Dr. Roger W. Maslin
The local church has a prominent role in the New Testament. It has the responsibility of carrying out the Great Commission. It had only two official officers, that being pastors and deacons. Its program was simply evangelism, missions and Christian education. As its members went into all the world they were to be witnesses, declare the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ; to baptize the believing converts, and then teach “them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” (Matt.28:20) They had officers and a program, but no buildings. They met primarily in homes. Admittedly we have a different situation today with buildings and mega churches, and so we are concerned about four things. They are simple but inclusive.
1. Pastors. Eph.4:11 mentions pastors as Christ’s gift to the churches, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (4:12) The word in its original meaning has the sense of shepherd which is descriptive of the function of the pastor whose role is to care for the spiritual interests of the flock and to feed them spiritual food. The term is synonymous with “bishop” and that is the term which is used to describe the office of pastor and which sets forth the qualifications which remain as the guideline for churches seeking a shepherd leader. The word “bishop” means “overseer” and should not be confused with current denominational officials. It does denote a role for leadership that is to be honored and respected because the pastor more than anyone else is responsible before God for the spiritual health and growth of the church. The “elders” or “presbyters” were the same as bishops, and there was a plurality of elders generally in the early church. In Acts 14:23 there is an account from Paul’s missionary journey: “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” When Paul, Barnabas, and certain others went to Jerusalem to settle a dispute they met with “apostles” and “elders.” “And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.” (Acts 15:4) “And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.” (v.6) There are three words that all refer to the same office or role in ministry as “overseer.” They are pastor ,bishop, and elder, which all refer to the same office or function in the church and the role of overseer should not be taken lightly or with fear. Some will object because they see the possibility of dictatorship. If one is of that nature he does not meet the qualifications of being “not self-willed, not soon angry,” “no striker,” “sober, just, holy, temperate;”( Titus 1:7,8) “of good behaviour,” “patient,” “not a brawler,” “apt to teach,” “not a novice.” (I Tim. 3:3-6) Rather than failing to recognize the need and role of “overseer,” every pastor search committee should inquire diligently about the practice of these qualifications in the leader they are considering. It is in the role of “overseer” that the pastor has a vision for the church. If he doesn’t have a vision for what can be accomplished, his ministry will likely be a maintenance ministry. That may be all that some churches want. It is proper for him to be recognized as ex officio a member of every organization and committee. He is called by a vote of the congregation and is accountable to them and God.
2.People. The concern of the deacons was people. They make up the church. They are the most important sphere of ministry. The office of deacon had its origin in the necessity to care for certain people in the church. In Acts 6 there was a murmuring by the Grecians “against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” (Acts 6:1) The twelve “called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.” Their solution: “look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.” (Acts 6:3) Some have taken this word “business” as justification for setting up a board to run the church. The only “boards” I know of mentioned in the Bible are those taken by the passengers when leaving a shipwreck. The ship was carrying Paul to Rome when it met with disaster. The crisis describes all of the passengers seeking safety “some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship, And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.” (Acts 27:44) The idea of church boards must have been taken from corporate examples, but that is not the way a New Testament church was to operate. The best way I know to focus on people is to develop a program where the deacons become partners with the Pastor in pastoral ministries. That befits their higher calling. Hospital and prospect visitation along with benevolent ministries to members fits this role of focusing on people. Shared spiritual oversight of a little flock helps the shepherd get the proper work done. Some churches have been effective in dividing the membership into smaller groups with a deacon ministering to the needs of his little flock. This is a difficult task in organization because the idea of a “board” is so ingrained in the thinking of the church members. However, deacons who work conscientiously at this task, “ have used the office of a deacon well” and “purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (I Tim3:13) The qualifications for a deacon are explained in I Tim.3:8-12. It may not be that the humble servant of God feels he meets all of these qualifications, but it ought to be the conviction of the church that he does.
3.Programs. The third area of organization has to do with the programs of the church in carrying out the Great Commission. The best way to fulfill this requirement is to create a church council or some other entity, made up of the pastor and organizational leaders. As the church determines to coordinate and evaluate activities, this will avoid conflicts and competition. If the programs do not have an evangelistic outreach and witness perhaps they should be abandoned. If their purpose can just as well be achieved through merging with some other organization this should be considered in the interest of focusing on the priorities. The New Testament does not specifically list any qualification for this organizational group, but in light of the mission of the church, they should be godly people and respected for their faithfulness and ability to promote godliness through their assigned duties. Of course, the pastor as overseer, the pastoral staff, and the chairman of deacons as a spiritual leader should be a part of this group.
4.Properties. Because we have buildings and properties with legal entanglements a distinct group of godly servants should have this responsibility. They may be trustees, a properties committee, or have some other designation, but they should still be servants responsible to the whole congregation and serve in the interest of the whole church. The logical approach would be to select godly people who have the spiritual gifts of “administration” or “helps.” It is a great temptation for deacons to assume these duties whereas their spiritual leadership qualifies them more for ministry to people, and that is where they are needed most. Any conflict in this area from deacons makes this group unnecessary or unable to function properly in the care of the church properties.
Conclusion: The general biblical principle for church organization is in I Cor.14:40: “Let all things be done decently and in order.” Paul recognized the need for organization as he instructed Titus: “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee.” (Titus 1:5) The tendency today is to overorganize. I guess we take our cue from government which is creating more and bigger bureaucracies that do not function very well and do not meet the needs of its citizens. Again it is not true that “one size fits all”. The call from rural, village, and town churches all require adaptation to the spiritual leadership available. Their needs will be different from the city mega church.