When you visit a baseball park for a game, it’s common to see boys and men wearing their favorite player’s jersey. Complete with their ball cap, glove, and jersey—they enjoy the experience of watching their favorite ball player play the game. It’s good to set before your eyes good examples—those worthy of emulating.
When it comes to pastoral ministry, there are many poor examples of men who are lazy, who don’t take their calling seriously, or perhaps shouldn’t occupy a pulpit at all. Like baseball, it’s good to have solid men who serve as grand examples in pastoral ministry—and those are the men you want to follow after and keep your eyes focused on.
In Philippians 2:25-30, we find such a man who is worthy of imitation—a grand example of what pastoral ministry should look like. Notice how Paul describes Epaphroditus to the church at Philippi.
The Steadfast Labor of Epaphroditus
Paul called Epaphroditus his brother (a reference to a true believer) and fellow worker (συνεργός) which is a reference to the fact that Epaphroditus was a helper to Paul and his ministry in the gospel. When you consider the fact that pastoral ministry requires long hours and steady labor to get the work accomplished on a weekly basis—it should be noted that such a quality of steadfast work ethic is required. Epaphroditus was a man who refused to be lazy. A lazy pastor is a shameful thing.
It should also be noted that Epaphroditus exemplified a willingness to engage in spiritual warfare rather than looking to hide behind Paul and others to see how they would fight—he was apparently right there with Paul as a fellow solider. A faithful pastor must be willing to push back against error, expose sin, and use the sword of the Spirit to pierce false gospels that seek to lead the church astray.
A pastor who is unwilling to stand up against error and speak out against schemes of the devil is a pastor who has forfeited his post and abandoned his calling (see Titus 1:5-9). That was not the case for Epaphroditus.
The Love for God’s Church
There was no question regarding Epaphroditus’ love for the church at Philippi. He cared for the people and desired that they would be filled with joy. Paul refers to him as the messenger of the church at Philippi—one who labored to bring the people the gospel. This is indeed the best way for a pastor to love God’s people, by engaging in the labor of a messenger—to deliver the Word of God faithfully.
When you consider how many pastors today view themselves as life coaches, comedians, psychologists, and church growth experts—it shouldn’t really be a shock to see the spiritual lethargy and shallowness that persists among many local churches in our day. Epaphroditus was a man who understood what his responsibility was and he loved the people enough to bring them God’s Word.
His love is also evident in the fact that he didn’t want them to know about the severity of his health crisis. In fact, he had almost died—yet he didn’t really want the church at Philippi to know and worry. Rather than seeking to use his health situation as a means of elevating his need for love and care, he sought to keep it private in order to prevent the church from being overcome with fear and anxiety.
The Sacrificial Love for Christ
Paul mentions that Epaphroditus nearly died for the work of Christ—risking his life in the gospel service to Paul. Apparently, the illness that Epaphroditus experienced limited his ability to serve faithfully, but he labored onward in order to pick up the slack that the church at Philippi had in their care for Paul. Such a move put his health at risk greatly—and according to Paul he nearly died.
John Calvin observes:
Epaphroditus felt that his health would be in danger if he applied himself beyond measure; yet he would rather be negligent as to health than be deficient in duty; and that he may commend this conduct the more to the Philippians, he says that it was a filling up of their deficiency, * because, being situated at a distance, they could not furnish aid to Paul at Rome.
The work of Christ is worthy of sacrifice and if necessary—death. Some men fight the good fight and it costs them dearly—as it did Spurgeon in the Downgrade—dying at 57 years of age. In other cases, the work of Christ may cost you everything as it did Tyndale who was burned at the stake for his work in bringing us the Bible in our English language. For Epaphroditus, it was the care of Paul and meeting his need. For that—we remember his faithfulness and diligence in his love for Christ—not just his love for Paul. It was Epaphroditus’ love for Christ that precipitated the sacrificial care he provided for Paul. Yes, he loved Paul, but he loved Christ even more.
These are the qualities of a faithful minister of the gospel. We all follow after examples—boys look to their favorite baseball player on the field, business owners look to worthy examples in the corporate world, and we must look to solid Christ exalting examples in pastoral ministry. Those who preach the gospel must walk in the footsteps of men who love Christ, his church, and understand what it means to be a faithful pastor.
