In Acts 6:2, Jesus’ inner circles was known as “the twelve.” They were serving as the pastors for the early church as it was growing rapidly. However, when a problem arose among the church, servants were established to wait on the tables in order to free up these men to give their full attention to the Word of God and prayer.
The pattern of ministry all throughout the New Testament is clearly established upon a plurality of elders leading and a plurality of deacons serving. Although this is not a blemish-free ministry pattern, it does provide for the most healthy scenario for discipleship in the local church.
Deacons, Elders, and Discipleship
When pastors are free to give themselves to the Word of God, the church will benefit drastically. The pastors who put more priority on pragmatics and less priority upon the study of God’s Word cannot expect their church to rise above their leaders. Interestingly enough, in Acts 6, the early church became united through the deacon ministry and this allowed the pastors to immerse themselves in God’s Word. As the Word of God increased, souls were saved in the community. Consider this pattern over against today’s church growth pragmatism that typically downplays doctrine.
Behind every great group of pastors is a great group of deacons. When deacons serve to the glory of God in the local church, the pastors can spend necessary time in prayer for their people. A church that places little emphasis upon prayer is often a direct reflection of their leaders. Such a church marches on in the power of pragmatism rather than the power of the Holy Spirit. No matter how much technology increases and how efficient we become with modern ministry tools—nothing can stand in the place of the power of prayer. Pastors who pray well often lead well. Pastors who spend time praying for disciples and teaching new disciples how to pray will go forward in the power of God. Prayer is essential.
Discipleship as an Intentional Goal of Ministry
Beyond the need for pastors to work in tandem with deacons for the work of discipleship, pastors must likewise plan and work with intentionality to disciple the church. It is the goal and responsibility of pastors to equip the church for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12). Pastors are not entertainers or leaders of ministry events—pastors are shepherds who oversee and equip believers to live the Christian life faithfully.
One single pastor who tries with all of his heart and soul to equip the entire church on his own will fail. If the church is larger than a small group, help is required to faithfully shepherd and equip the saints. This is why God designed the church to be led by a plurality of elders who would share the burden, responsibility, and work together in the effort of equipping the church to stand strong, love passionately, and reach their community with the gospel. Intentionality in the area of teaching, conversations, and being an intentional example to the church is vitally important (1 Pet. 5:3).
The greatest single pastor will not be nearly as strong as the wisdom of a collective body of pastors who put their minds together and serve as a single unit to lead the church. The weaknesses of one pastor is strengthened by the strengths of another pastor who works alongside him in the life of the church. This provides the pastors the ability to make well rounded disciples who become strong and vibrant disciple makers who multiply year after year.
Why does a football team have multiple coaches? Why does a business have multiple layers of team members who work to make the company successful? Although we never build theology on logic alone, such logic stands firm upon the foundation of God’s Word that points out the pattern of a plurality of elders who serve in each local church throughout the Scriptures. A plural group of men investing their time and energy in making disciples will always lead to a more healthy and robust church. Mark Dever writes:
The Bible clearly models a plurality of elders in each local church. Though it never suggests a specific number of elders for a particular congregation, the New Testament refers to “elders” in the plural in local churches (e.g., Acts 14:23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; Titus 1:5; James 5:14). When you read through Acts and the Epistles, there is always more than one elder being talked about. 
While a plurality of elders does not serve as a bullet proof defense against all church related errors, it does create a natural culture for disciple making. Be grateful for your pastors. Often a local church has a diverse group of men who lead, and this is a healthy pattern that often compliments the elders and strengthens the entire church. How is your church doing in the area of discipleship? How could you pray for your pastors as they lead in this upcoming year?
- Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 215-216.
Ministry is not for the faint-of-heart. Occasionally I run across someone who talks about ministry as a good modern career choice and I have to explain the difference between a calling and a choice. Ministry is not something that I would have chosen, but having an burden to preach the Word of God and the privilege to do so is a joyful thing. Pastoral ministry, however, involves much more than preaching on Sunday. It involves leadership and with leadership comes criticism.
One of the lessons I’ve learned over the course of my ministry is to not take all criticism as a negative attack. Although some attacks do come and some people certainly don’t understand what pastors are called to do, that doesn’t mean that all criticism is unbiblical attacks. Consider the following points and how to respond properly to leadership critique.
Look for Truth in the Criticism
In almost all critique you can find a nugget of truth that will help you. I’ve tried to learn this lesson over time, but it’s a very difficult thing to look for the positive in what is almost always perceived as negative. If someone tells me that I’m preaching too long, that doesn’t mean that the individual doesn’t enjoy my preaching. Suppose someone approaches me and suggests that I should stand at the back door and shake hands as people leave the building each Sunday—that doesn’t mean that they don’t love me or appreciate me as a pastor. They’re simply critiquing something about me based on their own personal opinion.
