October 20, 2016

3 warnings from a pastor leaving the ministry

by Scott Hollingshead

Image result for church open door

I was in seminary, and had never been a pastor before. But I knew God was preparing me to become one, and my desire was to church plant. So I was overjoyed when a pastor asked me to join him in a new church close to where I lived. This was exactly what I wanted to do, and seemed like the perfect opportunity.

But I had no way of knowing that perhaps the most significant lesson I would learn through that experience would be from the pastor himself. After several years of ministry the church plant disbanded and the pastor left the ministry. He and I still kept in touch after the church shut down, but that communication dwindled over time. I found out he wasn’t going to church much anymore, and when I challenged him about that, he cut me out of his life.

I was shocked. We had been so close. We were together on the battlefield, partners in the gospel, slugging it out in that start-up church. What happened? How did this happen? Were there warning signs along the way? As I look back on that experience, I’ve pulled out three lessons for pastors—warnings you could call them—from a pastor leaving the ministry:

  1. Separate your ministry from your identity

He was told his whole life that he was supposed to be a pastor. It was so clear. “You have all these tremendous gifts and a deep love for people,” they would say. And he did. It all made sense. That was why God placed him on the planet: to be a pastor.

But when everything came crashing down, he lost more than the church. He lost himself. Everything that he had been preparing for and moving towards his whole life had been stripped from him. In hindsight, there were some warning signs of identity confusion, but those never really came to fruition until the church shut down.

So now I encourage pastors to ask themselves early and often, why am I doing what I do?  Ministry needs to be first and foremost about our own sanctification. We are Christians first, and pastors second, if at all. God doesn’t need us in ministry, and we’re not completed or defined by our ministries. Contentment has to come from our relationship with Christ, not from the ebbs and flows of vocational ministry.

  1. Beware of feeling ‘called’ to ministry when your wife isn’t

Pastors: if your wife isn’t ready to go into ministry, then neither are you. Ministry is difficult enough even with a wife who is fully on board. But when a wife is barely hanging in there, it can signal a disaster waiting to happen. I’ve heard numerous stories of pastors just gritting it out, living in a perpetual state of survival and endurance, because their spouse resents the ministry. That is not how God designed the ministry to work.

This can be very difficult to identify, because generally wives want to support their husbands. But pastors need to take the time to talk and pray with their wives, and ensure that they understand how the Lord has called them into ministry.

If the sacrifices of ministry seem like more of a complaint and less of an opportunity for joy, that’s a serious concern. If a life of ministry is discussed as, “holding the family back,” that must be worked through.

Wives are often hesitant to express their concerns, because they don’t want to be the reason that their husbands don’t follow what they feel is their calling. So the warning for husbands is to not lay heavy loads of guilt or manipulation on their wives. Don’t make your wife feel like you can’t be obedient to God if she doesn’t jump on board.

  1. Leaders are not immune from going out from us-

John warns us:

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19)

Now let me be clear, my pastor was not a false teacher. On the contrary, he was a strong expository preacher and bold proclaimer of the gospel. That’s part of what made all of this so difficult to comprehend. And I do still hold out hope and pray that he is simply in a season of faltering in his faith and will once again come back to the church and continue on with the saints. But this verse was all I needed to be reminded of the fact that even leaders can walk away. No one is immune from backsliding and falling away.

The question for pastors: what will you do when ministry doesn’t turn out like you expected? If the church disbands, or if the elders fire you, then what? I hope that you don’t walk away from the church, the truth, or the faith.

My experience serves as a constant reminder to make sure my (and my wife’s) identity is in Christ, not in a vocation.

Scott Hollingshead

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Scott is the Senior Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Sacramento, CA.
  • Ron Hofman

    I’ll begin with a quote from Frank Viola’s book, “Pagan Christianity,” p. 141: “The contemporary pastor is the most unquestioned fixture in twenty-first century Christianity. Yet not a strand of Scripture supports the existence of this office.”

    This book is an eye-opener to many who read it. If you haven’t, I would strongly suggest you do. Mr. Viola isn’t the first who has written on the subject. It’s been talked about by many serious Christians for hundreds of years; what we see in Christianity today is not what is depicted in the NT, in Paul’s epistles. It is all wrong, and no wonder we see articles and blogs about “the Pastor’s” inability to function in the real world.

    On page 138 of his book, Viola writes: “At the time of this writing, there are reportedly more than 500,000 paid pastors serving churches in the United States. Among this massive number of religious professionals, consider the following statistics that testify to the lethal danger of the pastoral office:
    – 94% feel pressured to have an ideal family
    – 90% work more than 46 hours a week
    – 81% say they have insufficient time with their spouses
    – 80 percent believe that pastoral ministry affects their family negatively.
    – 70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend.
    – 70 percent have lower self-esteem than when they entered the ministry.
    – 50 percent feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
    – 80 percent are discouraged or deal with depression.
    – More than 40 percent report that they are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and unrealistic expectations.
    – 33 percent consider pastoral ministry an outright hazard to the family.
    – 33 percent have seriously considered leaving their position in the past year.
    – 40 percent of pastoral resignations are due to burnout.”