That is how we remember Epaphroditus and that’s why Paul recommended him to return to Philippi to continue in his service as their overseer.
*“Vn accomplissement, ou moyen de suppleer ce qui defailloit de leur seruice;”—“A filling up, or a means of supplying what was defective in their service.”
 John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 84–85.
Is it absolutely necessary for the freedom and vitality of the United States for a president to lead the people? While there may be many opinions on that very subject, it would not be necessary for our nation to be led by a president. If our nation decided to change the way we structure things and be led by a plurality of presidents, it would not be wrong to move in that direction. Neither one is mandatory. When it comes to professional baseball, must the team be led by a coach who is often referred to as a general manager? The fact is—there is no absolute answer to that question. A new management process could be developed that may do away with the general manager position and the owners of the baseball team would not be in error if they went in that direction. We have freedom in politics and the world of athletics.
When it comes to the local church—we must remember that everything we do should be evaluated through the lens of Scripture. If the Bible provides us with the necessities of both life and the practice of our faith—how the household of God functions really matters. Therefore, if God established a specific system and we choose to operate under a different model simply because of pragmatic rationale or a commitment to some form of modern trends or historic traditions—it must be noted that we don’t have such freedom to make those alterations.
There are great benefits to a church being led by elders (a plurality of pastors). Some of those benefits to the church as a whole would include a shared oversight through multiple men rather than just one man. Such shared authority protects the church from the cult of personality and bad decisions that could harm the church for years to follow. This shared oversight provides support for the lead pastor who serves as one of the pastors in the group. This shared authority includes shared responsibility and accountability. However, the main reason for organizing the leadership of the local church with a plurality of elders is not based on the benefits since this is not a pragmatic decision. The reason a plurality of elders is necessary is because of the fact that it’s clearly modeled in Scripture as the God-ordained pattern of leadership for a local church.
Alistair Begg writes, “Leadership in the church should always be shared – that is one reason that the apostolic pattern was to appoint a plurality of elders rather than a solitary elder in all the churches (Acts 14:23).”  God has a purpose in all that he does, and we must honor his plan for church government. We see a plurality of elders in individual local churches throughout the New Testament:
- James 5:14
- Acts 11:30
- Acts 14:14; 21-23
- Acts 15
- Acts 20:17-38
- 1 Timothy 5:17-20
- Titus 1:5-11
According to 1 Peter 5:1-4, the pastor’s responsibility is to provide food, protection, discipline, and love. That task is utterly impossible to accomplish alone regardless of the size of the local church. Pastors need assistance from other pastors within the context of the local church family. For a pastor to think that he has all of the gifts necessary to oversee, equip, discipline, and lead the church is beyond arrogance. Needless to say, such a man has an elevated opinion of himself. Far too many local churches are self-governed or led by a group of deacons while the pastor simply preaches on Sunday. That’s not the biblical model.
When a church is led by a plurality of elders it not only provides joy for the pastors—but it should provide joy for the church as a whole as they become encouraged by the intentional oversight and care for the body of Christ. In short, true shepherds of God’s flock understand that the church belongs to God and they are merely appointed leaders to do the work of God. Therefore, the church should be established and organized to follow the biblical pattern.
Having staff positions who serve beneath the pastor and work alongside him is not the same as having a plurality of pastors who are equal in position. The pastors and the church both should be under authority. Mark Dever provides a helpful explanation as he writes:
So the Bible clearly teaches that New Testament churches are to be led by elders. At the end of the day, this question is just another way of asking whether or not we are going to allow the Scriptures to be the sole authority in the life of the church. For though there are lots of pragmatic reasons to have elders, from the perspective of a pastor, there are more pragmatic reasons not to have them. Elders can slow a senior pastor down, they can disagree with him, they can even tell him on occasion that he’s wrong. Pragmatically speaking, who would want that? 
When we ask if a plurality of elders is necessary it’s like asking if the Bible is sufficient? Interestingly enough we don’t argue with the organization of a plurality of deacons in a single local church, but we often have people who intentionally avoid having a plurality of elders in a local church. While there is biblical evidence to support a plurality of elders and a plurality of deacons in a local church—there are far more passages that discuss a plurality of elders than discuss a plurality of deacons.
