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SCC Core Commitments: A Plurality of Pastors

Kyle Petersen Written by 
Friday, 03 October 2014 19:49

This is our next installment in a series of blog posts about SCC's core commitments. 

Here at SCC, we believe in a plurality of pastors, who lead the church as Christ’s under-shepherds. In other words, we have a team of multiple pastors. Let’s look to the Bible to see what a pastor is, and then discuss why we hold to a plurality view.


What is a Pastor?

Let’s look at and read Titus 1:5. Paul left Titus in Crete, and gave Titus some pretty specific instructions for his time in Crete; specifically, to “put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town.” So Titus was tasked to put the things that remained into order. We see that among those things, and probably the most significant of them, was to appoint elders in every town.


So what does it mean to appoint elders? First let’s talk about what an elder is. Unfortunately, the connotations surrounding the term elder are so convoluted and unbiblical in our day that it is almost impossible to have the biblical definition really stick in our minds. Many of us might think of elders as a board of lay-elders who make decisions and are separate from “the pastor” of a church. This is unbiblical. Still others of us might think elders are advisors, executives, directors, or guys on a committee. None of these really gets the biblical idea of an elder correctly. But we all need to get the biblical definition in our minds so that we understand what our leadership is supposed to be doing, and what it is not supposed to be doing.


So what is an elder? The word elder in Titus 1:5 is the Greek word “presbuteros.” Sometimes it was used to simply refer to those who are older in age, but it was also used to refer to leaders, especially in the Jewish community at the time. As you read the New Testament, you’ll see this word used to refer to specific men who were appointed leaders of local churches. In this context in Titus, it is clear that we are looking at a specific leadership office.  


Ok, that doesn’t really tell us a whole lot. How do elders relate to those that the Bible calls overseers? How do they relate to pastors? What is the difference? Is there a difference? I want to take you through a couple of verses that will help us answer these questions.


First, take a look at Titus 1:7. As Paul is giving the character qualifications required for elders, he refers to them as “overseers.” It is very clear here that he is talking about the same guys he just referred to as elders. So elders and overseers are one and the same. The titles might emphasize different aspects of the leader’s role, but they are the same.


Turn forward a few books to 1 Peter 5:1-3: “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”


In this passage we have three terms all used to describe the elders. The first one is obvious. Peter exhorts the elders, which is the same word as in Titus 1:5. Second, he tells them that their primary duty is toshepherd the flock of God. This is pastoral language (pastor means shepherd). Third, he uses a verb form of overseer as a participle when he calls them to exercise oversight. So according to this passage, these men are elders, overseers, and pastors. Another important aspect of this passage is that pastors are not to lead in a domineering way, but are to be servant-leaders like Jesus was.


So the answer to the question of how elders relate to pastors and overseers is simply that they are one and the same. These are three different ways to describe the same office. If we discarded using the term “elder” and started calling our elders “pastors” (even those who are unpaid or who don’t preach every week) we would be entirely biblical in doing so, and it might even help clear up the definition in our minds as to what these guys are supposed to be doing. The work of pastors is teaching, protecting, leading, caring, and overseeing. Any man appointed to this office is a pastor in the biblical sense of the word. We need to remember that our elders are our pastors, whether on staff or not.


Now we understand basically what an elder is, now let’s talk about what it means to appoint them. In Titus 1:5, this word, translated “appoint” in every major English translation, basically means “to put in place,” or "set in charge." Appoint is a good word choice. It simply means to put a man into this position of leadership. Another important aspect of this word is that it does not carry any special religious connotations. So there is nothing priestly or clerical in being appointed to the office of an elder, and in fact, the word “ordain” and its surrounding connotations are foreign to New Testament church leadership.


So our Pastors are not priests. They are guys who have been appointed to a specific office to serve and lead the church in specific ways. They aren’t holier than the rest of us. They aren’t better than everyone else. They have particular gifts from the Holy Spirit to be used in the church just like everyone else. Most importantly, they are our brothers in Christ, appointed for our spiritual benefit as they teach us, pray for us, care for us, and lead us.


