The Authority of Christ
A believer’s every need is met in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the only mediator. He is prophet, priest and king to his people. He is the great shepherd of the sheep. He alone is the head of church. From him all authority in the church is derived and exercised. The whole church, elders, deacons and members should submit to his rule, through the scriptures. The Holy Spirit leads the church in a way that is consistent with the Word, of which he himself is the author. That Word shows that the church’s obedience to Christ includes submission to the pastors and other elders.
Col. 1 :18; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:17
The Appointment of Elders, including Pastors
A congregation without any elder falls short of the requirement of scripture. Where an eldership does already exist, however, it is their responsibility to bring others whom the Lord has gifted for this work before the church for their whole-hearted approval and appointment. Such men must conform to the standards laid down for an elder in 1 Tim. 3 to a significant degree. These are formidable requirements, but the gifts of Christ and His enabling grace will be found in the men of his choice. These qualifications will always be accompanied by a permanent, personal relationship and walk with the Lord, fervent love to God and the souls of men, and a zeal for the truth and glory of God. The church will solemnly set apart those on whom the Lord has bestowed fitness for the work. This setting-apart should be preceded by self-examination, repentance, prayer and an attention to the Scriptures. It is to be noted, from the Acts and Epistles, that the early church appointed elders from their own local community, which they would serve. Furthermore the churches set apart those in their own fellowship whom God was calling to serve in other spheres.
Acts 14:23; Titus 1 :5; Acts 13:1, 2.
In a congregation where no eldership exists it is right and proper for the fellowship to watch for God’s guidance to make suitable appointments as his gifts to particular men become apparent. In some situations it would be in accordance with biblical principles for the gathered membership to seek the help and counsel of a nearby church.
The Work of Elders
Elders are to lead the church in a scriptural order and discipline. Their work includes the pastoral care of the membership, as under-shepherds to the Lord. They are not to rule the church with arrogance but to serve it with humility, love, tenderness and impartiality. They are to ensure that all ministries in the fellowship are performed according to scripture (e.g. 1 Pet. 5:1, 2, etc.). This includes gathering for worship, the regular ministry of the Word and the administration of the ordinances, visitation of the sick, instruction of the young, and the work of evangelism. Suitable women may be appointed to assist in specific duties in association with the work of the elders.
1 Tim. 3:11; Titus 2:3-5.
Elders Gifted to Preach
Every church should realise its need of an adequate teaching ministry. The Lord equips some elders with the gift of expounding and proclaiming the Word for the purpose of edification, and these are frequently referred to as pastors or ministers. Such men must not only possess an ability to speak with authority, but an inward constraint of the Holy Spirit, giving them a sense of responsibility and obligation to preach the Gospel. They must have an unshakable conviction that this is the will of God for them. Intellectual ability and knowledge of the truth must be accompanied by a fire in the bones and a solemn sense of the high calling of God. Only this inward constraint will ensure a willingness to bear the sacrifices involved in this ministry. Such men may either be set apart for full-time ministry or, where this is not possible, occupied in a secular calling. These pastors may either be called from the eldership within their own church or, since the gifts of God are for the benefit of all the churches, from other local churches. In either case they should be, or become, members of the church in which they minister.
Acts 4:20; 1 Cor. 9:16; Jer. 20:9; Acts 14:23; Titus 1 :5.
Training for the Ministry
Spiritual leadership in the churches demands a spiritual, educated and competent ministry. If this is lacking, there is the danger of a situation where the blind are leading the blind, to the destruction of both. The pastor has a personal responsibility to be a workman that needs not to be ashamed. He is to strive to be an able minister of the New Testament. He will endeavour to ensure that God is glorified by the best possible development and use of those faculties and abilities which he has bestowed upon him.
2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Cor. 3:6; Acts 18:26.
A pastor should continually seek competence in the various branches of theology and exegesis and in related subjects. He will give himself to these studies wholly and unreservedly, seeking some competence in the original tongues, if possible.
All pastors are called to be teachers. Some are exceptionally gifted and excel in exposition and theological understanding. The churches that enjoy the ministry of such men should realise their special obligation to make them available to all. One way of doing this is in the use of such men in training courses arranged by the churches. Where a man is set apart for full-time study to prepare himself for the ministry of the Word, the church should take great care in the selection of the course (and college, if appropriate) to which he commits himself, bearing in mind the particular gifts and needs of the man concerned.
