Why Assemblies of the Saints Do Not Have One Pastor


Martin Luther stated, ‘In truth thou canst not read the Scriptures too much; and what thou readest, thou canst not read too well, and what thou readest well, thou canst not too well understand; and what thou understandest well, thou canst not too well teach; and what thou teachest, thou canst not too well live’.1

Local churches that I have been associated with have never had a one-man ‘pastor’. This article seeks to explore what scripture says concerning one-man ministry. Some of this may appear strange to those who are unfamiliar with Christian testimony in the 1800s in England and Europe.

First, let us observe some important details in Matthew chapter 16 verse 18. The Church of Rome took Jesus’ statement to Peter to mean that Peter was the ‘rock’ upon which the church was built. This was to promote the idea of a pope, father, or papa. The claim is that Peter [petros] held a position in the church that was more important than the common folk, called the laity. Thus, a special class of clergy was promoted to distort what scripture really said about ‘this rock’; the Lord Jesus, [petra].2

‘Pastor’ was a common expression for the Greek word poimen, which is translated seventeen times as ‘shepherds’ and once in the KJV as ‘pastors’3 and this is a frequent metaphor in both testaments. The ‘shepherds’ were to care for and tend to the needs of the flock of God, whether referring to Israel in the Old Testament or the church in the New Testament.

Second, we might note Ephesians chapter 4 verse 11, ‘he [Christ] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers’, v. 11. Only here in the New Testament is the Greek word poimen translated ‘pastors’ KJV, and it is not the same word, as is translated ‘elder’ elsewhere.

According to Ephesians, the responsibilities of these gifted men were the edifying of the body of Christ through ministry/teaching with a view to perfecting (maturing) the saints.

Third, on the subject of gift, we should note that it was:

  1. Not a right granted by authority of men. There were no ecclesiastical orders such as priests or clergy.
  2. To be exercised within the whole church (in contrast to an elder who functioned in a specific local assembly).
  3. To build up the body of Christ by equipping the saints for the ministry.
  4. To mature and prepare the saints to do the work of the ministry. So, a gift was not a professional position in the church gained by means of one’s education or training, vv. 12, 13.
  5. To be exercised as the Spirit of God directed, not for personal gain or acclaim, Acts 20. 28; 1 Cor. 12. 8-12.
  6. One that required no official title bestowed by men. These were God-given capacities. The word ‘office’, 1 Tim. 3. 1, is unfortunate, but the translators reflected the practices of the times in which they lived. There was no ‘reverend’, ‘vicar’, ‘father’, ‘pope’, ‘his holiness’ in biblical times.

Some translate ‘pastors and teachers’, as the ESV, with a footnote that pastors and teachers could be a combination of ‘pastor-teacher’, emphasizing the fact that the role of pastors was primarily dealing with teaching. The New American Standard Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible, Wuest, Tyndale, and others use a similar expression. Wuest says, ‘pastors who are also teachers’.

Fourth, elders were to have a similar role in a local assembly to teach the doctrines of Christ and shepherd the flock under their care. When Paul and Barnabas went about the Gentile world, they designated certain ones in a local church that the assemblies recognized as functioning in the role of elders, with instruction in mind. There is no indication that the apostles or their delegates (Timothy and Titus) were to appoint apostles, prophets, evangelists, or pastor-teachers. The elder was a local charge and not a gift to the whole church. There was always a plurality of elders to guard against the spirit of Diotrephes, 3 John 9, and serve as a check on divisiveness.

Fifth, we will list some possible abuses to the exercise of the gift of ‘pastor’:

  • One man rule could enable a tendency to lord it over the flock, or to fleece the flock as Diotrephes. We might mention the work of the Nicolaitans that God hates, Rev. 2. 6, 15.
  • A ‘resident-teacher’ or ‘presiding elder’ is no substitute for gifted men in the assembly. Some assemblies have succumbed to this practice anyway.
  • A dominant personality could stifle the exercise of truly gifted teachers. Satan has already planted the false in the church, 1 John 4. 1, 2; 2 Pet. 2. 1.
  • A ‘pastor’ could also be the cause of factions, cliques, and divisions within the church. There was no ‘calling of a pastor’, no voting in or out; the assembly is not a democracy, but one body in Christ!

Finally, the things which last and those that are past:

  1. We no longer have ‘apostles’ in the biblical term.4
  2. We no longer have ‘prophets’ in the same sense as apostles. There are those who claim to be apostles or prophets but who lack the biblical test of a true gift, see the earlier comments.
  3. We still have ‘evangelists’ who spread the gospel, but the apostles and prophets were the ‘foundational gifts’ in the church, Eph. 2. 20.
  4. We still have pastor-teachers for the building up and equipping of the saints.
  5. Apostles, evangelists, and prophets were not the same as elders, nor were the pastor-teachers necessarily so. A similarity of function does not mean that those functions are exercised by the same persons.
  6. The idea of one-man ministry grew out of early heretical teaching as far back as AD 109 with teaching from some ‘church fathers’, such as Ignatius, who wrote, ‘look upon the bishop even as … [you] would upon the Lord Himself’.5 Roman Catholic teaching has a long history of falsifying the real. Some have fallen into this practice of one-man ministry opposing the one body of Christ, either through ignorance or deliberately. We all have one body with many members. So is Christ’s body, the church.
  7. There is no such division of the body of Christ into a select group called ‘the clergy’ and the rest of us called ‘the laity’. Scripture knows no such division! We are all believer-priests before God in Christ.6
  8. A gift is not a ‘natural talent’. Some take great liberty with the term ‘gift’ and include anything to seating people, taking up the offering, cleaning, or visiting the sick. These are not gifts but areas of ministry.

In summary

  • Let us thank the Lord Jesus that He Himself has given gifts to His church (the body of Christ) for the equipping and edification of the church to function in multiple areas of ministry, Rom. 12. 4-8.
  • We reject the idea of one-man ministry that separates the body of Christ into an elite group, called the clergy, and the rest as the laity. We also reject ‘every man a teacher’ putting anyone into the pulpit to teach, gifted or not.
  • We encourage each member of the body to examine what gift/ gifts God has bestowed upon them for the edification of the church to the full-grown state, until He comes, Eph. 4. 13.
  • We exhort all to resist the promotion of any man by his training at some institution, however valuable that may be. There are numerous men and women whom the Lord has used over the centuries in teaching ministries that never had formal training at some school of higher learning.

Remember that a man’s training does not always indicate giftedness of God. Only the Holy Spirit can enable a gifted teacher. May we honour them as such!


As this is his first article for Precious Seed, James Gray lives in Waynesboro, Georgia, and fellowships at Believers Gospel Chapel, Augusta, USA. He is married, with four children, and nine grandchildren. He is now retired after forty-three years in both public and Christian education.



Quoted from Irving Jensen, Independent Bible Study, Moody Press, 1963.


See 1 Cor. 10. 4.


See, for example, John 10. 11, 14; 1 Pet. 2. 25; 5. 4; and Heb. 13. 20.


See Scofield on Matthew chapter 10 for an excellent note on apostles, C. I. Scofield, The Scofield Bible, Oxford University Press, 1917.


Ignatius, The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, see here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_of_Ignatius_to_the_Ephesians, or here: https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/seven-epistles-of-st-ignatius-of-antioch-20957.


The reader is encouraged to make a careful study of 1 Peter chapter 2 verses 1 to 6.


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