Last night during our regular monthly business meeting the pastors and deacons put forward a statement (that will be voted on as coming from them in the form of a unanimous motion in November) beginning the practice of having pastors appointed from within the congregation to serve alongside the men who are our employed “staff-pastors” (Toby, myself, and Nick). They have unanimously put forward the current chairman of the deacons Allen Bottorff to be the first man to be added to this new role. With the affirmation of the church, Allen hopes to step-down as both a deacon and a trustee at the end of this year so that he can fully devote his time to the work of pastoral ministry to our church beginning in January 2016.
A full statement from the pastors and deacons was read during the business meeting and added to the official minutes, but I simply want to take a moment here to explain why I am personally excited about this new addition to our current structure, why I believe it is a very good thing for our local body, and why I hope that you will join us in our excitement.
As Pastor Toby walked us through 1 Timothy on Sunday mornings during this last year, we have all been confronted with the great charge to guard the gospel, to submit fully to the teachings of Scripture, and to do so for the good of the church and the glory of Christ. We guard the gospel by preaching the Word of God faithfully and by structuring and operating our church biblically. These are the two great means by which local churches remain chained to biblical fidelity.
We are convinced that for the most part our church is and has been faithful in both these ways. We are passionate about the gospel. We preach expositionally through scripture. We are devoted to teaching right doctrine. Membership matters. Accountability and church discipline are taken seriously. We are governed by the congregation of members, led by a plurality or pastors, and served by a body of deacons. All of this is both right and good.
The one area, however, where we could more biblically be in-line with the explicit and implied pattern of scripture is regarding the plurality of pastors that lead our church. Many churches have a single-elder/single-pastor model, meaning that they have only one pastor. We currently have three pastors: a senior pastor and two associate pastors (of which I am one) that are together all regarded as full pastors for our church. That is a very, very good thing. We believe, however, that the church can be better served and better protected by the intentional addition of men from within the congregation who are called by God and equipped and appointed by the local church to serve as “lay-pastors/elders.” A lay-pastor/elder is a man appointed from within the congregation who serves fully in the office of pastor and in the work of pastoral ministry, but whose income is not dependent upon the church; in other words, men who labor with and alongside the employed-pastors to shepherd the church, but who are not themselves employed by the church.
We believe this for three major reasons:
First, we believe this model of church-structure is fully biblical. First, remember that the Bible uses the terms pastor, elder, and overseer synonymously and interchangeably. They mean the exact same thing and refer to the exact same office. Then notice that the office of pastor is predominantly spoken of in the plural (Acts 20:17-38; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-5) in relation to the local churches where they serve. That tells us that there is the consistent pattern of local churches having multiple pastors. This isn’t to say that it is not right to have senior pastors, a first-among-equals. That is definitely necessary, and grounded in Scripture as well (men such as James in Jerusalem, Timothy (and later John) in Ephesus, and Titus in Crete). We need Toby as our senior pastor here, and yet the model of scripture presents senior pastors as serving among and alongside a group, or team, of pastors for each local church.
With that said, we also see in 1 Timothy a distinction between some within those groups of pastors who are employed by the local churches and some who are not. In 1 Timothy 5:17 we read this: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” Pay careful attention to the structure of the sentence and its implications. First, we see that there is the assumption of a plurality of elders. Second, we see the command to hold them in honor among the church. Third, there is the implied distinction that those who “labor in preaching and teaching” are in some ways distinct from within the larger group of elders. The “labor” that he refers to seems to refer those whose primary means of living and providing for their families comes from the church itself. That makes sense of his scriptural grounding in verse 18. Paul is saying in essence, “Hold your faithful pastors in honor, and especially be committed to meeting the needs of those pastors whose primary occupation is by being employed by the local church” (my own translation/paraphrase). This relates as well to Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 9:9-15 where he writes that local churches are commanded to meet the needs of the pastors they employ and employed pastors are right to expect them to, but that he and some of his associates have served as elders/overseers/pastors for the church without being paid so as not to be a burden on the local churches. In both of these passages there is the pattern of plurality among which there is the distinction between employed-pastors and lay-pastors.
