Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Five things that are killing the Restoration Movement: #1, Pastors

The ideal of the Restoration Movement is a grand one. Rather than reform the existing – and potentially incorrect – practices and traditions of a particular denomination or congregation, the goal is to lead men back to the Bible; to restore that which was originally created by Christ and His apostles.

Unfortunately, the principles established 200 years ago by men like Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell have been seriously undermined. I have heard motto after motto. “Where the Bible speaks, we speak. Where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.” A motto though, is just that … a motto. It sounds great on paper, but rarely is actually applied. I can't begin to count the number of times through the years I have heard the phrase, “I know what the Bible says, but ...” If you know what the Bible says, then why would a “but” ever come next? If you know what the Bible says, then do it!

In today's religious climate, the Restoration Movement has shifted far from her original position. It is the stated goal of her contemporary leaders to retain sound doctrine, yet adapt her methodology to an ever-changing culture. With that said, I believe there are five current trends which are killing the Restoration Movement.

#1, Pastors

One popular trend is the title of “pastor” applied to ministers. We have senior pastors, youth pastors, worship pastors, etc. While denominational churches may freely use such a term, I would expect better from a movement whose supposed concern is “where the Bible speaks.”

In this case, the Bible has spoken clearly. Ephesians 4:11 says that God gave “some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.” One doesn't have to be a Bible scholar to do a little basic research. God's kingdom requires those who make disciples (evangelists, preachers, ministers) and those who train the disciples (pastors and teachers, elders, shepherds).

Interestingly enough, the KJV, NASV and NIV each use the word “pastor” only once, in that Ephesians 4:11 passage. The Greek word, poimen, is translated as shepherd or shepherds in all other instances. The majority of those references refer to Jesus, our great Shepherd, but two of those passages in particular point to the function of the elder or overseer. In Acts 20:28, Paul says to the Ephesian elders, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” And in 1 Peter 5:2, Peter – speaking to elders – says, “shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness.”

So how has this term “pastor” – very obviously used in the Scriptures to refer to elders or overseers – come to refer to the paid minister? The answer is: Laziness. Why do your job when you can pay someone else to do it? Over the last thirty years, I have heard elders declare a) they have full-time jobs and are too busy, b) “people expect to see the minister,” and c) “that's why we pay a preacher.”

By referring to the contemporary minister as “pastor,” Restoration Movement churches have spoken the truth, yet have also inadvertently admitted the failure of their leaders. Today's minister IS “the pastor.” He shepherds the flock … which Scripturally is not his responsibility, but that of the elders.

In effect, the Restoration Movement has redefined the eldership. The shepherds of the first century have become a twenty-first century ruling council. Borrowing from Wall Street, they have become a board of directors whose “life experiences” have become substitutes for Biblical knowledge and spiritual character.

One might believe me too strong in declaring that “pastors” are killing the Restoration Movement, but I believe the use of the term to be symptomatic of a greater problem within the leadership of Christ's kingdom. If one unbiblical practice is accepted, then why not two? Why not three? Where do we draw the line in the sand? We ought to know that if a tradition is left standing long enough, it becomes equal in authority with the Bible itself (i.e., the Catholic church).

I believe that within modern elderships, traditions have overtaken and subdued doctrine. Elders are usually elected by their congregations, despite the fact that Paul writes to the minister, Titus, directing him - not the congregation - “to appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). Using the sheep metaphor abundantly supplied in Scripture, can you imagine a flock of sheep gathering to vote one of their own to be a shepherd? That's hardly a realistic picture. In truth, a shepherd is hired by the owner of the sheep, not elected by the sheep themselves. But if the truth of God's word isn't applied in one instance, why apply it in another? There is a serious problem when “that's the way we've always done it” becomes more important than that which the Holy Spirit inspired.

If ministers are “pastors,” then where is the evangelist? If the minister is shepherding and teaching, then what are the elders doing? Such dysfunction is why the Restoration Movement is failing. If they cannot restore such a simple, yet vital, thing as a Biblical pattern of leadership, then how am I to trust anything else?

“Where the Scriptures speak, we speak ...” “In essentials, unity ...” There is nothing more Scriptural or essential than leadership. Jeremiah's prophecy against Israel still delivers the sad truth today, “For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the LORD; Therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered” (Jeremiah 10:21).


  1. Anonymous4:05 PM EST

    Is this really still an issue in RM circles? I would have thought that Dr. Nash killed it off in 1962, when he wrote, "Rethinking the Term,'Pastor'" for the Christian Standard. Here's a link to the article on Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/clzlunp

    BTW, the word "minister" is from diakanos, whihc is primarily translated "deacon." If the minister is the diakanos, what are the deacons doing?

  2. The article is on target. We are titling those who should reach out to the unsaved as maintenance men instead of angels, evangelists and preachers.

  3. Anonymous5:35 PM EST

    With which religious group are you affiliated? Disciples of Christ, Christian Church, Church of Christ (instrumental or non)?

  4. Anonymous10:41 PM EST

    You are spot on with this assessment. I would add that in some cases, the Minister/Evangelist is also considered an Elder in the Church - as such, the title of "Pastor" could be construed as Biblically correct. But even in such cases, I see that the other Elders should be taking the bulk of the Shepherding duties upon themselves in Biblical fashion.

  5. I have been affiliated with the Christian Church, thus it is truly a shame that the Christian Church is becoming less "Christian" with each passing moment.

  6. Looking forward to the rest of the list.

  7. Anonymous6:09 PM EST

    I agree, but I would also be careful about lumping everyone together. Part of the beauty of the restoration movement is that each congregation is autonomous, which also means that each congregation different. As long as the flock is being cared for then the shepherds are doing their jobs aren't they?

    I have been a part of three congregations in my life.
    I grew up in a small congregation (the minister took the term pastor) however, the elders did shepherd the congregation.

    While attending a Christian School I attended a mega-church where there was an elder board, however they utilized the staff and small groups to care for the flock. The congregation was still being cared for.

    Now that I am a preacher, I chose not to utilize the term pastor. I took the term minister, because culture has given a poor reputation to the term evangelists. The elders that we have shepherd the congregation. In fact, it is kind of frustrating for me, I am usually that last to know when someone is in the hospital. - good problem to have:)


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