Are We Going to Follow God's Design?
Updated: Jun 15, 2022
The serpent found his way into the garden with deceptive and evil motives in his heart. However. his tactics were more subtle. He simply asked a question: "Is that what God really said?"
There truly is nothing new under the Sun.
That scenario seems to have happened again. This it's not in the garden but in the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting. The question of women serving as pastors has been brought to the full attention of the Convention by Saddleback Church and others in the SBC ordaining women as pastors.
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states that only men are qualified to serve as pastors. When the Credentials Committee declined any action against Saddleback, the word parsing truly began. Questions started to be asked by some in the Convention: What is a pastor? Does this prohibition include associate pastors or just the lead pastor? Is there a difference between the office of pastor and the giftedness of a pastor? How should we define the term pastor? Could a pastor simply be another term used for a support staff member? Don't churches have the freedom to follow only parts of the BFM 2000? What is the standard of being "closely aligned" with the BFM 2000 as outlined in the SBC Bylaws?
Let me be clear - all of these questions are tools of the adversary. Not only is the BFM 2000 clear in addressing the role of pastor, scripture is too. That's what is really important.
There are two offices of the church according to the New Testament: pastor and deacon. (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, Acts 6, Ephesians 4, Acts 20, 1 Peter 5, Hebrews 13) There is not a separate category for support pastors or assistant pastors. The New Testament model for leadership in the church is focused on those two offices and the functions of those offices. Just as God has given us the design for the family, He has also given us the design for leadership in the church.
The question is not, "What does the Bible say?" Rather, the question is, "Are we going to implement and follow what the Bible says?" The Bible is clear concerning this issue. The term "pastor" comes from the Latin word for Shepherd. The Bible uses the following terms interchangeably to describe the same office of pastor - elder, bishop (overseer), and shepherd. The qualifications are abundantly clear for this office in scripture. Simply put, a pastor is a spiritual leader who has biblical authority to preach, lead, and minister to the local congregation of believers.
Admittedly, churches in the past few decades have changed their staff structure and organizational leadership. The model for most medium to large size churches in the SBC 40 years ago looked something like this:
- Minister (or director) of Music
- Minister (or director) of Education
- Minister (or director) of Youth
Scripturally, the use of the term minister is different than the use of the term pastor. Paul says we are all called to be "ministers of reconciliation." II Corinthians 5. For many in these support staff positions, they never felt led to preach or lead the church as a pastor. Their role as a layperson was to implement specific ministries of the church under the direction of the pastor. "Minister" simply means servant. All Christians are ministers. Not all Christians are pastors.
In some of our churches, the functionality of this staffing model has stayed the same, but the job titles have changed. Now we have worship pastors, youth pastors, executive pastors, discipleship pastors, family pastors, teaching pastors, etc. My local church fellowship has utilized some of these terms, but we have made it clear as a congregation that these men are pastors. They are called to preach and help lead the flock. They are ordained into pastoral ministry. Some churches changed the names of these positions, but they kept the same role.
Why should we care so much about these types of secondary issues?
I do believe there are brothers and sisters in Christ who see secondary issues differently than I do. For example, the mode of baptism and apostolic gifts are secondary issues, for the most part. However, we determine the scope of missional cooperation by looking at secondary issues. Secondary issues help determine what type of churches we are going to plant. They help to decide what our worship practices should be. The nature of our cooperation is based on primary and secondary doctrinal issues.
Also, if you look at any liberal denomination today that has abandoned Christian orthodoxy you will realize that their slippery slope toward heresy started with one issue - women as pastors. They compromised and came to the conclusion that God's Word may not be so clear about women pastors. Maybe God's Word isn't completely right, anyways. Where are those denominations now? They're ordaining homosexual and transgender pastors. Their churches are hollow shells of stone and stained glass, capitulating to whatever the sentiments of the world demand. The only reason many of them are still around is because of the generations of believers who left endowments and memorial gifts on their way out of the world. If we answer wrongly on this question, we will head down a similar path of destruction.
With that, this is a substantial issue in determining the future of missional cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention. Quite honestly, the tent cannot be big enough for both sides. A failure by the convention to act on this issue is to take an action on this issue. And, unfortunately, the terms for missional cooperation in the SBC have changed.