If you are moving to a new town or looking for a church home—consider looking for a local church that has intentionally organized their church government to include a plurality of elders (pastors) who lead, oversee, care for, and equip their local church and a plurality of deacons who serve the church.
- Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor, (Chicago: Moody Press, 2004), 218.
- Mark Dever, “Should a Church Have Elders?“
The work of a pastor is difficult. Time is often consumed with prayer, the study of the Word, and serving people. It’s a demanding calling, but joyful at the same time. Charles Spurgeon once stated the following:
[A pastor’s] work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin – are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth?
For that reason, leadership was designed to be shared rather than a single man’s responsibility. Since leadership is shared in the life of a church (1 Pet. 5:1-3; 1 Tim. 5:17; Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:1-2; 20:17), it’s essential to work and strive for unity among the leaders. If the leadership is divided, the church will experience problems along the way. Paul once charged the elders at Ephesus by stating the following:
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:28–30).
Not only does division increase the already demanding pressures of serving as a pastor, but sinful behavior in general can make the job of a pastor burdensome. If you serve as an elder, you should avoid these toxic and dangerous behaviors.
When working with a team of elders in the life of a church, there will be times when specific families meet with one elder rather than another for counsel, problems, or even friendship. The trap of internal politics grips the hearts of certain elders at times who believe they have to build a group of friends around them in the life of the church in order to protect them and to increase their weight, influence, and power within the church. When this happens, it’s a sure sign to a toxic atmosphere in the life of the church. Often the heart of such an elder is filled with pride, jealousy, and the fear of man—all of which are sinful traps to avoid.
Mishandling of Money
According to 1 Timothy 3:3, the elder is not to be “a lover of money.” It’s not money itself that’s evil, but it’s the love of money that serves as the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). If a pastor to struggles with money and how to use it properly, it can cause him great problems in ministry. When it comes to how a pastor uses money within the life of the church, it would be unwise to have a pastor designated to handle cash within the church’s life. That work would be best given over to the deacons. This provides for greater accountability in the area of finances. More than one elder has fallen through the temptation to misuse and steal the money that ultimately belongs to the Lord.
Furthermore, when pastors abuse the church’s money it should be a red flag. If you find that you are struggling with the responsibility of meeting your budget or charging money to your church’s credit card, it would be wise to ask for help in this area rather than bringing shame to your testimony within the local church.
Loose Tongue and Gossip
One of the greatest sinful traps for the Christian is centered on the tongue. The Psalmist warns that when “you [have] given your mouth free reign…your tongue frames deceit” (Ps. 51:19). James actually calls the tongue a “world of unrighteousness” that’s full of “deadly poison” (James 3:5-12). The LORD hates a lying tongue (Prov. 6:17). As we turn to Paul’s words to Timothy, we find these words regarding a the qualifications of a pastor. He states, “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2).
One of the fastest ways to divide a group of elders and a church is for a pastor to be guilty of spreading gossip and to possess a loose tongue. In short, people must be able to trust their elders and a man with a loose tongue who finds pleasure in gossip or receiving a constant stream of gossip is not a dignified leader. Such a man has misused the office of an elder and can’t possibly be trusted with such leadership.
One of the most misunderstood passages in regard to the qualifications of a pastor is found in 1 Timothy 3:2 where Paul states that an elder must be “the husband of one wife.” In the Greek text, it literally reads “one woman man.” The elder must be fully committed to one woman (even if he isn’t yet married, he should be committed to his future wife). The elder who has a flirtatious personality with women will open the door for a moral failure.
This past summer, we have witnessed numerous moral failures of well known preachers of the gospel. Men who were seasoned in the faith and entrusted with successful ministries fell into sexual immorality and were suddenly gone. The once public voice and passionate leader was suddenly removed from his ministry post due to sexual sin. This is a tragedy and every time it happens, it’s not just the preacher and the ministry he leads that is affected. The entire family of the preacher, the local churches involved, and many others well beyond through the reach of the man’s ministry will be impacted too. If you notice an elder who is flirtatious in his behavior with other women through social media, in personal conversations, and through ministry connections—you should perhaps consider sharing your concerns with him in order to spare him from falling into the common trap of sexual sin.