    That’s all I will quote. The above taken from Chapter 5: The Pastor: Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning. Copious footnotes throughout the book.

    • Gabriel Powell

      I haven’t read the book, but I wonder what his solution is? One of the core issues is that most pastors are not biblically equipped and their churches/denominations have anything but a biblical philosophy of ministry, which leads to all kinds of problems, such as what you reference above. That’s not to say that having a biblical view of ministry removes all challenges, but I think it would minimize many of the issues you listed.

      • Ron Hofman

        Well, his solution to the “Pastor burnout” problem is to have “a Biblical view of ministry.” And I don’t mean that to be facetious. Local church leadership modeled on the NT will still have it’s problems, but… and this is a huge but… what we see in 99.9% of the churches today looks nothing like what we see in the NT. It means a whole change of view, and the issue is we can’t understand how the NT leadership model actually works. So we put one man in charge. And that is the problem right there. And has been for ages.

        I’ll quote some more, and then leave it to the reader to pursue, if he or she is at all interested (only because it’s a big subject – too large to get into detail here): From p. 140: “All of these pathologies find their root in the history of the pastorate. It is “lonely at the top” because God never intended for anyone to be at the top-except His Son! In effect, the present-day pastor tries to shoulder the fifty-eight New Testament “one another” exhortations all by himself. It is no wonder that many of them get crushed under the weight.”

        In case you are wondering, “Are there local churches out there with a leadership style modeled after the NT?” Yes, there are. Are they without problems? No, of course not. It’s not about eliminating problems… it’s about local churches functioning as God intended, so that “we all grow to maturity in Christ.”

        Right now, most believers are relegated to the pew, nothing more than spectators at some event. Their idea of “worship” is to attend a “worship service,” stand and sing a few hymns, listen to the week’s announcements, turn to shake hands with those closest to them, listen to a prayer, listen to a sermon, perhaps even taking some notes, sing a closing hymn, listen to a closing prayer and a benediction, and go home for another week. Sometimes they even sneak a communion service in there…on special occasions. And a few even get to teach a Sunday school class…

        We have set the bar of church participation very low. And that is not what God intended at all.

        • Adam Bohne

          I understand what you are saying. I have mentioned this to my wife on a number of occasions, that the service can often seem too mechanical and as a result I leave church feeling that I haven’t really “fellowshipped” at all. I am most edified during the Bible study we have at our house with other believers. We are currently going through Revelation verse by verse. We open with a time of prayer and then end with the singing of hymns and a closing prayer. I feel the warmth of the Spirit in this type of fellowship – something I rarely feel in the Sunday service. My wife on the other hand loves the church services and other believers I have talked to feel the same as she does. I guess it might be due to personality differences. I feel most edified when my I can share my thoughts concerning what I studied and have dialogue with others about what they studied. I am not putting pastors down by any means; I just know what my personality responds to best.

          • Karl Heitman

            Brother, I’m happy to know that you enjoy your home Bible study, so I do not intend to discourage you from maintaining that wonderful ministry. But I would like to challenge your theology of corporate worship by submitting to you that the subjective measuring rod of “feel[ing] the warmth of the Spirit” is scripturally unfounded and is therefore the cause of your disappointment with your church’s practice. Your pastor’s primary function on Sunday, from the pulpit, is to “reprove, rebuke, [and] exhort” (2 Tim. 4:2). If he is doing those things, then you should content. I say this not to argue, but to hopefully provide another perspective.

          • Adam Bohne

            Thanks for the reply Karl. I will try to keep this in mind. When I speak of the warmth of the Spirit, I am not suggesting that I am seeking some type of subjective/emotional experience every time I walk into the church, but I also disagree with anyone who says that you shouldn’t feel anything when you are there. To do so reduces Christianity to a form of cold ritualism. Despite certain strains of Christianity abusing the principles of emotions and feelings, we must not at the same time be afraid to say “I want to feel something” for this is abuse in the opposite direction. The first three fruits of the Spirit are all internally focused – love, joy peace. These are things we are to feel in our hearts. So it is not inconsistent to say I desire to experience joy in the Holy Ghost when I meet to worship with other believers on Sunday. Why is it I feel that joy all week when we are scheduled for the Bible study but not for the church service? This is something that disturbs me and I believe I am not alone on this. I pray God changes my heart.

      • Jane Hildebrand

        Viola’s solution is home churches. His disdain for pastors is noted throughout the book as evidenced by the following quote:

        “Thus the pagan notion of a trained professional speaker who delivers orations for a fee moved straight into the Christian bloodstream. Note that the concept of the “paid teaching specialist” came from Greece, not Judaism. It was the custom of Jewish rabbis to take up a trade so as to not charge a fee for their teaching.”
        ― Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity

        Spoil alert: If you view your pastor with any love, value or respect, this book is not for you.

