At most churches it’s easy to identify the leader. He’s the one that stands up and preaches.
However, when you read I Cor. 14, you’ll see that many or all of the men are preaching (taking turns and following the orderly rules set forth in that chapter). That’s what you’ll see here.
Does that make it confusing to figure out who the leader is? Following the format presented in I Cor. 14 diminishes the role of preaching as the distinguishing mark of the leader of the congregation. All the men can preach. Even though some are more gifted than others in this area, everyone can contribute something (I Cor. 14:31).
That being the case, it’s unnecessary for the church to hire someone else from outside the congregation to be paid a salary to come do all the preaching. God has already supplied the gifts to fill this need from the congregation. All of the men bear the responsibility for the care of the body of Christ. It’s not just one person, leaving a secular job to take on those responsibilities. Therefore, when the body of Christ functions as it should, the need for salaried clergy is eliminated. Our preachers work to support themselves instead of being paid by the church (Acts 20:33-35).
The same goes for the rest of a traditional pastor’s job description, such as coordinating the ministries of the church, counseling, providing leadership with financial issues, etc. All of the men are to step up and fulfill these responsibilities, according to the individual gifts that God has given them.
We should all be in full-time Christian service for how we live our lives every day, how to witness to those around us, and for what we say on Sundays. There is no need to pay one another for what we all are supposed to be doing.
On the other hand, there are evangelists, missionaries, and church planters, who often work full-time with the lost and with new converts. We are commanded to support these brothers, just as the Philippians, for example, supported Paul while he ministered in other cities (Phil. 4:10-19). When an missionary is preaching to the lost or working with new believers, he doesn’t need to ask them for financial support. This is the principle that Paul operated under while he was in Corinth (I Cor. 9:12, 15; II Cor. 11:7-9) and Thessalonica (I Thess. 2:9) while they were still immature believers.
And churches can pay their local elders and other ministers if they choose to (I Tim. 5:17-18; I Cor. 9:3-14) — there’s just no need to do that here.
With all that being said, there is such a thing as leaders in the congregation.
On one level, the leader is the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ (Col. 1:18). We all follow him and do as we are led to do through his Spirit. In this way, he directs each member to bring something to edify the rest of the congregation at the meeting. When everyone is in tune to this, it’s really something to behold – a real blessing to each member. One person is led by the Spirit to call out a song for the congregation to sing. Another brother hears the message of the song and brings up a related Bible verse for the congregation to consider. The next brother comments on that and gives another song to sing. Another prays to thank God for that specific promise found in God’s Word. All of this works together to edify the whole congregation, and no one is orchestrating it except the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 14:26-33).
There are also men that lead the church. But they’re not hired from outside and given the title of pastor, to be the professional Christian, provide all the leadership, and do almost all of the ministering to the congregation. Leadership comes organically from the dedicated Christian men in the congregation that are already ministering (Acts 14:23) and have an established example for others to follow (Heb. 13:7).
You can’t just put a title on someone without the reality behind it. It’s a misnomer to hire a young man fresh out of seminary and give him the title of “elder” (which literally means “older”) – yet many churches do exactly that. He may be shepherding (“pastor”) or serving (“minister”), but he’s obviously not older (“elder”).
The important thing about leaders is the reality of it, not the title. We don’t put much emphasis on titles. Titles aren’t something to be used to create a hierarchy of the clergy over the laity (Matt. 23:9-12; I Peter 5:3-6).
Is someone shepherding you? Maybe he’s a pastor. Do you see an older man with wisdom to back up his years of maturity? Maybe he’s an elder. Do you see someone overseeing the congregation? Maybe he’s a bishop. Is there someone serving? Maybe he’s a minister or a deacon.
And if the congregation sees someone that is performing the function of a pastor, elder, bishop, minister, or deacon, and if they meet the qualifications listed in the Bible such as I Tim. 3 or Titus 1, the congregation will ordain that man and recognize his leadership with the appropriate title.
We don’t take church leadership lightly (Rom. 12:8). On the contrary, every member of the church needs to be seriously considering how he’s edifying the rest of the congregation and whether he’s maturing and developing the gifts that the Spirit has given him for that purpose, being sure to humbly consider the wisdom available from those around him in his congregation and in other congregations. The men that take that seriously will become the leaders that are a blessing to the congregation (Eph. 4:11-16; Heb. 13:17).