This morning we will conclude our series called “Church Basics”. For the past 2 months we have addressed many fundamental doctrines regarding the church. This was never intended to be an exhaustive or lengthy study, and we are making no attempt to cover or even touch upon every single belief we hold about the church. That said, there may come a point in the future when we continue this series with a new set of sermons which highlight “Church Basics” that we have not discussed. Perhaps we can call it “Church Basics - Part 2”... pretty original, huh?
In our closing sermon we are going to explore the offices of the church. Baptists have historically interpreted the Bible as formally naming only 2 officers within the local church. These are the pastors and the deacons. We certainly recognize the ministries of missionaries, evangelists, and others that serve outside the parameters of the single local church. We also recognize those who teach or serve in various capacities within the single local church. Furthermore, we recall that Jesus is himself the head of the church, not any person. Still, the Lord works through the ordained pastor and deacons who are to to be the servant leaders of the congregation.
Before we begin to analyze these 2 offices specifically, let us consider that not all Christian denominations operate in the same manner. Some are “bishop” led, meaning that the decisions of the church are made by an individual who holds governing authority over the congregation. Others are “Elder” led, meaning that the decisions are made by a body of elders that hold this authority over the congregation. Still others, such as Baptists, are “pastor” led, meaning that the pastor seeks to implement decisions made by the congregation as a whole.
We will focus our energies on the “pastor” led model and try to explain why we believe it to be the Biblically correct one. Furthermore, we will summarize the functions of the pastor(s) and deacons.
I. THE PASTOR
17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church… 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock [shepherds], among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [bishops], to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. - Acts 2:17,28
On his return to Jerusalem near the end of his third missionary journey Paul stopped briefly in the coastal town of Miletus. While there he summoned the “elders” from nearby Ephesus to come and meet with him. Upon their arrival Paul spoke with them at length describing them as both “bishops” and “shepherds”. In this passage we see how the three terms of “elder”, “bishop” and “shepherd” are all used referring to the same people - the leaders of the various church groups in Ephesus. These three titles are used interchangeably in multiple places throughout Scripture to describe the different roles of the local pastor.
The Greek word “presbuteros” is translated in English as “elder”. The word highlights the spiritual maturity that characterizes the pastor. As the spiritual leaders of their respective churches, pastors should exhibit a well-developed Christian faith. The congregation looks to the pastor for wise counsel, godly decision-making, and sound biblical teaching. They need to demonstrate a heightened knowledge of God’s word and possess a seasoned, experienced faith that has grown and been tested over time.
We should be careful not to limit the term elder to include chronological age only. Older men may not always be spiritually mature simply because the have lived long lives. On the other hand, godly young men might be considered elders due to their sophisticated faith and extensive knowledge of God. Timothy is a prime example of a young pastor who was qualified to serve as an elder. While the term elder is most often used in the Bible to refer to an older man, the emphasis as it relates to the role of the pastor is on spiritual maturity. While a single congregation might have many members who are elders, the pastor is considered “the elder” of the local church.
The Greek word “episcopos” is translated in English as “bishop”. This word highlights the management or administrative role of the pastor. As the spiritual leaders of their congregations, pastors oversee the operations and activities of the local church. They are responsible for making sure that the church functions in a proper and righteous manner. They must ensure that the teachings, practices, and behaviors of the church are consistent with Biblical principles.
Although they should never be autocratic or dictatorial in their leadership style, as “bishops” the pastor should have the final authority regarding the decisions of the church. This is not to imply that the pastor should act unilaterally or against the will of the majority. Under the Lordship of Christ, the pastor should strive to build consensus and maintain unity. The pastor will be held accountable by God for the manner in which he leads the church. As such, he should be trusted to lead as directed by God and supported by his people when making difficult or contentious decisions.
The Greek word “poimen” is translated in English as “shepherd”. This word highlights the protective role of a pastor as the guardian of his flock. As spiritual leaders, pastors are to exhibit deep love and care for their congregations. Their dedication and devotion to the members of the church will almost certainly require some measure of self-sacrifice. Ultimately it is the job of the shepherd to tend to the needs of his sheep regardless of the personal costs.
Jesus once told a parable about a shepherd who left his flock of 99 sheep in search of 1 that had gone missing. This story beautifully describes the love that a shepherd has for his sheep, unwilling that any of them be lost. There is no greater model of this than Jesus Christ, who referred to himself in the gospel of John as the Good Shepherd who willingly gave his life for the sake of his sheep.
1 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food...3 “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task”… 5 The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose [7 men] 6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. - Acts 6:1,3, 5-6
As the church began to grow in size and the demands upon it began to increase, the work of the pastor became too great. In their efforts to minister to the needs of the flock, pastors were being pulled away from spending sufficient time in the word of God and prayer. To address this dilemma, a new church office was created. The first 7 deacons were chosen and ordained in Acts 6. Among these was Stephen, who soon became the first martyr of the Christian church. Several other people were called deacons in the New Testament as well.
The word deacon is derived from the Greek “diakonos” which means servant or minister. The primary purpose of the deacon is to assist the pastor by ministering to the physical needs of the congregation. Deacons also serve the church in other ways, and should work closely with the pastor to promote the health and well being of the entire body. The deacons should be a valuable resource for helping the pastor as he leads, but they themselves should not seek to usurp the leadership role of the church.
In closing, some of you might be wondering what this message has to do with you as a member of the church. How do the roles of the pastor and deacons have any application to your life? Well, seeing that we are in the midst of an election year, perhaps we can make a comparison to politics. Our national government is in such a mess today largely because our elected officials do not act within the confines of the Constitution. This excess has an effect on all of us. In the same way, when pastors and deacons do not lead in the manner prescribed by the Bible the whole church suffers.
Baptists have always employed the pastor-congregational model of church leadership and insisted that each local church be autonomous and independent. This appears to be the most consistent with the governance of the early New Testament church. God has most often led His people through the ministry of a single person, whom is called to serve as the leader. Working with the people entrusted to his care and in close relation with the deacons, the pastor is to loving lead his church as directed by God.