The difficulty comes when the criticism is received from someone who is a perceived thorn in the flesh. At that moment, the stakes are a bit higher and it becomes more difficult to find the positive nuggets of truth in the midst of the often harsh criticism. Sometimes it may be good to just honestly evaluate the situation and ask how your actions could have somehow fueled their negativity and that may uncover some element of truth that you can use to shape you and make you better as a leader.
Think Before You Respond
Years ago, a good friend of mine had what he called his “24-hour rule.” He refused to respond to criticism—especially harsh criticism within a 24-hour period. He wanted to have time to consider the criticism—no matter how harsh it might be and formulate a good and healthy response before lashing out in the flesh. Our human flesh enjoys a quick response, but not all fast responses are helpful, healthy, nor biblical.
The Bible is full of wisdom literature that warns against prideful and haughty actions. Proverbs 29:23 says, “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” Additionally, we find these words in Proverbs 11:2, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” A response full of hateful speech with a sharp tongue is disgraceful and something that all of us as Christians should resist.
Avoid Insecure Leadership Patterns
Every leader—especially those in pastoral ministry—should be mindful of the reality of their imperfections. There is no pastor who is perfect. While the church should know this fact, so should each pastor know this about himself. It was Luther who once remarked, “I more fear what is within me than what comes from without.” Therefore, when criticism comes (not if, but when)—remember that you are capable of making mistakes. We should all strive to serve out of a heart of excellence for the glory of God, mistakes are inevitable. When someone offers criticism, the insecure leader often avoids it, denies it, and at times—looks to hammer it out with a haughty response.
Insecurity doesn’t always manifest itself in the spirit of soft and cowardly disengagement. Too often insecure leaders become loud and overboard in their pride to avoid any thought of wrongdoing or imperfections in their leadership. The loud passive aggressive leader often responds in such a manner due to his insecurity rather than his boldness. Secure leaders look into the mirror and own mistakes while exploring ways to improve. We must remember that the best home run hitters in baseball often lead in other areas like strikeouts. To be great leader, at times you need to swing for the fences. Not all swings will be home runs. Sometimes they result in a miss—a long wave of the bat—a strikeout. Charles Spurgeon once said:
Public men must expect public criticism, and as the public cannot be regarded as infallible, public men may expect to be criticized in a way which is neither fair nor pleasant. To all honest and just remarks we are bound to give due measure of heed, but to the bitter verdict of prejudice, the frivolous faultfinding of men of fashion, the stupid utterances of the ignorant, and the fierce denunciations of opponents, we may very safely turn a deaf ear. 
- C.H. Spurgeon, The Complete Works of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume 7.
Paul loved Christ and His church, and it is obvious from his letters to the local churches that Paul’s love for God’s people was genuine. At the end of Romans, Paul dives off into a series of greetings and acknowledgements. It’s quite clear that while he wrote entire epistles to Timothy, Paul likewise remembered others who worked behind the scenes. Not everyone is called to pastor a church, and the church needs people up front and behind the scenes to run properly.
Paul remembered Mary and how hard she worked. In Romans 16:6, Paul requested that a particular Mary would be recognized for her service. Paul had remembered her diligent work for the glory of God. It apparently made an impression on him.
People Need Encouragement
Paul’s salutations were aimed at those Christians who had labored well—and in many cases well behind the scenes. Serving the Lord is never an easy task. There are always difficulties and challenges along the way. In Paul’s day the labor was often unnoticed and the environment was harsh toward Christianity. Encouragement was necessary in his day, and such encouragement was rooted in Christian love. Paul understood that his friends and fellow servants needed to be recognized.
In our present day, the landscape in America is not as harsh towards Christianity, but Christians still need to be encouraged. Like Mary who labored well in Paul’s day, we must not overlook the faithful ladies who serve in our local churches. Imagine your church without the faithful ladies who give themselves to serve you and the rest of the church. Do you notice the men who do their work quietly in the backdrop of ministry? Don’t overlook them. They are precious in the sight of the Lord.
Recognition Is Not Bad
We aren’t told who this particular Mary is, but Paul knew her. Perhaps she had served him at some place during his missionary journey and was now removed to Rome. We can’t be emphatic about her identity because we simply aren’t given enough information. What we do know is that Paul intended to recognize Mary in a letter sent to Rome. Paul’s desire was to make sure that she was recognized and appreciated for her faithful service.
While I agree that we should trim as much wasteful time and unnecessary announcements out of our worship gatherings, there are times when recognition is a good thing. Maybe a church newsletter, a special letter to the church, or in the weekly bulletin would provide a more natural platform to spotlight some of those people who serve well behind the scenes.
