Congregational authority is derived from the Word of God and is limited to those areas where the Bible gives his people instructions. According to Baptist polity, the regenerated church, assembled in particular localities and autonomously governed, under the principles and commands of Scripture, has authority to admit into membership born again and baptized believers; to expel and remove from fellowship unrepentant professors of faith; to choose her leadership based upon Scripture; and to dismiss those leaders if they are unfaithful to the Scripture. It cannot be overstated that the church’s authority is derived and dependent upon a precise understanding and application of the Holy Bible.
In order for any organized group of people to function cohesively, individual leadership must rise to the top. In the local church, there have always been certain individuals that God has directed to lead the rest of the Holy congregation in knowing and obeying the Scripture, the foundation of all life and practice for the Christian (really the roots of individual godly leadership are seen in God’s establishment of his spiritual nation prior to the church). This practice of training and ordaining leaders over the flock of God was the intentional practice of Paul the Apostle in the New Testament in every church he started.
Elder (presbuteros), Bishop/Overseer (episcopos), Shepherd/Pastor (poiemon) are the three New Testament descriptions of this leadership office. Baptists have historically understood these three titles to be describing the same office as is clear in the plain reading of passages like 1 Peter 5:1-4 and Acts 20:17-35. In both of these passages, all three Greek words noted above are addressed to the same group of people. In 1 Peter 5:1-4, Peter begins by saying, “the elders who are among you I exhort. . . shepherd (pastor) the flock of God that is among you, serving as overseers. . .” Again in Acts 20:17, “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. . . (28) Keep watch overs 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.” Thus both Paul and Peter use these three words interchangeably to the same group of men, indicating that this is not some sort of hierarchy, or division of offices within the church, rather these three words provide an ample description of what spiritual leadership among the church should look like.
It is important to understand that in these passages and nearly all other passages regarding pastoral leadership, a plurality of leaders is assumed. It is true that nowhere in Scripture is a plurality of elders commanded, but the obvious implication is that more than one elder was preferred. It is not my intention in these articles to argue against other forms of protestant church polity, but it seems rather difficult to support a Presbyterian or Episcopalian (Anglican) form of church polity from the Bible alone. But where I think many Baptists could learn from their Presbyterian brothers would be to encourage a plurality of pastors rather than the often “lone man at the top” model often employed in Baptist churches. One passage that I believe our Presbyterian brothers press unduly to support their thesis that there is a ruling class of elders and a separate teaching class of elders is 1 Timothy 5:17. This passage is referring to a paid pastoral ministry. It is clear that the principle and command in Scripture is to honor pastors by providing for their livelihood through their ministry and work in the church. The text in question says, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine (teaching).” Some (I believe incorrectly) interpret this passage to be teaching that there are elders who labor in the Word and doctrine who ought to receive honor (Greek word meaning financial remuneration) and then another class of elders who do not labor in the Word and doctrine but rather rule government-ally over the church and these elders ought not be paid for their ministry. From the context, however, it seems that Paul is encouraging Timothy to appoint elders in Ephesus as well as rebuke and remove elders in Ephesus. Thus, a clearer understanding to me is that those elders who are showing themselves exceptional servants to the church in the arena of study and teaching of the Word ought to be compensated as a means of showing honor to them for their diligent labor. In other words, Paul is encouraging Timothy to reward the elders doing a good job and thus tangibly show the congregation that the church places a high priority on laboring in the Word and doctrine.
What should pastoral leadership look like in the local church? The New Testament has much to say about pastoral leadership, but we can start with examining the three words used to describe the office. “Elder” has the normal gloss meaning “an older person.” However, it could mean much more than simply one who has wrinkles and gray hair. Timothy was considered an elder over the church but was rather young (in his early 30’s). In fact Timothy was responsible to preside over some older “elders” in Ephesus, and Paul instructs Timothy not to let anyone “despise his youth.” The word “elder” Biblically carries the comparative sense of seasoned maturity. Meaning that the pastor ought to be a seasoned, spiritually mature man. One who the church can look to for spiritual counsel and is trusted as mature and experienced in the knowledge and practice of the truth-Elder expresses the maturity that must characterize a pastor. “Bishop” or “overseer” is sometimes translated “superintendent.” This word, above the others has an authoritative air about it. It is one who provides tangible and verbal expressions of leadership and authority. The overseer is responsible to see that the assigned duty by the Master is accomplished. He is the manager of the flock, not the owner, but nonetheless will often need to speak and act with authority-Overseer expresses the job description of the pastor. “Shepherd” or “Pastor” is the most illustrative of the three words. It pictures a shepherd leading the flock to water and feeding the flock with good grass, protecting the flock from predators and helping to heal and restore straying sheep. The flock is not the shepherd’s flock. Peter expresses this by describing the elder/shepherds as working for the “Chief Shepherd” who will appear to reward his “under-shepherds.” If “Overseer” is the job description for a pastor, “Shepherd” is the way he is to carry out that job.
