There are a number of ideas that are bantered around so much within our Christian culture that people assume they are unquestioned truth, when they are anything but that. Here’s one such idea: Spiritual leaders must be seminary-trained pastors.
That idea is non-Biblical, serves to hinder the growth of the Kingdom, and discourages thousands of Christians who would otherwise take on leadership roles. Let’s unpack this.
It’s not Biblical
The position of ‘pastor’ as we know it today simply does not exist in the New Testament. The idea of a paid, professional leader of a congregation didn’t gain currency until hundreds of years after the birth of the church on Pentecost.
In the church that Christ built, the leaders are called ‘elders,’ and the New Testament is very specific about how they become qualified for their role. It has nothing to do with what they ‘know’ – the kind of knowledge one would gain in a seminary, for example – and all to do with who they have become – their character. Paul, writing to Timothy, even went so far as to stipulate that they must run their businesses well.
This saying is trustworthy: “If someone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a good work.” 2 The overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, 3 not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money. 4 He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity. 5 But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God? 6 He must not be a recent convert or he may become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact. 7 And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap. I Timothy 3: 1 – 7. NET Bible
The word “household” here (and throughout the Bible) refers to an economic entity made up of family, slaves, servants and employees. The closest contemporary translation would be ‘business.’ (Want to dig into this? Read Chapter Three of The Good Book on Business).
In Christ’s church, the leaders are people who have developed character over time and demonstrate that by, among other things, running a successful business. They are known as elders, and in some cases, as shepherds. There are at least 30 incidents of the word ‘elder’ being used, from Acts to Revelation, and each asserts or implies that they, together with the apostles, are the leaders of the early church.
Among other things, the elders:
* guide younger Christians (I Peter 1:5)
* oversee the flock (I Peter 1: 2)
* are examples to the flock (I Peter 1: 3)
* pray for the ill (James 5:14)
* lead the flock (I Timothy 5:17)
* speak and teach (1 Timothy 5:17)
In the book of Acts, there are 29 places where groups of Christians are described or implied. In none of these is there any mention of anything equivalent to our modern pastors. The church sprang up, grew, multiplied and penetrated the known world in about 300 years without any pastors!
The only use of the word ‘pastor’ occurs in Ephesians, Chapter 4, and it is basically a mis-translation. Here’s what one 19th Century scholar had to say about it. Speaking about the original Greek word which is translated as ‘pastor,’ J. W. McGarvey, writing in 1865, had this to say:
Although this term occurs in the New Testament 18 times, it is in every other instance rendered ‘shepherd.’ In seven of those instances, it is used literally for the man who attends to a flock of sheep, in nine it is applied figuratively to Jesus, and in only one is it applied to a class of office in the church. Now, there is no good reason for a departure in this single instance from a rendering that would otherwise be uniform throughout the New Testament.
In other words, if this word were translated honestly and accurately, there would be no mention of ‘pastors’ whatsoever in the New Testament.
So, the Bible knows nothing of paid professional pastors who are trained in seminaries. The whole notion is a man-made construction of the institutional church system. Instead, leadership in Christ’s church comes with the development of a Spirit-led, Godly character.
Harm to the Kingdom
Not only is the idea non-Biblical, but it has caused incalculable harm to millions of people over multiple generations. The idea that Godly leadership requires a professional trained in a seminary denigrates the rightful role of heads of businesses and minimizes the role of the Holy Spirit in shaping a person’s character. As a result, business leaders are disrespected within the confines of established religion. As a result of that, millions of Christians don’t expect Biblical business leaders to be spiritual leaders, because, ‘that’s what we have pastors for.”
Business leaders have accepted the idea as well. Since they think that they are unqualified, they don’t aspire to spiritual leadership. And they thus miss opportunities to be a light and salt to their employees, customers and stakeholders. Over generations countless millions of people could have a Godly leader in their work, but didn’t; could have been cared for and prayed for by a business leader, and weren’t; could have been enticed into an examination of a relationship with Christ, and weren’t.
Truly the idea that spiritual leadership is confined to seminary-trained professionals must be one of Satan’s greatest ploys. By promoting that idea, he has done untold damage to the Kingdom.
It doesn’t have to be.
But, it can be changed. If you are a Christian business leader, you can do what the Bible expects of leaders in Christ’s church:
* guide younger Christians
* oversee your employees and businesses
* be examples to everyone around them
* pray for the ill and hurting within your companies
* speak and teach when the opportunity presents itself.
Spiritual leadership has nothing to do with seminaries, ordination, titles, or any of the detritus of the institutional church. If you are a business leader, you are already in a position to exert spiritual influence. It’s time to step up.