This week I tried to observe those who serve well behind the scenes in my local church setting, and it’s obvious that many people deserve praise and need to be encouraged in their task. Each week we are served by faithful ladies who prepare meals for our midweek meal on Wednesday evening. Without them, the meal would not happen. We are served each week by several men who work diligently to operate our lights, microphones, screens, and much of this is directly connected to our weekly worship. Often such people serve without ever being recognized, thanked, or appreciated by the church.
The next time you’re reading through the New Testament and you see Paul remembering people, let that serve as a reminder that we all should recognize and appreciate people for their work in the service of the Lord. How long would it take to send an e-mail, to hand write a letter, or to speak to them in person on the Lord’s day? Remember those who serve with diligence behind the scenes for the glory of God.
If we’re all honest, prayer is often a very difficult practice to maintain and an easy area to neglect. If the surveys [PewResearch, Barna] are remotely accurate, prayer is an area of deficiency in the evangelical church today. If parents aren’t praying for their children’s salvation and the spiritual maturity of their household, we can rest assured that pastors are being greatly neglected in prayer as well.
You can’t pray for everyone. In fact, not everyone and every situation is worthy of your time investment for prayer. All of us must use our time wisely and superficial requests that popup on social media or come our way in casual conversations must be evaluated carefully before we commit to prayer. However, we don’t have to think twice about praying for our pastors. To neglect praying for our pastors is to walk in disobedience to the Lord.
The Imperative to Pray for Your Pastors
In Hebrews 13:17-18, we see some very important words as it pertains to pastoral ministry. In reading this text recently, it was verse 18 that really impacted me. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Pray for us.” Not only should the church submit and obey the pastors placed over them, but the church is likewise called to pray for them. This comes in form of an imperative. In other words, it’s a command and one that we must not neglect.
Hebrews 13:17-18 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.  Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.
It should be further noted that when the writer emphasizes praying for the pastors, he does so in the plural just as he begins in the previous verse with a command to obey leaders. Both are mentioned in the plural. It’s very probable that the writer of this epistle was a pastor in the local church or churches to which he was addressing this letter. Notice that he doesn’t call upon the church to pray for their “favorite” or “preferred” pastor. The church is called to pray for all of the pastors who were watching over them and caring for their souls. You can’t expect the shepherds of God’s flock to watch over you and your family in the night hours, lead you to spiritual nourishment, protect you from the wolves, and lavish you with affection if you’re dry in your devotion to prayer and refusing to engage in intercessory prayer for them.
The Fruit of Praying for Your Pastors
If you look at the context of Hebrews 13:18, you will see that in the previous verse, the writer to the Hebrews is laying out a case for pastoral authority and the need to submit to such God ordained authority. However, he doesn’t end his thought after the phrase, “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” He goes on to convey a very helpful thought.
He writes, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17). Notice the goal is for pastors to do their work of shepherding with joy rather than groaning.
Consider the practical and spiritual benefits of praying for your pastors:
- Your pastors will care for your soul with joy.
- Your pastors will stand before the throne of God one day and give an account of their ministry to you with joy.
- Praying for your pastors will make submitting to their authority easier as you consider their responsibility.
- Caring for your pastors is ultimately caring for yourself—practically speaking.
- Pastors are made out of the same flesh that the sheep are made of. They’re capable of sin, compromise, and falling into the traps of the evil one. It’s important to pray for their spiritual wellbeing.
- Pastors often have families too, and it would be wise to pray for the health of their family life, the pastors’ marriages, and the relationship with their children. The church will suffer if the pastors’ families are suffering with sin problems or spiritual deficiencies.
- Pastors need to be free to study and pray in order to properly feed the church from the Word of God. Pray for the pastors’ prayer life and devotion to God’s Word.
At the end of the day, when it comes time to stand before the Lord, we don’t want to be found negligent in our prayers for those who were entrusted to care for our souls. It was John Bunyan who once said, “Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.” 
- I.D.E. Thomas, A Puritan Golden Treasury, (Carlisle, PA.,Banner of Truth, 2000), 211.
One of the most extraordinary patterns of Christian history has been the peaceful freedom given to gospel people in one prosperous nation called America. If you survey redemptive history, it’s normal to see Christians suffering hardship, oppression, and persecution for their faith. It seems that the days of peace and prosperity for the gospel in America are numbered. With the legalization of homosexual marriage and the debate upon restroom policies for transgender people and others who want to self-identify as the opposite sex all point to the obvious clash of world views that will likely continue to restrict religious freedom for Christians. The liberal trends have gained enormous momentum over the past eight years — in ways that even the most liberal historian would not have predicted.
