Barry is the founder and dean of Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.
Where do Pastors come from?
Where do elders and pastors come from? The average church member would probably say that they either come from seminaries or from denomination associations. I say this because this is where many churches turn if they are in need of a pastor. If a church does not have a plurality of elders, which is the norm in the Bible, then this issue is certain to arise. Having functioned for decades with on non-Biblical models, namely that of the senior pastor/CEO and junior officers, the church now is reduced to a search committee, an association or advertisement to find a replacement pastor. However, if churches are following the Biblical norm of plurality of elders, there would almost never be an occasion when a church would be without an elder. *
When the association or seminary sends a man to a church, he is an outsider. He does not know the people and the people do not know him. The results of a search committee are not much better. The committee usually begins by listening to the sermons of the candidate. Many will even require a video to be included in the application so they can see how the candidate looks. In not all cases, but certainly in some, the focus is on the external.
Neither seminaries or associations are capable of accessing the gifts and the life of the candidate. Neither institution is warranted for the ordination of an elder.
Many new pastors will spend years trying to establish relationships and earn the trust of the people. To matters worse, many churches have a high turn-over rate. The average stay for a pastor is 4 years. Granted, there are men who have been at the same church for decades but they are sadly, not the norm. Most pastors are not at a church long enough to have an impact on the congregation much less to train their replacement or co-elders.
“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2
In addition to appointing elders (1 Timothy 3:5), Paul tells Timothy to teach men. This seems to be above and beyond the normal preaching and teaching ministry. The purpose of this teaching is to train men so that they might become teachers. Timothy is not to teach all the men but is to limit himself only to those who are faithful. We should not assume that each of these men would become elders. They are trained to be teachers. But is it not logical and even practical that from this pool of faithful men, elders would be selected? Being faithful, able to teach, trained, and fitting the other qualifications, these men would be ideal candidates as elders. Also, because they come from the congregation, they know the people of the church and the people know them. There would be no difficulty at all in discerning their gifts as well as their qualifications.
Of course, there were no seminaries or denominational associations during the time of Paul. The only option would be that those who would serve as elders would either be sent by an Apostle, the Apostle himself would serve as an elder, or men would be chosen from the local congregation. It is not a coincidence that after Paul tells Titus to appoint elders, he gives him the qualification for elders (Titus 1:6-9). Any training of pastors would have to be done through mentoring or in the church. This is not to say that there is no place for seminaries. I will address their role in another article. But the point here is that the training of men for elder and pastor starts in the local church.
Verse 9 is important to consider. “…holding firmly the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.”
Only those who believe and teach sound doctrine are qualified for the office of elder. This mirrors closely the instructions that Paul gave to Timothy (2 Timothy 2:2). Where would they learn sound doctrine? The only options would be from Apostles, those sent by apostles, or other elders.
Elders making Elders
Discipleship occurs through the regular preaching and teaching of the Scriptures. All Christians must be growing in their understanding of the Word and their love for God. There will be those in the congregation who will have the desire and ability to teach. They should be trained, encouraged and given opportunities. If they meet the qualifications of an elder and the need arises for an elder, then the Church will have men on hand to fill these needs. Missionaries, church planters, and other ministry roles could be filled from this pool.
There are requirements that need to be met before a church can consider training elders.
1) The Church must be grounded in Scripture.
2) The Church must be practicing Biblical Elder-ship.
3) The Church should be established and stable.
4) The Church must have men who meet the qualification of Elder.
5) The Church must be intentional in training men.
* We should acknowledge that there will be occasions where a church might have a single elder for various reasons. But the Bible prescribes a plurality as the norm.