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What did the apostles say about church leadership?


“And he gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, teachers, and church staff…” [this is not a quote from the NT]

One of the rallying cries of the baptist denomination is they are “people of the Book.” Each local congregation, though voluntarily associated with others, is an autonomous body. There are not authoritative boards or creedal networks that dictate the belief system or the ecclesiology of the local Baptist church. Most are determined to be led not by tradition nor by denominational dogma, but solely upon the authority of the Word of God.

So what does the Bible have to say about the church staff? In a word, nothing. The terminology regarding church staff is a modern-day, functional, manifestation of current American evangelicalism. Though there may have been forerunners of the staff in past ages, the most recent model began in the southern part of the United States. Metropolitan areas around the 1950s that were running a membership of 200 or higher, began employing associate pastors. As the years progressed and the churches grew larger, additional pastoral positions were added along with training to provide oversight in more specialized departments of the ministry: music, youth, children, singles, young adults, discipleship, counseling, seniors, missions, and so on. As pastoral teams increased, support positions were added in order to facilitate the necessary administration that accompanied the growing numbers of programs the churches were producing. Between the 1950s and 1990s, these larger churches experienced growth.

The New Testament has much to say about the appointment of leadership in the church. As Paul traveled on his missionary journeys he made it a practice to appoint elders in every church. He instructed Timothy to recognize those elders who rule and especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. Paul exhorted Titus to appoint elders in every town. Notably, Paul used the terms, elder and overseer interchangeably when writing to Titus. The apostle helped us understand, both the character and teaching of the elder are inextricable.

What is the role of 'pastor, elder, overseer' according to the New Testament? Pastors teach the authentic gospel of Jesus Christ and lead the church. The authority of the pastorate rests solely in the gospel of Christ, the Word of God, and not in the person of the pastor. Pastoring is servant leadership. Just as every member of the body has been gifted by the Holy Spirit, the New Testament reveals these men are gifted to humbly guide the ministries and administration of the church. They are to set an example for the flock of God as they provide oversight to the church and await the return of the chief Shepherd. Pastors pray for the sick and the repentant. They lead the church to love the Lord and carry out his Great Commission.

Though the context is ever-changing, the Lord moves among his people today just as he did in the early church.

Here are some takeaways from the Scripture:

  1. The apostles prioritized establishing Spirit-filled leadership in the New Testament church.
  2. The terms shepherd (pastor), elder, and overseer are used interchangeably.
  3. The New Testament teaching promotes a plurality of elders in each local church. Some elders are vocational and some work outside the local church. The plurality of elders includes any man who is called, gifted, and recognized by the church, no matter their vocational status.
  4. Pastors are provided by the Holy Spirit to equip the church to grow up together in Christ.
  5. The apostles knew it would be impossible for pastors to lead the church without the deacons serving the ministries of the church.

In the coming days, as we turn our attention to the search for a Pastor for Students and their families, we are not looking for a staff member. Focusing on hiring a staff member would be analogous to taking a club approach toward the church. There is a vast difference between joining a club and professing faith in Christ thereby becoming a member of his body, the church.

What Northwest is looking for is a pastor. One who meets the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7; a man who loves the Lord with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength; a pastor teaches the Word of God and leads the church well. This pastor will have a passion to reach students and their families with the gospel of Christ. In this search, Northwest will not be bound by tradition, denominational dogma, geographical confinements, or anything else. We will seek the face of the Lord and ask for his wisdom. This man may be currently located in our congregation or somewhere across the world. Whatever the case, Northwest is committed to the Word of God and will seek to continually reform our minds and hearts to align with Scripture.

References: Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5-7; Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Ephesians 4:11; Titus 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:17; Matthew 16:13-20; 1 Corinthians 12:4-7; 1 Peter 5:1-2; James 5:14; 1 Timothy 3:8-13; Acts 6:1-7