As politicians fight over the recent vacancy in the Supreme Court, it’s apparent that the stakes are high. That point could not be any more clearly portrayed as we look at our choices for the highest seat of power in our nation and the leader of the free world – the presidency of the United States of America. We must admit that our days of religious peace seem to be fading off into the sunset. No matter who becomes president, the people of God are called to be people of perseverance. If we can learn anything from this radical cultural movement, we must certainly learn to live well under the rule of evil kings.
Learning Perseverance from Ancient Examples
The Hebrew people came to Egypt to seek refuge during a horrible famine (Gen. 43:1). They were received because of the faithful leadership of Joseph who had risen to great power beneath the Pharaoh. As the book of Genesis ends, Exodus begins with these somber words, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 2:8). That one sentence defined the horror the people of God would experience under the harsh slavery of a wicked king. However, there were faithful people among the Hebrew slaves who refused to doubt God. From those people who believed the Abrahamic covenant arose Moses after 400 years of slavery. The people of God obeyed their leaders, but they kept their focus on God who had promised them deliverance.
Through all of the Old Testament kings, we see Israel learning to live beneath the rule of radically different leaders. Saul served as king. He was the people’s choice. He looked good and seemed like a man fit for the job by outward appearance, but Israel soon learned to live beneath the rule of a poor leader. David was the successor to Saul’s throne, and he is described as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). David was an imperfect man, but a good king. All through the kingly period of Israel’s history, the evil kings outnumbered the good kings. The line, “And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” is repeated at least twenty four times through 1 and 2 Kings in the Old Testament Scriptures. The true people of God among Israel were constantly forced to live well under evil kings.
Unfortunately, the people often walked in the footsteps of their evil kings and followed in their rebellion. Regarding King Manasseh, the Scripture says he “has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did” and “made Judah also to sin with his idols” (2 Kings 21:11). When Hilkiah discovered the Book of the Law that had been lost, it was read to King Josiah. The result was that he “tore his clothes” for he understood the wrath of God was greatly kindled against them (2 Kings 22:8-13). Josiah was a rare king in Israel’s history, a reprieve from the tyranny of evil rulers.
Learning Perseverance from the New Testament
After Pompey conquered Jerusalem, the people of God found themselves under the dominion of Roman authority. Occupied by outsiders, Israel had to learn to live well under evil kings once again. The Herodian dynasty was marked by murder, arrogance, sin, and the crooked exploitation of the Jews through burdensome taxation. This is one reason why the tax collectors were so despised among the Jewish people. They were considered traitors and thieves. Herod the Great was a horrible man, a feared man, and a ruthless man. His ruthless character was put on display while murdering children in Bethlehem during his attempt to kill Jesus. When he died, he split up his land into distinct areas for three different Herods, specifically his three sons – Herod Antipas, Herod Philip, and Herod Agrippa. Their leadership was similar in nature to their father’s leadership. As the people of God lived under their rule, they had to learn to live faithfully under the rule of wicked men. This involved paying taxes and following the rules established by the Roman authorities. Although faithful men like John the Baptist lived in accordance with the laws, he was unwilling to allow the sin of unfaithful leaders to go without notice. John the Baptist called out Herod for his sexual sin, and it landed his head on a platter. There is always a high cost to perseverance during the rule of evil kings.
Following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension came the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon the church. Eventually the church of Jesus Christ was pressed between the Roman authorities and the Jewish religious authorities – the Sanhedrin. After being accused of being troublemakers, threatened, and beaten, the apostles were told to stop spreading the gospel. They were forced to make a decision. Would they obey God or men? The apostles chose to obey God. They responded to the threatening Sanhedrin by stating, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). They had learned to live faithfully under the rule of evil leaders as they stood on the shoulders of faithful men and women all throughout redemptive history. They made the right choice.
When evil leaders with sinful hearts rise to power, anything is possible. We are living in such times in our current political climate. It would do us well to learn to live faithfully under the rule of evil kings. It doesn’t matter if you’re more at home in the presence of elephants as opposed to donkeys, the end result will be the same for the church of Jesus in America. Eventually all political parties will fail to respect the church of Jesus Christ in our nation. In the next several years, unless God intervenes, the true church will be tested on the soil of America like never before. Will we obey God or men? We can learn much from people such as Jochebed, Peter, and John the Baptist. As Jesus stated with such great wisdom, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).
It would be wise to obey God rather than men, but as we consider our decisions today, we must remember that debates far more costly than restroom privileges will soon arise. True Christian character, courageous conviction, and God honoring perseverance will be necessary as the cultural pressures continue to reach a boiling point for Jesus followers. When faced with big decisions, it’s vital for Christians to remember our commitment to a greater throne occupied by the highest King.
H.B. Charles Jr., in his article, “Our Journey to Biblical Eldership” explains the transition of his church in the area of biblical eldership.