identical to the ‘Pastor at the top supported by elders then deacons’ system that is seen in many places today. The only difference is that the label has changed from ‘pastor’ or ‘senior pastor’ to ‘apostle’. He says...
…the anointing on the apostle and prophet creates a perspective that is primarily focused on perceiving what is going on in Heaven and bringing that to earth.
(Culture of Honour, chapter two.)
This statement confirms the point just made that Paul’s letters to the churches prove there were no resident apostles in them: if there had been, they would have ‘brought to earth what they saw in Heaven’, making these letters unnecessary. However, every pastor responsible for leading a church would say this is what he is doing! So what is the difference? The important factor is not the label they wear but the function they perform.
I hope I have not given the impression that I am refuting everything in this book: this would be to throw out the baby with the bath water. Indeed, toward the end of the second chapter, he says:
The fivefold design for leadership is obviously a team design, so the one-man show version of Church leadership is clearly not an expression of it, and neither is the bureaucratic, homogenous, “everyone can do every job” style of leadership. Diverse anointings each contribute something entirely unique to the project of bringing Heaven to earth, and this requires an honoring (and undemocratic) attitude that says, “You have something I don’t have, and I need what you have.”
(Culture of Honour, chapter two.)
Absolutely: only this paragraph puts it far better than I did earlier. ‘Team design’, as he puts it, ‘plurality of equals’, as I put it, or ‘elders’ as the Bible puts it, is in the entire warp and weft of the New Testament. And the Old Testament too, for that matter. This is discussed in the next section. Indeed, if this is what Danny was proposing, then there would be little to complain about. However, from his description in this book it would seem that he is putting the apostle above all others and therefore ending up with the same kind of one-man-at-the-top leadership that we see in all the churches led by pastors, vicars or priests.
It is a very dangerous thing to base a doctrine on a single verse: if there are not a number of corroborating scriptures, then it is best left well alone. Danny’s entire case rests on a single verse, which even if interpreted as meaning ‘seniority’ rather than ‘chronology’, still does not support it. The very clear role of the New Testament apostles was global, not local. There is no example of apostles in local churches, other than when establishing them or visiting to support, encourage and correct. People fulfilling this role today would be missionaries and church planters (for example), not local church leaders.
God set elders as the leaders of the local church for a very good reason: there is great danger in single leadership, if for no other reason than that there is no human being who hears God’s voice perfectly 100% of the time. Many times churches have suffered a great deal of damage and hurt as a result of single leaders thinking they alone can perceive God’s will and forcing events in their churches that history has proved was anything but that.
Conversely, a group of leaders can support each other and help minimise the excesses into which if alone they could slide. Does this mean an elders-led church will always be successful, or they will never make mistakes? Of course not! The danger is reduced, however, provided those elders are gifted of God for the role they are given: a square peg in a round hole is always going to create problems! Above all, though, is the fact the Bible clearly teaches that the primary leaders of a local church should be elders - or whatever name you prefer to give them - and as Danny quite rightly says, it is only when church leadership is following the Bible pattern that we can expect to see the fullness of God’s power flowing through them:
The cooperation between all the ministry gifts is the only way to accomplish the primary objective of the Church. We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit in carefully and intentionally assembling the pipe that funnels Heaven and all its power and freedom to the earth... Church leaders and believers alike must come into right relationship with Heaven’s government. As we do, those things that are out of joint will be restored to their rightful place and hooked up to the flow of the funnel
(Culture of Honour, chapter two.)
Objections to ‘Plurality of equals’
1 Early history shows there has constantly been single-man,
church leadership in local churches.
a] We learn our theology from the Bible, not anywhere else. No other writing has the authority of the Old and New Testaments, which is God’s word.
b] Even during the early years of the church, errors were creeping in — this is why many of the epistles were written! So it is not surprising that by the turn of the first century, or shortly afterwards, variations from the original teaching of the apostles were being applied to past events.
c] Probably the earliest writing we have outside of the New Testament, is Clement’s First Letter, from the Church of Rome to the Church of Corinth, dated AD 96. In Cyril Richardson’s introduction to the letter in his book ‘Early Christian Fathers’ (available as a Kindle book here.), he says:
The occasion of the letter was a schism in the Corinthian church… some young men had been the ringleaders of a revolt which had succeeded in deposing the ruling presbyters.
