HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
Leadership in the Church
An Examination of Offices
The New Testament mentions a wide variety of leaders in the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, bishops, elders and deacons. What are these offices? Are they commanded for the church today? Let’s examine the evidence, starting with the titles given in Ephesians 4:11: “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.”
The New Testament church had various leaders, who served members through the word and through physical services. Speaking ministries include preaching, teaching, instructing, edifying and admonishing. Physical ministries included food distribution and other internal needs of the church. Leaders also had a role in directing or managing the church, and they were to be obeyed and respected.
All service, whether in speaking, serving or decision-making, should be done for the benefit of those being served. God puts people in the body as he wishes, all for the common good. He has given leadership roles to help the church function in its upward, outward and inward responsibilities.
Ephesians 4:11-16 gives an overview:
- “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers” — God has given various leaders to the church.
- “To prepare God’s people for works of service” — leaders exist to prepare God’s people for helping others. Leaders inform, encourage, train and organize to bring out the most in others.
- “So that the body of Christ may be built up” — the result of this is that the church becomes stronger. Works of service help build and unify the church.
- “Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” — this process continues until the church reaches maturity, which means unity in faith and the knowledge of Christ, as measured by the standard of Christ himself. Although the goal is never attained in this life, it is still the goal the church is working toward.
- “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” — maturity in Christ gives us doctrinal stability. We know where the anchor is.
- “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” — maturity in Christ comes from combining doctrinal accuracy with love.
- “From him, the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” — it is from Christ that the church grows, and the church is held together by its members, who work together in love to build the church.
Church growth comes as each member does his or her work of service, every one according to 1) the needs of the church, 2) the place in the body God has given them, and 3) the spiritual gifts he has given them. Leaders and laity work together for the same purpose: maturity in Christ.
Lifetime or temporary?
Christians sometimes view the pastoral ministry as a lifetime calling. This is not necessarily true; there is no verse that requires it. God calls every member to serve, but the way in which he wants us to serve may change through the years. God may call a person to serve as a pastor for several years, to serve as a professor for a few more years and then to serve as a business manager for a while. The person might serve as a pastoral supervisor, and then as an assistant pastor a few years later, depending on the needs of the church and changes in the person’s family, health or other personal circumstances. The person might serve as a full-time employee or as a self-employed or retired elder.
Due to changing circumstances in their lives, pastors may sometimes need to resign from the pastoral role entirely, depending on what they understand God to be calling them to do. They may need to minister (serve) as laypersons rather than as elders. People who see leadership solely in terms of authority might view this as a demotion, but when ministry is seen in terms of service, a resignation may be seen as a spiritually mature response to God’s call to serve in a new way. On the other hand, a resignation could also be a refusal to serve in the way that God wants. Ministers must make their own decisions, without peer pressure or fear of criticism.