“HOW TO CHOOSE A GOOD PASTOR” Making a Mountain Out of a Myth


Making a Mountain Out of a Myth


Jon Zens

Assumptions are the devil’s details. All of us make pretty far-reaching decisions based on assumptions. If our assumptions turn out to be mistaken, the results can be devastating. For example, years ago when asbestos was used on a large scale, it was considered to be a helpful and valuable product. Of course, at the outset there was no history of its effects on humans. It came to be assumed that it was generally safe. But years later it became obvious that thinking it was safe was a mistake of monumental proportions. It took years of human exposure to asbestos to reveal that the assumption of its safety was fatal.

A Deep-Seated Assumption: You Need A Pastor

A fatal assumption has existed for hundreds and hundreds of years in Christianity. It is this: every group of believers needs a human pastor. I say human pastor because in Hebrews Jesus is called our “mega-pastor,” the Great Shepherd of His sheep. So believers indeed have a “pastor,” and He is Jesus Christ.

But when you think about it there is absolutely nothing in the New Testament about “the pastor” being the linchpin of all that goes on in a local gathering of believers. Yet reflect on how many books, articles and sermons there have been since the 1500’s about all the aspects of “the pastor.” One dimension that has generated a lot of space over the years is “How to Choose a Good Pastor.” Recently, Ralph Drollinger of Capitol Ministries published an article with this title (November 21, 2016,  I’d like to take a look at what he says since he perpetuates many baseless assumptions that are worth a second look.

Of course, the idea of choosing a pastor assumes that such a position should exist, and that believers should occasionally have to concern themselves with such a choice. Neither of these assumptions can be discovered in the New Testament. Thus, the author is building part of an infrastructure about “the pastor” on a non-existent foundation. Thus, in the end, his article expresses convictions arrived at by imposing traditional components of church on the NT.

Be Careful Who You Hire

As might be expected, Ralph couches choosing a good pastor in business world terminology. “You are,” he says, “very careful, deliberate and wise about who you hire in your office. The procedures you follow relative to employment help assure that you get what you are looking for . . . . Properly rating another (like you do those seeking employment in your office) relates to good judgment.” Again, however, where does the NT reveal a duty believers have to hire one paid person to fill the position of pastor? The ekklesia (assembly) is a family not a business that fills office spaces.

“Pastoral Epistles”?

The answer to what makes a good pastor, he suggests, “is gained by studying what are known as the Pastoral Epistles.” It must be underscored, however, that this designation of three letters reflects church traditions, not NT reality. It is crucial to note that the tradition of designating 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus as “Pastoral” Epistles is very misleading.  David P. Kuske calls Timothy a “young pastor.” This reveals a mistaken assumption because clearly Timothy and Titus were not resident elders.  They were itinerant apostolic assistants. Paul “left” them in various places to help the assemblies.  Paul at one point told Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim.4:5).  In these three letters Paul gave his co-workers instructions regarding issues and problems faced by the assemblies they moved among and assisted.  As Frank Viola rightly observes:

Labeling 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus the ‘Pastoral Epistles’ or the ‘Pastorals’

Searching Together 36:1-2 2009 "To Preach or Not to Preach?"

Searching Together 36:1-2 2009 “To Preach or Not to Preach?”

is a misnomer.  These letters were not given this label until the 18th century.  Timothy and Titus were not pastors.  They were apostolic workers (Untold Story of the NT, p.160).

Where Is the Pastor to Be Found?

Ralph believes that “by far the largest amount of passages related to the pastor have to do with his injunction to teach and preach the Word of God.” But the truth in Christ is that there are no passages in the NT that deal with “the pastor.” The traditional practice of each church having a salaried pastor who stands behind a pulpit and gives sermons, visits the sick, counsels parishioners, administers church business, and whose “vision” directs the church is unknown in the NT. Massive confusion and misinformation is created when the traditional view of “the pastor” is assumed when the NT is read or cited.

One Pastor?

The author maintains that the NT teaches each local church needs one pastor. He says, “The Pastor-Teacher is best understood as one person in Eph. 4:11.” He then cites verse 11 in part like this: “. . . and some as pastor and teachers.” But in the Greek text it is not singular, pastor, but plural, pastors — “pastors-teachers.” The concept of shepherding in the NT is always plural, as in James 5, “if any of you are sick let them call for the elders of the church.”

The Body Is Christ On Earth

Ralph sees the one person who is the pastor as “the kind of leadership that Jesus Christ has given and intends for the Body of Christ in His physical absence (in-between His first and second incarnation) . . . . to lead His body in-between the First and Second Coming of Christ.”