Second, we are convinced that this model of church-structure is deeply grounded in the historic polity of local Baptist churches. Sometimes when the subject of elders or a plurality of pastors from within the congregation is mentioned, there follows an accusation of abandoning Baptist polity for a more Presbyterian model of church government. That simply is not the case, and that criticism is unfounded.
Although today many Baptist churches do not practice this aspect of polity, it is still rooted in our own tradition’s history. It is mentioned in documents such as A Short Treatise Concerning a True and Orderly Gospel Church for the Philadelphia Baptist Association (1743) by Benjamin Griffith, The Gospel Developed through the Government and Order of the Churches of Jesus Christ (1843) by W.B. Johnson, and Apostolical Church Polity (1874) by William Williams, who was one of the founding faculty members of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. These are just a few examples of the overwhelming majority of the many historic documents that have been authored and adopted by Baptists who teach this structure of church polity. Additionally, it is fully in-line with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 which has been adopted as our local church’s official statement of faith.
To have a plurality of pastors, and pastors from within the congregation specifically, is to be better Baptists. The pastors/elders do not rule the church or govern the church in the place of the congregation. The autonomy, authority, and governance of the church still resides in the congregation of members. Not only that, but only men who have been presented to the church and affirmed by a vote of the congregation will ever be placed among the body of pastors. This slight adjustment to our structure does not weaken the membership’s governance of the local church; it strengthens it. With this structure in place, the church is better equipped to be led by faithful overseers.
Third, and finally, we are confident that this model of church-structure is truly good for our church – the pastors, the deacons, and the members of the church as a whole.
We believe this is good for the current employed-pastors because it provides men from within the congregation who pastor them, it joins them to men who are pastors from within the community and congregation to help them better make key decisions for the good of the church, and it serves to prevent any one pastor from dominating a local church through an abuse of power and authority. It is meant to prevent employed-pastors from ever facing the temptation (now or in the future) of reigning as pastoral tyrants over the people they are called to shepherd. In that way such a structure provides a set of check-and balances for the overall pastoral ministry of the church.
It is also good for the group of men who are tasked with serving the church as deacons. It allows men from within the congregation who are called, equipped, and qualified to serve as pastors without forcing the deacons to attempt to function in both shepherding and servant roles. It frees the deacons to be better servants of the body. Additionally, it is intended to prevent any temptation that may arise over time for a small group of people to use the deacon body as a means to usurp the congregation’s authority.
And it is good for the church as a whole. It better serves to keep the employed-pastors accountable to the congregation. It shields the church from becoming too focused or entranced with one sole individual or leader or personality. It better serves for difficult pastoral decisions to be made without the employed-pastors being faced with the temptation to make a decision based on the fact that their income may be impacted. It also helps to provide pastoral stability if and when there is a vacancy of one or more of the employed-pastors. The truth of the matter is this: Toby, myself, and Nick will not always be pastors of FBC Henryville. Someone else must take our places in the future whenever we leave either through death or by transitioning into a new role of ministry in another church. None of us have any plans of going anywhere anytime soon! But, we believe that to be faithful pastors we have to prepare now for what will inevitably be a need of the church in the future. Having men who are pastors from within the congregation prevents a damaging pastoral vacuum from hurting the church whenever that time comes.
These are the reasons that we are united as pastors and deacons of FBC Henryville in taking this next step to be a local church that better guards the gospel. We hope you’re united with us. Over the course of the next few weeks we’ll be available to answer any question you might have, and you’ll be hearing from us as well as Allen as he has been placed before the church to be the first (although not the only nor last) lay-pastor for our congregation beginning in January after he steps down as a deacon and trustee in December. The formal vote of affirmation will be held at our next regular business meeting in November. Continue to pray for us as we seek to always be men who are more faithfully shepherding the church of God, which he obtained by his own blood, for our eternal good and his eternal glory.