Kindle location 416
Note the plural word ‘presbyters’. It is clear that multiple leadership was still the accepted norm at the end of the century. The relevant text of his letter says:
The apostles… preached in country and city, and appointed their first converts, after testing them, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers… is it any wonder that those Christians whom God had entrusted with such a duty should have appointed the officers mentioned?… Furthermore,they later added a codicil to the effect, that, should these die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry.
Kindle location 993
Clement was writing to a single church, Corinth, but referring to a number of presbyters (otherwise called bishops) and deacons there. However, Ignatius, who probably wrote about ten years later, strongly refers to a single bishop in charge. It would appear there is some controversy about his letters, with claims they were forged. If they were, they can be discarded; if they were not, it shows the move away from scriptural church leadership began here.
2 Early history shows that Timothy was a young pastor,
in charge of the Ephesus church.
The Bible makes it plain that Timothy was not a pastor:
Timothy joins Paul on his second missionary journey in Acts 16:1–4.
Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. He was well spoken of by the brethren …Paul wanted to have him go on with him …And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.
Then in Timothy and Silas stay on at Berea while Paul goes on to Athens.
Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there.
Paul goes to Corinth, where Timothy and Silas join him
After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth… When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.
Acts 18:1, 5
While at Ephesus with Timothy and Erastus (plus others), Paul decides to go through Macedonia but he sends Timothy and Erastus ahead and remains himself in Ephesus for a while longer.
When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome." So he sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time.
Paul then leaves Ephesus to go to Macedonia and from there to Greece. Timothy, along with others, then went ahead of Paul, meeting up with him again in Troas.
After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia. Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, he came to Greece and stayed three months. And when the Jews plotted against him as he was about to sail to Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. And Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia—also Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas.
Timothy was sent by Paul to the Corinthians to remind them “of my ways in Christ.”
For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.
1 Corinthians 4:17
Then we are told Timothy is likely to pay a return visit to them.
And if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do.
1 Corinthians 16:10
Timothy was also with Paul at Corinth during one of his visits there, and the 2nd letter to the Corinthians is actually from Timothy as well as Paul, so he was obviously with him when it was written.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia… For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me, Silvanus, and Timothy—was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes.
2 Corinthians 1:1, 19
Since Paul had already visited Corinth twice before, this letter must have been written after his third missionary journey and therefore toward the end of his ministry — yet Timothy still had an itinerant ministry.
Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children... This will be the third time I am coming to you.
2 Corinthians 12:14; 13:1
Paul told the Philippians he intended to send Timothy to them on his behalf.
But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state.
Timothy was sent to the Thessalonians to encourage their faith.
and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith,
1 Thessalonians 3:2
From these scriptures it is clear that Timothy had the same kind of ministry as Paul, travelling from church to church, under Paul’s leadership. In 1 Timothy 1:3 we are told that Paul is writing to Timothy having just left him at Ephesus to continue to work to put the church on the right lines, while Paul goes on to Macedonia.
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine... Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.
1 Timothy 1:3; 5:17
Notice it is the elders who rule, in the above passage, and labour in the word and doctrine.
The only time Paul went from Ephesus to Macedonia was on his third missionary journey, and as we have seen in Acts 20:5–6, on Paul’s return Timothy rejoined him at Troas. So he certainly was not the ‘pastor’ of Ephesus when he received his first letter from Paul.
