Tuesday, November 27

Shepherd: function or office?

I am an IMB-SBC missionary. We have served the past 20 years in Guayaquil, Ecuador. For many years we thought we had things worked out in our minds about how things should be. But about ten years ago, the Lord began to open our eyes about many of the traditions and practices that we had long held that, while in themselves might be OK for some--are actually extra-biblical.

The list is long, but to list a few things I had grown up believing: churches need to have a certain number of baptized believers before being a church, churches need a have a pastor to be a functioning church, churches need buildings to be a "real" church, Sunday is the "Lord's Day" and must be observed as THE day one is supposed to go to church, one's tithe must be given to that local church, the paying of professional religious workers, preaching the Word being an integral part of church gatherings, churches must grow out of existing churches (have a mother church), "missions" being to go overseas and help a struggling congregation build a church building so that they can be a real church...the list goes on and on.

Over the years most of the above have ceased to be issues as we continue to examine each tradition/practice in the light of what the New Testament actually teaches or was practiced in the first century. Again, I am not saying the above are all WRONG, just that they are extra-biblical traditions and practices and should not be binding upon new churches being planted.

I am also quick to point out we are far from having all the answers ourselves. A lot of these issues are difficult to deal with. There are no easy answers.

One issue that we continue to deal with is church leadership. To go directly to the point: is there a difference between someone functioning as a shepherd, and the office of shepherd (pastor)? Most reading probably are thinking, what's the difference? If one is functioning as a shepherd/pastor they ARE a shepherd/pastor.

The reason I ask, is that for years we have had many women who go out and win the lost to Christ. They begin discipling them. They make sure these new disciples are baptized. They continue to teach these men and women to follow Christ in all His commandments. They are doing just what the Great Commission says to do. Most of these women are horrified to be called anything other than a servant of God. Yet, through their giftedness find themselves shepherding the flock that the Lord has given them.

So if a church planter happens to be a woman, and she is functioning as a shepherd of the flock she is discipling, she IS a shepherd. The only problem is that women can't be pastors, right? But, is there a difference between the pastoral function/gifting and what some call the "office" of pastor?

So, what do we do?

Here are some of the options I have thought about:

Tell them to leave the flock that they have given birth to...

Name one of the believing men in the group to take on the shepherding (even though most times there are no men in the group with this gifting)...

Tell them to walk away from the group and let the church manage on their own (probably another woman would step in and pick up where the original left off)...

Call a male pastor from outside the congregation to come in and "be the pastor" (experience shows that called-in-from-the-outside pastors usually expect renumeration and are usually a poor match for these kinds of highly participative kinds of churches where everyone functions according to giftings)...

Do nothing and leave them in God's hands.

This last option has been my personal response to these situations. It is NOT MY CHURCH to interfere and tell them what to do. I am not the boss, the owner, the god of these new congregations. I firmly believe that Christ himself builds and puts together the pieces of his church. It is not for me to interfere and begin shuffling pieces around to conform to my wishes.

I believe in the importance, the function, the gift of shepherding that the Holy Spirit gives to the church. But where do we get the idea that this function/gifting is an office? Cannot several in the church utilize their shepherding/pastoral giftings? Is there only one person per church with shepherding gifts? My personal experience has shown that usually there are at least 2-3 to each small congregation with these giftings.

In order for the church to be the church, must there always be a named "pastor" in charge? Can't the church function through the giftings given her by the Holy Spirit without naming someone as THE PASTOR?

I am not against pastors, or even churches that believe in the office of pastor. What I struggle with are the impositions we place upon a new body of believers by telling them they must name an individual to be their pastor. This is especially strange when the church is functioning quite well without this office through the various giftings that have been provided by the Holy Spirit. Who am I to step in and tell them to do something quite out of context with the smooth operation already implemented by the Holy Spirit of God within their midst?