But this line of thought omits some significant aspects of the Lord’s purpose in Christ. In John 14 Jesus promised that His physical departure would not result in them being left as orphans. Why? Because He would come in the person of the Spirit to lead them and reveal Himself to them. Jesus assured the disciples with the words, I will come to you. He fulfilled these words when He sent the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. This Pentecostal coming of the Spirit to the ekklesia must also be seen as a coming of Christ.

Thus, the ministry of Christ is continued on earth — not through the pastor of each local church — but through His Body, the ekklesia (see Youtube, Jon Zens, The Tucson Videos 2016, #13, “Jesus Continues on Earth Through Us”). This is why the NT letters are addressed to the saints, not to the pastor. In Matthew 18:17 the final setting of decision-making was “bring it to the ekklesia.” No leaders were mentioned.

In 1 Cor. 5 immorality was dealt with when the believers came together and dealt with the unrepentant person. There was no mention of “leaders.”

In 1 Cor. 6, disputes among the saints were to be resolved by those in the body, not taken to unbelieving judges. Initiative from “leaders” was not in the picture.

A gathering of the Body is described in 1 Cor. 14. Everyone participated — “each one of you has a song, etc.” — and there was no pastor, no pulpit and no sermon. In fact, there was no distinction between those “up-front” and those in an audience. When you boil everything down, R.C. Sproul rightly concluded that “in Protestant worship, for the most part, we sit and listen to a sermon.” Yet there is nothing in the NT about a pastor giving a weekly sermon. There is no one “leading” the gathering in 1 Cor. 14 — except Christ by the Spirit.

One Person or One Another?

The inordinate focus on “the pastor” provides a huge clue as to why the Body of Christ is so unhealthy. When you build everything around that which is nowhere revealed in the NT, you will then not practice that for which there is abundant revelation — the 58 one anothers. “Love one another, encourage one another, pray for one another, honor one another, greet one another, etc., etc.” Just like what happened with the Pharisees, because their passion was directed toward the wrong things, the right things were left undone (Matt. 23:23-24).

Why Do We Have to Choose a Pastor?

So Ralph encourages believers to put yourself “in association with a pastor who will stimulate spiritual growth . . . . Ask judiciously, ‘Does the pastor I’m following really shepherd me? . . . Choose wisely your pastor!”

But where does the NT narrative suggest that any believers should concern themselves with such a choice? It seems to me that to put energy into such a topic as “How to Choose a Good Pastor” is akin to devoting space to “How to Choose a Good Myth.” How can you choose an entity that does not exist? Of course, you can be involved in choosing a pastor in a traditional church, but just keep in mind that the notion of this “office” is a human construct, not the Lord’s mind.

What Mark Lake said recently on Facebook nails it:

“I have come to see all believers as leaders. All can hear God through the Holy Spirit give direction to the body. Leadership can appear in so many different ways. I focus less on ‘leadership’ and more on following Christ through the Spirit. If a group of believers are doing this together, Christ will lead through the whole body, using different people at different times or in different seasons. If we focus more on one-anothering, then the  ‘leadership’ will be available when needed.”

— Jon Zens, December, 2016

For further reflection:

George Barna/Frank Viola, “The Pastor: Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning,” Pagan Christianity, pages 105-143.

Emil Brunner, The Misunderstanding of the Church, 1952, 132 pages.

David H.J. Gay, The Pastor: Does He Exist? 2014.

Anthony Jacomb-Hood, Rediscovering the New Testament Church, 2014, 305 pages.

Malachi O’Doherty, Empty Pulpits: Ireland’s Retreat from Religion, 2008, 254 pages.

Clyde Reid, The Empty Pulpit, Abingdon, 1967.

Clyde Reid, The God-Evaders, Abingdon, 1966.

Milt Rodriguez, The Community Life of God.

Jon Zens, 58 to 0 — How Christ Leads Through the One Anothers.


  1. Deb Cunningham says

    Thank you for the article. Sadly, man in the flesh tends to swallow the lie that Christ is not capable of leading us today together. Being in one accord is not only possible but the goal and constant lesson of submission to one another and dying to self. Lord manifest yourself, continue your life of love and ministry through us together. Blessings to you and the lovely Dotty.

  2. Joy Paul Gray says

    So excellent

  3. Remember, Christ warned the Jewish leaders of the day as making the word of God to none effect by their traditions, Bingo!!!!!!