The only conclusion on the basis of the ministry Timothy is seen to be exercising throughout the New Testament is that he was not there as a ‘pastor’, but in his capacity as an apostle. The evidence for this is overwhelming:
Firstly, Timothy is called an apostle in 1 Thessalonians: the words ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’ in verses 1:2, 6; 2:1, 3, 5–6 can only apply to Paul, Silvanus and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:1). In 1 Thessalonians 2:6 it says they are apostles!
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers… And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit… For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain… For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit… For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1:2, 6; 2:1, 3, 5–6
Secondly, he is told to do the work of an evangelist and fulfil his ministry.
But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:5
If he had been a pastor, that would have been the equivalent of telling an eye to do the work of an ear, which Paul said was wrong in 1 Corinthians 12:12–27; specifically in relation to ministry giftings (12:28–29)!
And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased… And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?
1 Corinthians 12:16-18, 28-29
For an apostle, however, evangelism is an integral part of the work.
And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch,
Thirdly, he was at Ephesus in order to establish proper church leadership (1 Timothy 3:1–13: I am not printing this passage out, in order to conserve space), and Paul tells him what to look out for in an overseer/bishop (1 Timothy 3:1). He was not there in order to be in charge of the church himself, but to appoint others to take this responsibility.
As with Titus it is evident that Timothy was given the responsibility of setting up the leadership structure in the local church - elders (Titus 1:5–9, 1 Timothy 3:1–7) and deacons (1 Timothy 3:8–13).
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—
3 The successful churches are led by a pastor.
The biggest churches, the churches where large numbers of people being saved, and/or the churches where dramatic gifts of the Holy Spirit are seen, are led by pastors.
a] It is well documented that there are men with huge ministries in evangelism, healing, etc., who also lead, or have led, personal lives well below the standard expected in the New Testament. Does their ‘successful’ ministry justify their immoral lives? Of course not! People are saved, healed, etc., by the grace of God and this is not necessarily vindication of a person’s life or methodology.
“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”
Particular individuals may well continue to function in their ministry even after falling away from God’s ideal. However, we need to look at ‘the bigger picture’ as in the next point.
b] For every one church of more than 1000 members, there must be at least 100 churches of less than 100 members throughout the world. For every church where many people are being saved, where dramatic gifts of the Holy Spirit are seen, there must be at least 100 where these events take place rarely, if at all. If a large church, many people being saved, or dramatic gifts of the Holy Spirit are evidence of ‘success’, then on the above figures, there are only 1% of all churches that are successful. 99% are unsuccessful by these criteria. Yet probably 99% of all these ‘unsuccessful’ churches have pastors (or the equivalent) leading them.
I have plucked those figures out of the air. The proportions may be smaller or larger than I have suggested. But from all I see and hear, the percentage of ‘successful’ churches must be very low. So it appears that overall the one-man leadership system does not have a very good track record!
My comment on ‘successful’ churches is judging purely from the criteria mentioned in the second sentence of [b]. Of course real success is fulfilling God’s perfect purpose, which may not always be assessed in these terms.
But all of this is hardly relevant.
‘Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding’.
What happens anywhere is not the criteria by which we determine God’s will. First and foremost He has revealed His plan for the Church in the Bible. Any ‘leading of the Holy Spirit’ must line up with that. God cannot contradict Himself. Paul said even if an angel comes with something different, it must be ignored.
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.
Since there is so much written about the local church leadership in the New Testament, there can be absolutely no doubt whatsoever what God intends for the Church. So why do we lean to our own understanding and do it our way instead of His?
4 One-Man Leadership is seen throughout the Old Testament
One-man leadership is clearly shown to be God’s will throughout the Old Testament and those who stood against such leaders were severely dealt with by God (e.g. Aaron and Miriam vs. Moses in Numbers 12:1–16).
Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman… So the anger of the LORD was aroused against them, and He departed. And when the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as white as snow. Then Aaron turned toward Miriam, and there she was, a leper.
Numbers 12:1, 9-10
Many things changed as a result of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit:
a] Only the members from one of the 12 tribes were able to minister as priests in the Old Testament. Now we are all a royal priesthood.
