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IS THE PREACHER A PASTOR?
Victor M. Eskew
Members of the churches of Christ have diligently fought against the using the word “pastor” in reference to the preacher. The reason is because the position of pastor is the position of an elder, bishop, overseer, presbyter, or shepherd of the flock. In the New Testament, this role is clearly distinguished from the role of an evangelist. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11, emp. mine, vme). During the first century, the pastors were the overseers of the local congregations (Acts 20:17, 28). There was a plurality of men in the position of the presbytery (Acts 14:23). The preacher, minister, or evangelist was under the oversight of these men. His responsibility was to proclaim the pure, unadulterated Word of God (II Tim. 4:1-5). Sadly, many religious groups do not understand this distinction. Daily, they introduce the minister of their congregation as being the “pastor.”
IN WORD, BUT NOT IN DEED
We noted above that members of the church of Christ will not refer to the preacher as a pastor. However, our practice in the body of Christ indicates a different attitude. The preacher is expected to lead the church in all her phases of work. This is the role of a shepherd (John 10:3). The preacher is look upon to make major decisions for the local congregation. Again, this is the responsibility of the elders (Heb. 13:17). The preacher is often given the task of feeding the flock. Often he is the one in charge of the educational department. Once more, this falls within the job description of an eldership (I Pet. 5:2). The preacher is the one who is viewed as the overseer of the church. He is to visit the sick and shut-ins. He is to be aware of all that are in the hospitals. He is supposed to be the one who restores the erring. These, too, are the responsibilities of the elders (I Pet. 5:2). The preacher is also the one who is asked to rebuke the false teachers who might arise among the flock. Yet, Paul said that this is the duty of the elders in Titus 1:9-11.
Sadly, preachers have perpetuated this practice in the local congregation. They are asked to fulfill the duties of the eldership and they gladly accept them. At lectureships, preachers’ meetings, and other events, they complain because they are doing the work of elders. Such should not be! Qualified elders need to be encouraged to fulfill their God-given roles. Some will argue: “But, if the preacher does not do it, it will not get done.” Does this fact really justify the preacher’s becoming the “pastor” of the church? We think not.
THE PREACHER CAN BE A PASTOR
The local preacher can be “a” pastor of the local church. Notice that we have emphasized the term “a” pastor and not “the” pastor. A preacher can be selected to serve as one of the elders in addition to being the local preacher. Peter was an apostle, an elder, and a preacher of the gospel. He noted his diverse roles in I Peter 5:1. “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed” (emp. mine). If the preacher meets the qualifications of I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-11, he can serve in the eldership. He is then part of the elders. He is only one of several who shepherd the local flock. His role as the preacher is totally separate from his role as an elder.
Some question whether the preacher should be both an evangelist and an elder in the same congregation. There are mixed opinions about this in the brotherhood. Some see his being in both positions as being too powerful. Others feel that if he serves as both preacher and elder there is a conflict of interest that can cause difficulty. Others, however, feel that putting the preacher into the eldership is a positive step. The preacher can then properly take part in the overseeing of the flock. If the preacher does serve in both areas of work, his activities should be constantly monitored by the other elders. This ensures that the issue of “too much control” never becomes a factor. Whether the preacher is one of the elders or not is optional. It depends on the local congregation. Those who always oppose such an arrangement, however, need to be reminded that this practice is authorized in the New Testament. Peter himself served in this dual capacity.
A PLEA TO PASTORS
The first plea that we would make is to denominational preachers who refer to themselves as pastors. These men need to refrain from referring to themselves in this manner. They need to use the terms for a preacher found only in the New Testament. They also need to establish within their congregations the proper plan for church organization. They need to ordain elders in every church (Acts 14:23; Tit. 1:5). They need to have deacons who serve within the church (I Tim. 3:8-13). The preacher needs to do the work of an evangelist (II Tim. 4:5).
The second plea that we make is to preachers within the churches of Christ who have improperly seized a position as “the pastor.” They need to “step down.” They need to allow the elders in their congregation to have their proper authority over the flock. They need to insist that the bishops do the work that is required of them (I Tim. 3:1). If they have not been selected to serve as a qualified elder, they may work under the oversight of the elders, but not as elders.
Lastly, we plead with those men who have been appointed as pastors within the church. Please take the work that the Holy Spirit has given you to do very seriously. The chief shepherd is watching the work you are doing (I Pet. 5:40. “Take therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).