Being a pastor is a unique vocation. A pastor is one of the flock, but he is also supposed to lead the flock. He is supposed to preach to sinners to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all patience in teaching” but he also is a sinner. He is to exercise some kind of authority, but not to be a lord over God’s flock. This pulling in two directions often produces stress upon those called to pastoral leadership. Perhaps this is why God has much to say to pastors and churches both about their relationship and responsibilities. Because of my attempt at some level of brevity in these articles, I will simply give some pastoral leadership principles and relevant Scripture for further study.
Pastoral leadership is conditioned upon pastoral submission to Biblical authority. What I mean by this is that a pastor’s authority is not chiefly found by the fact of his office (Overseer) but by the Biblical authority he teaches with. A pastor’s “authority” (and I don’t even like to use that word) is present simply because he is teaching and proclaiming an authoritative word. A father may say to his children when they ask why they should obey him, “Because I am your father and I said so!” We could argue the wisdom of such a response, but the fact is correct. Children are commanded to obey their fathers simply because of their place as children. But a pastor is not a father over the flock, thus he cannot respond to their questions and challenges with “Because I am your Elder/Pastor, and I said so.” Instead, he must always respond with bringing God’s word, the true authority to bear in every situation. This is what Peter means by not being a “lord over God’s flock.” A pastor’s appeal is a Biblical appeal, or there is no authority behind it. Thus a pastor truly has surrendered his Biblical vocation and right to leadership when he speaks or teaches outside of Biblical revelation. There is no sense at all in which a pastor has personal authority over members of a church, the authority that a pastor may proclaim is scripturally delivered authority. “If any man speaks let him speak as the oracles of God.” To put it practically, as a pastor, I have no desire or responsibility or authority to tell any members where they should live, what car they should drive, where they ought to school their children, what kind of holidays they should take, what clothes they ought to wear, and any number of personal choices. My responsibility is simply to tell God’s people what God has said and to help them see how it applies to their lives. Woe to the Shepherd who acts as though God’s flock is his own flock.
Pastoral leadership is characterized by teaching and equipping. Ephesians 4:11-16 explains that the work of the ministry is done by God’s church, thus the pastor’s job is equip God’s saints to do this work so that the church will grow and be built up. Pastoral leadership is not commanding or dictating obedience but teaching truth and equipping the church to be able to be obedient to God’s work in building the church. Pastor’s do not build churches, God does through his people. And he has chosen men whom he qualifies to lead them by teaching them God’s Word. Teaching and praying by elders is the means by which the church is equipped to do the work of the ministry (Acts 6:4). In much of our modern expressions of church, pastors seem to be regarded for their public relations abilities, administrative prowess, inspirational story-telling skills, and community organizing gifts. But the Biblical elder instructs with patience, gentleness and longsuffering. Teaching God’s people old truths and refreshing them time and again; pleading with people to dig into God’s Word and to obey God’s Truth; explaining how God’s Word affects their daily lives.
Pastoral leadership is male leadership. 1 Timothy 2:8-15 sets clear guidelines within the church for male pastoral leadership. This is not popular today but it should be pointed out that the order of creation determines male leadership as God’s intent. That is, it is not male ability or supposed superiority in any way that determines masculine pastoral leadership, but God’s directive based upon his Divine will in creating male leadership “in the beginning.” This is a functional role, rather than an ontological inequality. Ontologically speaking, male and female are equal in all ways. Functionally speaking, God has determined men to lead in the church and women to assist. It is the same in the home, and it is God’s wisdom we must trust, not our cultural epiphanies of social progress.
Pastoral leadership is spiritual and character based. In both Timothy and Titus, Paul instructs in the kind of servants that ought to be elders. Although teaching is highlighted in both books, character occupies most of the instruction. Spiritual godliness and maturity is demanded upon those who would lead the church as pastors. The main reason for this is that a man cannot lead someone where he is not going or is unwilling to go. Thus, if he is teach godliness and spirituality, he must model godliness and spirituality. Some might think that this impossible, and truly, “Who is sufficient for these things.” But remember that confession, repentance, forgiveness, etc. are expressions of godliness, thus a pastor will at times because he too is a sinner need to confess, repent, forgive and model this for others as well.
Pastoral leadership is servant leadership. Jesus exemplified how we all are to be servants toward others. Pastors do not exist to be served by the church, but to serve the church. This service, however is not in doing whatever the congregation asks of him for his service to the church is secondary to his service to God and God’s Word. A police officer serves the public not by doing whatever the public wants, but by enforcing the laws and ordinances that the duly elected representatives of the public have passed. A pastor in no way is a police officer, the illustration breaks down quite quickly. But the church exercises her authority by selecting elders/pastors who will serve them, not by giving them always what they want, but by giving them what God wants as revealed in the Word. In Acts 6:4, the elders (apostles at the time) expressed this by saying that they would give themselves (devote themselves predominately) to the service (ministry) of the Word and prayer. A good pastor is conscious of his call to serve the church and resists every sense of lordship over the church, but is consistently beholden to God’s Word and will not sway from the defense and proclamation of God’s truth and is not swayed from that regardless of who or what is trying to move him, even if it is the very church he leads.