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
1 Peter 2:9
b] Only a few people, when moved by the Holy Spirit, were able to present God’s will to the population. Now His law is in all of our hearts, and we need no one to teach us saying, “Know the Lord,” for all know Him. The anointing teaches us.
FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS IN THEIR MIND AND WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. NONE OF THEM SHALL TEACH HIS NEIGHBOR, AND NONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, 'KNOW THE LORD,' FOR ALL SHALL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST OF THEM TO THE GREATEST OF THEM… "THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR HEARTS, AND IN THEIR MINDS I WILL WRITE THEM," then He adds, "THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE."
Hebrews 8:10, 11; 10:16–17 (Capital letters are quotes from the Old Testament)
But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.
1 John 2:27
c] Only one man, the High Priest, could enter the most holy place once per year. Now, the High Priest is Jesus (Hebrews 3:1; 4:14; 5:5–6,10; 6:20; 8:1) and we can all enter at any time into the Holiest (Hebrews 10:19).
Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus… Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus…
Hebrews 3:1; 10:19
d] In the Old Testament the nation of Israel was led by a single man - either a prophet, judge, priest or King. The towns and cities were led by elders: there are 123 mentions of ‘elders’ in the Old Testament and a typical example is:
...the elders of that city...
So national leadership of Israel was undertaken by a single man, and local leadership (i.e. town or city) by a group. In the New Testament Jesus is the Church’s Prophet, Priest and King.
Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world."
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king…
Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus."
Therefore an accurate reflection of the Old Testament pattern would be to say that just as the prophet, judge, priest or King was the national leader of Israel, with elders leading towns and cities locally, Jesus is the global or ‘national’ leader of the whole world-wide Church, and elders are the local leaders of the individual churches.
Since the change that took place following the earthly ministry of Jesus is so great, it is obvious that only in the New Testament could we find the structure designed by God to contain this broadening of ministry from a chosen few to all.
It is true that God looked very severely on anyone rebelling against His chosen leaders. Since the pattern of plural leadership in the local church is presented many times over throughout the New Testament, is it not a very serious thing for His people to choose something different? In fact the so-called ‘five-fold ministry’ is not provided by God to rule the church, but to equip the saints and edify (i.e. build up) the body.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,
That being so, surely it is a misuse of gifting to use it to rule over a local church, when it was given in order to equip and build up (bring to maturity) the individual members, some of whom would later become elders?
Having said that, it is surely obvious that someone with a ‘five-fold ministry gifting’ is likely to be included in the body of elders in a local church. Indeed both Peter and John, who were apostles, also call themselves ‘elders’.
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed:
1 Peter 5:1
The Elder, To the elect lady and her children… The Elder, To the beloved Gaius…
2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:1
5 Strong Leadership is Essential
People need strong leadership, which you cannot get in a group of leaders. Churches with plural leadership never go anywhere.
a] This is not my idea! I am simply looking at the Bible to see what it says about church leadership. If it said that a couple of monkeys were the best form of leadership, then I would be reporting that! But it doesn’t! It says that elders should lead the local church.
b] In some cases modern churches led by a group of elders have tended to be legalistic and not open to the leading and manifestations of the Holy Spirit. The Bible form of eldership is that of a group, not a democracy (i.e. voting for a decision), who can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and follow it. This means that if one elder hears the Holy Spirit regarding the direction of the church, the others will recognise that and submit their personal preferences to it. It means that they will recognise particular giftings amongst them and where appropriate release certain ones from secular work by financially supporting them, in order for them to fulfil their ministry. If attitudes like these are not present in the elders, one would be justified in questioning their credentials.
c] But the bottom line is: where does the buck stop? This is where the power lies. If the buck stops at one person, then that person is in power. The Bible says that the buck should stop at a group, not an individual.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Qotations marked GNB are scriptures from the Good News Bible © 1994
published by the Bible Societies/HarperCollins Publishers Ltd UK, Good News Bible©
American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992. Used with permission.’