Every church should aim at providing adequate training for those whom the Holy Spirit is calling, either by itself or in fellowship with other like-minded churches. The existence of such regular training facilities will enable churches to fulfil their responsibilities toward not only pastors but also Sunday School teachers, Youth Leaders, etc.
Calling a Pastor
When a church is seeking the Lord’s guidance as to one who should regularly minister the Word to them, and particularly considering calling a man from another church, experience confirms the wisdom of the following advice:-
1. All necessary enquiries ought to be made by the elders. Detailed discussion of a man’s personal life in open church-meeting is unseemly ought to be refused.
2. Undue haste and undue slowness must be avoided, for the sake both of the churches and individuals concerned.
3. Any man to be considered for appointment should have the gifts and qualifications of an elder. He ought to have a good report from his own church having been set aside by them for the ministry of the Word. None will know the use God made of him and his maturity and soundness in the faith better than his own fellowship.
4. It is desirablethat only one man should brought before the church for their considera at a time. A deepening impression of the suitability of a certain man will be given to the church by the Holy Spirit. The elders will seek to lead the church to whole-hearted approval of the call.
5. Where possible, it is desirable that a man should serve the church on a number of occasions for some time before calling him. In every case there should be adequate opportunities for the church to meet informally with the man and, if he is married, with his wife, in the varied settings of the church life. The man and wife should at one in commitment to the work of Christ. A minister’s wife who is spiritually minded, and of a gracious disposition will be a great blessing the church.
6. The call of God will be accepted both by the church and the minister in humble dependence upon the Lord.The call may well be accompanied by a sense of reticence and reluctance, only to be overcome by the fire of God kindled in the soul of the minister.
The Termination of a Pastorate
Scripture makes no direct provision for the termination of a ministry, except in cases requiring discipline. The following principles would seem to be in harmony with scripture.
1. The cessation of any sense of blessing upon the Word, or a feeling that another man would better take up the work, might be signs that a pastorate should be concluded. These are not necessarily conclusive evidence, for it may be that the Lord is speaking to the church as a whole, and not to the minister only.
2. A relationship of love and confidence must be established between the elders of a church, so that unavoidable irritations and disputes can be dealt with in a spirit of grace and humility.
3. If a problem arises requiring the discipline of a pastor, i.e. a charge of immorality or heresy, it is often wiser to bring in a trusted friend and pastor from another church to help deal with the matter. A strong eldership, however, ought to be able to take firm action in a spiritual manner.
4. If there is a problem of incompatibility, or some other obstacle to a harmonious ministry, the matter ought to be dealt with in love, humility and mutual respect. It is a reproach for any church and pastor to part, save in the bonds of love.
5. Pastors ought not to be obliged to continue in the full responsibility of their office after their mental and physical powers have abated. Elders should be sensible to the needs of an ageing pastor, and take steps to relieve him of an appropriate part of his burdens. Old age alone is not a reason for a man ceasing to minister the Word, but it is grievous to see a church decline because they have failed to supplement his work with the energies of those who are younger. Where there is a plurality of elders, this matter is more easily dealt with. It is desirable that churches give careful consideration to proper provision for their pastors in retirement.
The Care of the Pastor
The work of a pastor in his study, the conduct of services and ministry of the Word, visitation and the care of the flock, together with daily cares, stresses and strains, take great toll of his physical and nervous energy. Indeed, these things often bring him to the point of exhaustion. Sometimes a pastor will become seriously ill, and when this occurs, the other elders and office-bearers should pastor him. He needs to be assured that his material support will be forthcoming during his time of illness, and that he has the love and prayers of his people. At such times, special provision may be necessary for him and his family. Moreover, scripture indicates that it may possible to prevent such illnesses in the first place. Care should be taken to ensure that the pastor is supported and the burden of responsibility is shared. Proper provision for him should be made in terms of financial support, books, transport, holidays and opportunities to take advantage of refresher and training courses and conferences, where possible. Every effort should be made to enable the pastor to give his undivided attention to prayer, the ministry of the Word and the care of the flock.
Phil. 2:25-30; Ex. 18:13-27.