Misuse of Time
Every one of us has the same amount of time each day in which we will use to maximize ministry opportunities (elder or not). When it comes to time, we should be good stewards of our time—redeeming it for God’s glory (Eph. 5:16). Ultimately, the elders who are paid are freed from secular employment in order to maximize their time for discipleship and missions. When an elder is lazy and wastes time, this is a pattern that is unacceptable to the Lord. Furthermore, the elder is accountable to the entire church who pays his salary. The elder who is deceitful with how he manages his time will find that he’s likely deceitful in other areas as well.
In conclusion, we must remember that elders are men too and it’s essential to remember that they’re not supermen. The elder is to serve for God’s glory in the work of gospel ministry. Elders are bondservants of Christ and ultimately accountable to our Lord. If you or another elder that you serve with falls into toxic behavior patterns that could potentially harm him, his family, and the church he serves (along with the other elders he serves alongside)—pray for him and consider talking with him out of love for his soul before he falls into traps that will disqualify him from the office of pastor. Mark Dever writes:
An elder is simply a man of exemplary, Christlike character who is able to lead God’s people by teaching them God’s Word in a way that profits them spiritually. 
- Mark Dever, “Looking for a Few Good Men,” taken from The Deliberate Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 140.
As I’ve noted through this series, the church is God’s will for us in the journey of faith. We were never designed to be people who journey alone. However, as we consider the context of the local church, each with its own personality and membership diversity—there is never a perfect church this side of heaven. Anytime we assemble with people we assemble with sinners and there will be both blessings and challenges as it pertains to how the church functions as a body of believers.
Not only do we have members who help and hinder the local church, we too have leaders who help and hurt. Today, we focus on the positive—specifically those types of pastors who labor to build up the body of Christ for the glory of God.
Preaching is not something that comes after the singing. Preaching is not something that comes after worship. Preaching is worship. If worship doesn’t happen during preaching – biblical preaching is not taking place. Historically, a church that was doing many things right, but overlooking the proper means of preaching the Word was not considered to be a true church at all. In fact, biblical preaching is the first mark of an authentic church. For many years, what constituted a true church was the right preaching of the Word, the proper administration of the ordinances, and biblical church discipline.
What does biblical preaching involve? To be clear, biblical preaching is expository preaching. The most accurate way to preach the Word of God is through a verse-by-verse approach to the text. The expositor, exposits the text. The expositor digs into the text within the proper framework and without violating the historical, grammatical, theological, and contextual aspects of the passage. The expository preacher labors in the Word in order to define, explain, apply, and illustrate the Scriptures to the congregation. The Scottish preacher James Stewart said the purpose of genuine preaching is “to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.” 
The way the expositor helps the church is by instilling sound theology and setting up the church for true spiritual growth. The expositor, whether in the pulpit on Sunday morning or with young people in the discipleship ministries of the church—he labors to preach and teach the Scriptures rather than majoring on gimmicks or games. Rather than picking through the Bible and hopping from passage to passage randomly each week, the expositor allows the people to gain a solid understanding of the books of the Bible, the authors of the books, the original purpose of the writing, and how to apply that to our present situations today. Rather than teaching moralisms from the Old Testament and allegorizing the passages—the expositor rightly handles the Word and points to Jesus Christ without changing the single meaning of each text of Scripture. This not only teaches the Word properly, but it teaches people how to rightly study the Bible in their own homes too.
The shepherd is the role of a pastor, but unfortunately many pastors are designated “talking heads” in the pulpit with little emphasis upon shepherding souls through the week. The shepherd is the pastor who looks after God’s flock with a serious minded approach to spiritual health and a pursuit of holiness. When we read the New Testament, we don’t find entertainers and CEO executives who are interested in growing a campus. We see pastors who understood what it meant to shepherd the flock of God among them.
In certain countries where they use the meat and wool of sheep, they create a plan to lead the sheep to slaughter. They train one sheep to walk into a specific door which is the pathway straight to the slaughter. Just before the end, another doorway opens up and the lead sheep is led into a safe zone. After the sheep is trained sufficiently, it will lead the other sheep down this pathway. At the end—the lead sheep will be led into the safe zone, but as soon as it passes, the door shuts and the rest of the sheep walk straight into the slaughter room. In many cases, this sheep is known as the Judas sheep.