Why a Team of Pastors?

Now let’s talk about what I mentioned above about a plurality of Pastors. In Titus 1:5, Paul tells Titus to appoint pastors in every town . One thing we can see here is that there was clearly a church in each town on the island of Crete, and each one was to have its own leadership.


Also notice that “pastors” is plural here. Titus is to appoint more than one elder in each town. Each church in Crete was to have at least two brothers who would be appointed to the ministry of a pastor.


If you look at Acts 15, and Acts 20, you will see that both in Jerusalem and in Ephesus, there were more than one pastor. The first verse of Philippians indicates that the same was true in Philippi. This was the form of leadership that the early church utilized. It was a plurality of pastors, all working together to care for, protect, teach, and lead the local church.


While one or more of these men might be paid because they labor specifically in the word of God to teach in depth on Sunday mornings, others are men who are not paid. But when it comes to their calling as pastors, they are all elders appointed by the church for this ministry.


We need to grasp the idea of a plurality of pastors. We need to understand that our pastors will be focused on functioning and working together as a unified team. We need to clarify our thinking when it comes to this issue. We need to remember that there is not just one single man who is designated as “the pastor.” This is not biblical, unless we are talking about Jesus. All of our Pastors serve together as a team of under-shepherds of Jesus. The Pastors will differ in gifting, but they are all equal in their calling and authority, and their authority comes from God and His Word, not from their title. The Pastors are all mutually accountable to one another and to the members of the church.


This is why SCC does not have a position called “Senior Pastor” or “Lead Pastor.” We believe that this standard leadership model heaps many unbiblical expectations on one man, and that it conveys many unbiblical ideas to the body as well. It can result in significant damage to the man in the position and to the church as well.


Pastoral Oversight and Leadership 

We read a couple passages which indicated that pastors are also overseers. In other words, they oversee the church as a whole and lead it forward in obedience to God’s Word. When it comes to decisions for the church, the final decision rests in the hands of the Pastors, who must unanimously agree.


While SCC does not have traditional congregational voting in its polity, we do have something similar. When a significant decision faces the church, the Pastors will ask for congregational feedback from everyone, indicating what they think the church should do in a given situation. The pastors take this feedback very seriously and will speak with anyone who is urging against a given decision before moving forward. Again, like we saw in 1 Peter 5, pastoral leadership is not to be domineering, but sacrificial and caring. As the Pastors seek to obey God in this calling, the members of the church should seek to support and submit to the God-given leaders of the church, while knowing that the Pastors are always willing to talk and hear concerns that members may have. 


What about You?

If you're still with me, thank you for taking the time to read this. I'll conclude with this: we hold to a plurality of pastors here at SCC because it seems to best reflect the biblical model. Additionally, it provides a number of other benefits. It makes caring for the people in the church more feasible, because no one man can truly shepherd an entire church, even one our size. It can help prevent abuses of power in leadership. We believe it also helps to protect the most visible pastor, the preaching pastor, from feeling like he must shoulder all the responsibility and the work of pastoral ministry. Let me encourage you to consider your own view of what a pastor is and evaluate it in light of the Scriptures referenced above. How can you support your pastors in the serious work that they do? You could start by praying for them, and taking a look at and applying Hebrews 13:17.


One final question I'd ask you to consider: How have you let the larger American evangelical culture's perspective of pastoral leadership to influence your view of your pastors? Do you see the most visible pastor as more of a CEO than a shepherd? Do you find yourself only wanting to speak with the preaching pastor about issues you have? Do you expect him to do everything? Do you see the other pastors as "second-rate," or ill-equipped to help you? Do you ever consider going to a less visible pastor with something you need instead of the preaching pastor? Consider how growing in these areas might be a huge blessing to the church body as a whole, and to your pastors as well.

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