These are just some of the real life issues we deal with as church planting missionaries. I am sure those reading can find gaping holes throughout the post, inconsistencies, etc. But the reader is not here living here with us and dealing with the issues first hand. It is one thing to judge from afar, and quite another to be smack in the center of these kinds of situations.

All we ever really ask of people is for them to pray for us. We are weak, flawed individuals caught up in a huge global task of bringing in what I believe is the final great harvest. There are lots of sticky issues to be dealt with. We need the Lord's wisdom. Please pray for your missionaries.


jeff w. said...


It isn’t funny how long we accept something before we will put it to the test Biblically.

In Idaho there is an area called “Craters of the Moon.” It was last active as a lava flow about 2000 years ago. They have “lava tubes” which are really just caves. The hot lava was flowing across the ground and the top layer cooled - the hot lava flowed out from under the crust and all that was left was hardened hollowed crust. I think the church is often like this – the Holy Spirit is actively moving in God’s people and some natural activity or function takes place. The activity or function hardens into a tradition and then continues long after God’s Spirit is no longer evident in that group of people.

One of the great statements in BFM – 1925, 1963 and 2000 -- is along these lines - the Bible has God as its author, salvation as its purpose and is truth without any mixture of error. The Bible is God’s message of salvation and is 100% accurate wherever it speaks. It is not, however, a church governance manual – nor is it a science book, an investment advisor, etc. The Bible describes how God’s people responded to events around them and how they lived a life in community. There is much more descriptive than prescriptive for the organization of the church.

I personally struggle with the role of women in the church. There are a couple of sentences in the Bible that appear to be clear on their face, but the longer I look at them (and the rest of the Scripture) the less clear they are. Some of my latest ruminations have been about a Church of Christ friend who several years ago presented me with a very good list of Scriptures that appeared, on their face, to say that baptism was necessary for salvation. A review of just the passages that he gave me would have led me to believe his point of view. To counter it really required a review of all of what the Bible said about salvation. As I have thought about his list of Scriptures, my memory of them is that they were more numerous and clear than that offered for the argument of a restricted role of women in the church. Again, I struggle with this issue and may never fully resolve in my mind a comfortable position.

I enjoyed your post.


jeff w. said...

That first sentence should be "Isn't it funny", not "It isn't funny." The fingers and the mind don't always work well together.


Burkhalter Ministry said...

I've always found it interesting that we title Pastor, but not so much evangelist, apostle, or prophet. I don't think I've ever heard someone called Teacher so and so, yet this the title that people called Jesus.

I also see the gifts as functions, not offices. It seems as though the office idea comes more from the world (specifically government) than Scriptures.

Anyways, those are a few of my thoughts.

GuyMuse said...


As always, it is good to read your observations about things. I thought your illustration of the Idaho "Craters of the Moon" was quite appropriate to the way the Spirit of God moves. Jesus said the wind blows where it pleases. Who can control the wind of the Spirit?

Welcome to the "club" of those of us who struggle with these issues. One always imagines what some of the questions we will ask when we get to heaven. One of the questions I plan to ask Jesus is what DID He intend about those difficult passages concerning women in ministry. I don't have any clear answers and would be hesitant to be dogmatic either way about the whole matter.


I too have often wondered why we only use the title "pastor", but never call anyone else "apostle Travis", or "evangelist Greg", or "teacher Mike". I have struggled long with the whole "offices" subject. I see function at work in the NT church, not titles/offices.

Dorcas Hawker said...

Guy -

I am very much with you on trying to figure this out. Looking back on whom I have known as pastors in my life have actually been very talented teachers, but not really shepherds so much. Preachers/teachers, more than pastors. When I think of those who have really come alongside and shepherded, most of the time women come to mind, but even that is too few because women in America just leave it to the men to be the pastor, so then we wait for men who are not truly gifted in shepherding to change their nature.

I think the office of pastor as we know it probably is an extra-biblical construct. But like you, I am still wrestling with the question.

However, I'm not sure a church in America would function well without a pastor because before looking at what our gifting is and doing it, we are usually compelled to ask "who is in charge?" Isn't that odd?