Sheep are not known for their intelligence. Therefore, the work of pastoring involves shepherding hearts—leading them in the proper manner so that they will not injure themselves spiritually. Many sheep are known for walking off cliffs or into the mouths of predators, so when God calls pastors to be shepherds he is referencing the intentional and difficult work of leading obstinate and rebellious people. Walk with me back in time to the days of Jesus when the shepherds would lead their flocks. Let’s examine some basic characteristics of a shepherd to his sheep:
- Food – Leads his sheep from pasture to pasture to sound biblical theology.
- Protection – Labors to protect his sheep from the wolves or other predators.
- Discipline – Committed to correcting sheep that continue to wander astray.
- Love – The shepherd enjoys spending time with his sheep.
This is difficult work, but the church blessed with pastors who understand their role as shepherds will greatly benefit from a serious minded approach to shepherding. More than numerical growth will be emphasized, and genuine fruit of spiritual growth will take place in the life of the congregation.
While many people are accustomed to the title of pastor, in many evangelical circles the title of elder is a foreign concept. What many people fail to realize is that the office of pastor is referred to as elder far more times in the Bible than pastor. There are several key terms used to describe the office of pastor, including elder and overseer (or Bishop). Each of these titles can be found In 1 Peter 5:1-5 where we see a grand picture of the responsibility of the elders within the life of the church.
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
The elder understands his office is that of spiritual leadership. He takes it seriously, and labors in the Scriptures to lead and care for God’s people. The elder may not be on staff as a paid pastor, but he holds the office of pastor just as any other pastor in the life of the local church. It takes a multiple group of pastors to faithfully shepherd God’s flock. Faithful elders who are unpaid often work behind the scenes in order to pray for, lead, and disciple the church family. The church with a plurality of elders will be a church that is properly cared for so long as these elders are serving in the capacity that God has designed from the beginning. In his book on leadership, john MacArthur properly observes:
Ministry as depicted in the New Testament was never a one-man show. That does not preclude the role of a dominant leader on each team. Within the framework of plurality, there will invariably be those who have more influence. The diversity of our gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4) means all people are differently equipped. Therefore a plurality of leaders does not necessitate an absolute equality in every function. In even the most godly group of leaders, some will naturally be more influential than others. Some will have teaching gifts that outshine the rest. Others will be more gifted as administrators. Each can fulfill a different role, and there is no need to try to enforce absolute equality of function. 
The church with a plurality of elders not only oversees the church with a proper aim toward spiritual growth, buy they also look after one another as pastors—preventing the leaders from wandering off into sin and abandoning the flock. A true body of elders will result in a growing and happy church for God’s glory.
- James Stewart, Hearlds of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1972), 73. Quote found in The Supremacy of Preaching by John Piper.
- John MacArthur, The Book on Leadership (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 168.
Over the last two weeks, I have been writing a short series on different types of people who help and hinder the local church. Today, I want to focus on the leaders. While the local church is absolutely necessary for the journey of faith, it’s not exactly designed to be a religious social club. In fact, we see Paul writing to Timothy (1 Tim. 3:15) and discussing the way the household of God was to behave. If the Scriptures contain all that’s necessary for faith and life, we must govern the church and worship according to God’s Word—rather than man’s opinion.
Just as there are people who help and hinder the local church, the same principle is true with pastors. Today, we will focus first on the negative and then move next Tuesday to the positive. Although this is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list, today we look at three types of pastors who are a hindrance to the local church’s sanctification and growth in grace?
The entertainer is really a pragmatist at heart. Whatever the people want, they will get it under the leadership of an entertainer. This type of leader will often poll the community before planting a church to see what type of music the community enjoys as he works with his team to design the right kind of service to reach his culture. Far too many men who stand in the pulpit on Sunday are classified as entertainers. They strive to use the right phrases that please the ears of people—often spending more time on the crafting of jokes as opposed to digging into the theology of the text in preparation to preach. The entertainer labors diligently to make people feel positive, and such men avoid church discipline and the call for holiness for fear that it will not grow their church.
