Not in the Scriptures

The modern church is almost always led by a pastor. Sometimes there may be a couple of assistant pastors, supported by several elders. Sometimes there are several pastors with a senior pastor. The pattern varies from place to place, but almost always a church is led by a single pastor/leader. The problem with this model of leadership is that it cannot be supported from the scriptures. The modern pastor/leader simply just does not exist in the New Testament.

The New Testament churches are not led by pastors, but by elders. The apostles always appointed elders (plural) in the churches they had established.

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust (Acts 14:23).

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching (1 Tim 5:17).

Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you (1 Tim 4:14).

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you (Titus 1:5).

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:14).

Nowhere in the New Testament is one person appointed as the leader of a church. A "pastor" is never appointed to lead a church. Churches were always led by a group of elders, never by a pastor.


The word translated as pastor in the New Testament is the Greek word for shepherd. It is mostly used as a verb, describing the work (pastoring) of elders.

From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church... Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood (Acts 20:17,28).

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve (1 Pet 5:1-3).

Pastoring is something that elders do. It is not the title of a church leader.

Most people will be surprised to learn that the word "pastor" is only used as a noun once in the New Testament (except for real sheep shepherds and a reference to Jesus as the Great Shepherd). The one incidence of the title pastor is in Ephesians 4:11, but this passage cannot be used to justify the modern pastor leader. It actually describes a model that is totally opposite. The pastor-teacher is one ministry among four others and their role is not leading and managing, but serving. Ephesians 4:11 does not describe a modern pastor/leader.

Apart from being unsupported by scriptures, there are several other problems with the pastor/leader model.

  1. Jesus left behind twelve apostles, when he left this earth. He did not appoint one of them to be a pastor/leader of the church. If he had intended to have one single pastor as leader of each church, he would have appointed one person as pastor of the Jerusalem church.

  2. A serious problem with pastor/leader model is fitting in the ascension ministries of Ephesians 4:11.

  3. He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.

    Today, everyone believes that God is restoring apostles, evangelists and prophets to the church, but it is not clear how they fit with pastor/leader model that dominates the modern church. It is hard to see how apostles, evangelist and prophets can be restored to their full place in the churches that are controlled by pastors.

  4. One man leadership is the norm in the world. A hierarchical system headed by one person is also used by Satan. God uses shared leadership: the Trinity. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are submitted to each other and rule the world in unity. This is the model that the church should follow. Shared leadership is difficult to achieve, but it is far more effective. For the church to manifest the glory of the Trinity, it must have shared leadership.

  5. The prophet Samuel warned the children of Israel not to appoint a king to rule over them (1 Samuel 8). Wanting one man to rule was an expression of distrust in God. The same spirit manifests in the desire to have one man leading a church.

  6. The pastor/leader model leads to professionalising of the ministry. The pastoral work is assigned to a few part-time and full-time employees. There is a serious problem with this. One of the fundamental ideas of the New Testament is the "priesthood of all believers". This means that every believer has access to God and can exercise a ministry for him. The modern system of professional ministers is more consistent with the Old Testament where ministry was limited to a priestly class. This has severely weakened the effectiveness of the church, because it can only achieve as much as the professionals are able to do. Most church members have not been mobilised for action, because there is no place in the structure for them to get involved in ministry.

A large church with lots of staff and a number of programs will need a leader/manager. That model of Church needs one person to lead, inspire and co-ordinate. However, we should be honest and call them what they are: leader/managers. In many ways, their role is similar to the leaders of large corporations. That is why they find teaching from management books useful. However, one person cannot be a shepherd to hundreds or thousands of people. They should not take the title pastor.

Some will say that the name does not matter. The problem with this is that if the leader/manager is called pastor, it begs the question of who will do the pastoring. A set of good programmes may help, but it does not do away with the need for pastoring and a pastor/leader cannot do it all.

A Warning

Ezekiel 34:1-4 is a strong word. The prophet does not criticise the leaders for shortage of anointing, or lack of vision or inadequate leadership and organisation skills. His concern is that the following things are not being done:

These are the tasks that Peter and Paul challenged elders to do. Ezekiel's warning may be relevant to pastors/leaders in the modern church.


The greatest irony is that, although there are pastors everywhere, the greatest problem of the church is inadequate pastoring. The modern church is full of immature Christians. The reason is that only a fraction of new Christians are fully discipled. Many remain immature, entrapped in problems, and only a few move into a ministry. Most churches are full of half-done Christians. This problem is the consequence of inadequate pastoring.

Many voices are saying that God is restoring the apostolic and prophetic ministries. That may be true, but the greatest need is for the restoration of a true pastoral ministry to the church. Considering the large numbers of Christian who remain immature, and the equally large number who fall from the faith, we urgently need God to restore the ministry of the pastor.

Have a look at Radical Leadership.