GuyMuse said...


I find interesting your comment, "I think the office of pastor AS WE KNOW IT probably is an extra-biblical construct..." My observation is that today's modern pastor is a combination of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher, administrator, counselor... We have combined various NT functions into one super-individual! No wonder there is such a high burn-out rate amongst modern pastors! Thanks for your comments!

Strider said...

Gutsy post Guy. I completely agree with you. The first Church we helped start was an all women's church with a couple of ladies whom God had clearly given pastoral giftings. We didn't know what to do. As I looked at the situation though a thought occurred, this is a church but is it a 'healthy' church? Are all churches all they are supposed to be from the beginning? What we decided was that a healthy church would include whole families. These women had husbands, where were they? Obviously the church would be healthier if the men came and participated. So, we like you left it alone. We trusted God to take what was small and poor and make to be what He wanted. Today it is lead by a great man of God- a layman who does not have the title pastor but is a fine pastor none the less. This process took over four years. Four years of female leadership that led out in loving others and spreading the Gospel. I will not condemn that. I am glad that families are a part of the church today and that a fine man is leading but I do not regret one minute of the time that women led and grew and ministered in that church.

GuyMuse said...


I don't know about "gutsy", it's just the reality of what takes place. Godly women obey what the Great Commission says, and find themselves shepherding a flock after a few weeks.

What to do then? The options aren't as clear and neat as we would like them to be. The ancient proverb says, where no oxen are the manger is clean, but much increase comes by the strength of the ox... They always said, cpm is messy.

Rhea said...

I know that this is a slight tangent, but I always wondered when the focus of a church service became the sermon...I imagine that it wasn't ALWAYS that way (I mean, it still isn't in Catholic services or many Anglican ones).

GuyMuse said...


Thanks for your observation. In most of the house church gatherings, teaching and admonishing one another to build up in the Lord is usually the norm. Preaching is what we do to proclaim the Good News to those who have yet to believe. There is a place for both, but usually preaching is focused more on the lost; teaching upon those who believe.

Rhea said...

Well, to run with this tangent a little longer...when did TEACHING become the focus of a church service....what not worship (whether with music or in another fashion) or communion or something else all together.

GuyMuse said...


I just noticed your Dec.2 response, sorry for the delay in getting back to you...

My understanding of the NT passages on when the church gathers it is for edification, for the building up of the Body of Christ. The passages that speak to the church gathered always are in terms of the "one anothers" and the building up, encouraging of one another, teaching one another, etc.

I could ask the same of you, where in the NT do we get the idea that worship is the primary function of the church gathering? Worship is a 24/7 part of a believer's life, not just Sundays. But when we gather we are seeking to encourage one another--at least that is my understanding. Certainly part of our time together is focused upon worshipping God, but the Scriptures seem to point to a different reason for the gathering of the church.

Mark M said...

Very interesting post. I came across your blog today and this post caught my attention because I have a special interest in this subject.

The NT provides only two offices: elder and deacon. Pastor is not really an office, but a gifting (Eph. 4). The Bible is pretty clear that the office of elder is for men (1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1). I don't think we should make much of titles either, such as Pastor So-and-so. The best title is simply "Brother" or "Sister" (Mt. 23:8-11).

So how does this apply to the situation you described? I think your answer is exactly right. God provided these women to pastor and has not yet provided men to serve as elders, so let the women do it.

In time God may provide the men to serve as elders, the authorities in the church. Paul did not immediately appoint elders in the churches he planted--he had to go back and do that (Acts 14:21-23, Titus 1). These churches needed time for their members to mature.

One other point: Many churches has a single leader called The Pastor, but this is not biblical. The leadership is to be shared among a group of elders, not by one man. There are many good reasons for this, which I would be happy to discuss if asked.

An excellent book on this subject: Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch.

Grace & peace.

GuyMuse said...


I responded to your comment above in the "Women Shepherds" post. Thanks for your input on this issue.