Today it’s not at all uncommon to have pastors dressing up in costumes to “perform” their sermon rather than preaching the text. This approach to ministry will often be very successful, but it’s not spiritually profitable. People often leave excited about the sermon, but do they really know God in a better way? The congregation often erupts in laughter, but when was the last time they wept? The church often applauds the preacher, but when was the last time they exulted in God causing their hearts to swell with joy based on their knowledge of the atonement of Jesus Christ that was presented in a sermon?
Entertainers are man pleasers—serving them exactly what they desire. The entertainer is pragmatically driven and has an insatiable desire for church growth at any cost. The entertainer could come in the form of a senior pastor who jokes around in the pulpit or the youth pastor who disciples children in games rather than God’s Word. In most cases, the entertainer is paralyzed by the need to be liked by his congregation, and sadly he places more emphasis on pleasing people rather than pleasing God. Paul warned Timothy that his people would soon leave him for such preachers who would tickle the ears of the immature causing them to wander off into myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
The Unbalanced Teacher
The unbalanced teacher is one who typically camps out in one theme and cannot seem to allow his ministry to be text driven. Such a teacher is often consumed with a specific topic such as eschatology. In such cases, the unbalanced teacher finds a way to get to eschatology from the strangest texts in the Bible—or he never leaves Daniel or Revelation in fear that he will focus on something other than end times prophecy.
However, it’s not just eschatology junkies that the church often suffers from, it could be a pastor who spends all of his time evangelizing the saints on Sunday rather than feeding the sheep. Sure, the gospel should be preached every week and made clear—for the children, the unbelieving guests, and the church as a whole as a means of building up the flock—but the church needs more than a call to repent and believe the gospel. The church needs the whole counsel of God’s Word—both the easy and more difficult passages. Remember what Paul said to his fellow elders from Ephesus as he said, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Following that exhortation, he warned them of the wolves who would enter the church following his departure.
The unbalanced teacher often camps on eschatology, the doctrines of grace, evangelism, or whatever he is passionate or knowledgeable about while there is much remaining in God’s Word that needs to be expounded. If you move to a new city, you will want to be sure that you are not joining a church where the pastor will be unbalanced in his handling of God’s Word. The pastor is called to teach and preach the Scriptures—rightly dividing the Word—in order that the church will be well fed and cared for spiritually (2 Tim. 2:15).
The Lover of this World
The pastor who loves this present world is not qualified to lead a local church—or God’s Word for that matter. Pastors should love people in the world and point them to their hope and joy in Christ, but the preacher who loves the world demonstrates that his heart is mastered by money and materialism rather than by Christ. Far too many leaders fit this category. They preach a message of health, wealth, and prosperity—demanding that people have enough faith in God and he will provide them with riches and material possessions. The lover of this world is self condemned and self deceived. The god of this world has blinded their minds so that they cannot see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). The lover of this world spends most of their time emphasizing how it’s possible to have your best life now—rather than focusing on the eternal reward (Heb. 11:10).
John the apostle warned about those who loved the world. He said, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). In like manner, Paul provided the qualifications for the office of elder (pastor or overseer) as he wrote to Timothy. According to 1 Timothy 3:3, the overseer is not to be gripped by the love of money. Once again, money itself is not evil, but as Paul would later write, it’s the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). Therefore, for a pastor to have an insatiable desire for the things of this world proves that his heart is fixed on temporal things rather than eternal. As Jesus once warned, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24). J.C. Ryle warned about the love of money as he wrote:
Let us all be on our guard against the love of money. The world is full of it in our days. The plague is abroad. Thousands who would abhor the idea of worshiping Juggernaut, are not ashamed to make an idol of gold. We are all liable to the infection, from the least to the greatest. We may love money without having it, just as we may have money without loving it. It is an evil that works very deceitfully. It carries us captives before we are aware of our chains. Once let it get the mastery, and it will harden, paralyze, scorch, freeze, blight, and wither our souls. It overthrew an apostle of Christ. Let us take heed that it does not overthrow us. One leak may sink a ship. One unmortified sin may ruin a soul. 
- J.C. Ryle, Matthew, 26.
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.