  4. Deb Cunningham says

    I have a second thought. God has set examples in nature to reinforce His concepts and the Sperm Whale comes to my mind. In community, Sperm Whales follow one whale. This species is one commonly found tragically beached in herds due to this trait. They follow one leader. It is God’s design that we do the same, but our leader is Christ and the direction is a community building and validating relationship. One person does not take the lead and do it all. The community seeks the one leader, Christ, and community seeks witness together.
    It is very sad that today, the spiritual gift of pastoring, has turned into a job description often with demands that are not Biblical. So sad for the person who picks up a wrong yoke and for the Body of Believers that misplace their personal responsibility to participate maturely within the community. Both are at fault. Both suffer. May our Lord graciously allow us to encourage one another in His strength and liberty.

  5. Lindy Combs says

    Sometimes I ache to have known about all of this when I attended where you were in meetings…my my, I think it was 2002 or ’03… in the group in MN. Such a long journey I have trekked from “churchianity” to the joy of ekklesia. You sure do hit the nail…and then again.

  6. Hi, Jon. Excellent article as always. L. Michael White in his book “From Jesus to Christianity” brings out the fact most scholars agree the pastoral letters were not originally accepted and were not written by Paul. Only his 10 letters and Luke were the first ” scriptures” used. also you may want to check out Steve Simms “beyond Church”. He has a salvation Army fellowship in Nashville who have meetings like the ones in acts. Jesus leads the meetings. Hope you are warm. It’s 15 her in Mississippi. Jim

  7. Stephen Becker says

    While I don’t dispute that having paid pastors has caused problems in the church, you have to admit we have heard over the years some mighty good sermons from those coming from that rank. And while seminary may not seem necessary in the thinking of some, still they can provide pretty good tools for better preparing sermons. I’m not a “three office” advocate so I am kind of in your camp. But what exactly are you calling for? A free-for-all, where the wind blows that’s where the assembly goes? I would like some greater clarification of point of view. Also, one more question I forgot to add: what is your understanding of Eph. 4: 11,12?

    • Stephen, thanks for your comments. You seem to assume that the production of “mighty good sermons” is the goal of seminary training and going to church. But there is nothing in the NT about someone up front delivering a weekly sermon. “To Preach or Not to Preach: The Church’s Urgent Question” by David C. Norrington covers all the bases on this subject. We have exalted that for which there is no evidence, and squelched that for which there is evidence — the open gathering described in 1 Cor 14. I’m talking about Christ expressing Himself through all the saints with rivers of living waters when they gather together. The question that begs for an answer is, Why have we constructed a “service” that focuses on one person’s monologue, and totally ignored the open meeting Paul encouraged in which “each one of you has a contribution; let all things be done for building up one another.”

      I advocate what William A. Beardslee sketched concerning 1 Cor 14. “Now Paul sketches [in 1 Cor. 14] a picture of worship, a very flexible procedure [which is] “to be open to anyone, but each is to be attentive to the good of all . . . . What a revealing glimpse of a vital community, whose worship was in good measure unstructured, open to participation by all, and guided not by a pre-set program, but by the Spirit! . . . Apparently there was no one who regularly presided, in contrast to the almost universal practice of the later church” (First Corinthians: A Commentary for Today, Chalice Press, 1994, PP. 136-137).

      We are not talking about a free-for-all, but a free atmosphere where each person brings a portion of Jesus to the feast-table.

  8. Stephen Becker says

    Jon, I think you missed my point regarding seminary training. I wasn’t trying to convey the notion necessarily that the goal of seminaries was simply to produce “mighty good sermons” and very little else. I simply was trying to point out that seminary isn’t a total waste of time and expense and that God’s people haven’t been totally damaged by such training. You yourself went through that training. Was it a waste of time for you? Did you not use it to the benefit of God’s people?
    As regard to the “free for all” question, I confess I did not put as much thought into it as I should have. I apologize.
    Christ does want order in His assemblies.

    • Steve — The essence of why seminaries exist is to train people to fill the position of “the pastor,” which then leads to their chief purpose — to deliver a sermon each Sunday. The issue is not whether an institution does some “good,” but rather if the Lord sanctions it. Seminaries exist for the purpose of graduating people who will occupy an occupation {“the pastor”) that is nowhere to be found in the NT. Yes, I learned some great things in the seminary I attended, but I went there with no interest in the pastorate because in 1967 I read Alexander Hay’s “NT Order for Church & Missionary” (1946), and I only intended to go for one semester before leaving for India. The India venture fell through, so I ended up finishing seminary. If I knew then what I know now, I would have chosen another option than seminary. “Order” in assemblies does not involve squelching the participation of all.

      • jack plantinga says

        Hi Jon,
        Seminary, having been the best place on the planet, was also the place that I spent the best years of my life. I guess we all experience things differently.
        your classmate

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