We had a group of volunteers from Stateside churches come down to help us plant house churches. Mornings were spent training them in our church planting methodology. Afternoons were spent with experienced national church planters in evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and in intentional church planting (at the end of the week five new outreach groups were begun, one became a church.)
After being immersed in the above for a couple of days, one of the Stateside volunteers asked:
"How could you as an IMB missionary sign the BF&M2000 and allow women to be out there planting churches?"
I welcomed the question and we began a dialogue more or less along the following lines...
"Well," I responded, "for starters I didn't read the part in the BF&M where it prohibits women from starting churches..."
The student clarified, "they are teaching and leading churches..."
"Yes", I replied, "and not only that, they are winning new people to the Lord, discipling them and starting new churches. They consider themselves 'ministers of the Gospel' just like you and me..."
"But the BF&M2000 says that only men may be pastors, you have women who are pastoring out there..."
"Very few of the house churches have leaders who are called 'pastors'. Leadership is usually shared amongst several individuals according to their spiritual gifts and talents...being the 'church planter' does not make them the 'pastor'..."
I continued, "In the New Testament we find several roles/functions mentioned: apostles, evangelists, prophets, teachers, shepherds (pastors), servants, etc. At least some of these roles/functions were filled by women like Junia (apostle), Phoebe (servant/deaconess), the four daughters of Philip (prophetesses), Priscilla (missionary/church planter/church worker), Lydia (church leader?), etc."
The volunteer continued to press the issue, "call it what you want, but the office of pastor is limited to men..."
I, of course understood where he was coming from and what his point was, but it was important to me that he understand that there can be a 'church' without the offices of pastor and deacons...
"Can we have a church without having the two offices," I asked?
The volunteer hesitated, "well, I guess, but..."
I asked, "Are offices needed if the church as a whole is covering all the ministry bases: teaching, evangelism, nurturing, exhortation, encouragement, discipleship, worship, etc.? Where in the NT is a church required to have an officially named pastor in order to be a functional NT church?"
I could see that my friend was not thoroughly convinced but we both had other responsibilities to tend to and the conversation ended. My point?
Eph.4:11-12 talks about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers existing in the church to equip the saints. Equip for what? The work of serving in the Kingdom! For building up the Body of Christ!
In many of the house churches shepherding/leadership is shared amongst several without anyone filling the role of 'the pastor.' Responsibility is mutual amongst ALL the church, not just the pastor. Our team does not have any problem with churches selecting one of their own and calling them to be one of their pastors/elders. But we have noticed a pattern that has emerged within those church plants where they have singled out and called a pastor.
Of the 4-5 house churches we relate to where they did name an official 'pastor', all are suffering right now. Not because they called a pastor, but becuase the church looks to their named 'pastor' as the one to do all the work of teaching, leading, evangelism, preaching, etc.
Everyone of these pastors has come to me complaining that they cannot get the church to do the 'work of ministry'. They expect the pastor to do everything (sound familiar?) Quite a number have even left because their 'pastor' was not as dynamic and educated as some of the others around in the more established churches. The work of "being the church" has been replaced by "going to church."
Please hear my heart, we are certainly not against pastors. We believe churches need shepherds, guidance and strong healthy leadership. Our emphasis is on making true disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. Everyone in the church fulfilling their spiritual call to be an active, vibrant part of the Body of Christ. Shepherds are certainly key to helping train and ready the Body for their work in the Kingdom. Every disciple of Jesus is a minister/priest of the Gospel. We try to stay away from anything that would separate us into classes of clergy and laity for the very reasons illustrated above. The only thing that should differentiate us within the Body of Christ are not our 'positions' or 'offices', but simply the various gifts each of us has been given by the Spirit.