        • Karl Heitman

          Thanks for the warning, Jane. The house church trend is fascinating, yet unfortunate. However, I can see why people are drawn to it especially if they are convinced “that’s how Paul did it.”

          • Ron Hofman

            Karl, the “house church trend” is nothing new. It’s been around since the birth of the Church. And it’s not just “how Paul did it.” He couldn’t do (or write) anything if it hadn’t been revealed to him by the Lord. It was all from Him. God revealed to Paul the mystery of the Church. God revealed to Paul the mystery of the gospel. God revealed to Paul the mystery of the one Body. Paul didn’t just have his own ideas to go by. He had *nothing* to go by! He hated the name of Jesus, and it was his job to go around killing Christians…he had special permission to do that, until he met Jesus, personally, on the road. And became a Christian himself. And then set out, as a servant of the Most High God, the Lord Jesus Himself, to establish local gatherings of Christians that function according to what he would later write about in all the letters to those churches. Or do you not believe that what Paul wrote is inspired by God?

            That’s all we have to go by, you know. All the rest, what we see now and what we call “Christianity,” is not what we read about. And that is the issue right there.

            I would encourage you to read the book for yourself. In spite of the “spoiler alert.”

          • Karl Heitman

            Ron, I have no desire at all to enter into a debate re: the [contemporary] house church trend, so all I have to say is this: hermeneutics matter.

          • Ron Hofman

            Yes, I would certainly and without hesitation, agree with you on that… hermeneutics matters.

          • Maranatha

            Hello, Ron – I just looked up for some of Violas arguments at a document ‘frankviola-dot-org / LeavingInstitutionalChurch-dot-pdf’ and found an introductory passage like “When I stepped out of the institutional church back in 1988, I thought I was only one of a handful of people who had taken that particular plunge. Today, one million Christians a year leave it, and the number is increasing. As Reggie McNeal shockingly said, “A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving the church because they have lost their faith. They are leaving to preserve their faith.” – This is only the simple fact of any endtimes church development like it is already described in Malachi 3,16 = Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. — Those who today still fear the Lord will act according to His calling in Revelation 18,4 to leave ‘Babylon the Great’, this is only applied biblical truth!

            I think, todays’ pastors have far other problems than at the apostles time when christian church was at the beginning whereas we now live at the very end and decline of the church era. Some pastors will have to leave their flock because no one wants to hear preaching true scriptures anymore (2 Tim 4,3-4). But even now there are still those who preach the Word straight and biblical, and “those who fear the Lord” come together to hear them e. g. via internet-podcast (and this community still GROWS!) and in their personal setting gather in smaller ‘house churches’ for daily breaking of bread. Such is the actual praxis in my country. I don’t have any experience with ‘mega churches’ here since the Lord saved me in 2005. I only know it like this. I cannot have community with local churches that are ecumenical or Laodicean. So I have to stay at home then, building my own “house church”.

          • Karl, having church in a home is great, but Viola indicates that it’s an either/or dichotomy. But remember Pau told Titus to appoint elders (plural) in all the churches on the island of Crete. I’m pretty sure these were “home churches” but not in the modern pastorless sense.

          • Ron Hofman

            Please be clear… I do not have experience (yet) with the “home church” movement. But I do have considerable experience with a “plurality of elders” leadership. In that sense, “home churches” may be “Pastorless,” but they are hardly “pastorless.” Each elder, overseer, or shepherd (the same word is used to designate a single individual, working with other elders) is in fact, a “pastor.” In fact, the Greek word “poimen” is normally translated “shepherd,” and in only one instance is it translated “pastors” (plural).

          • John Byde

            Why unfortunate, Karl? Where two or three are gathered…

        • Ron Hofman

          Jane, respectfully, it is not simply “Viola’s view.” It is not simply “home churches.” It’s not about “loving, valuing or respecting” your pastor. If he was honest with himself, and “his” congregation, he would admit it.

          It IS the NT view. Check it out… it’s all there. It doesn’t come from Viola, or me or anyone else. (And “home church” is just another recent name for New Testament local churches, which have been around for a while now.)

          You won’t find anything else in the NT. And the answer to the original blog post is “just do it according to the Book.” That’s all. Nothing more, and nothing less.

          • Linda B.

            Such an interesting book you shared Ron…and I appreciated reading all the comments after your original post. I’ve never thought at all about the NT church model vs church as we know it in the US…but I am so appalled with how the church in the US has morphed into something ridiculous in many cases. I’m interested in reading Pagan Christianity now…thanks!

          • Viola’s solution is NOT the NT view. There is no prescription in the NT that requires one to meet in their home. Viola’s view has been soundly and rightly criticized by a number of leading scholars. Second, the just run out and start your own church is absolutely a violation of NT teaching. Am I going to appoint myself and elder and send myself? I am afraid that this view had much more in common with the radical indivduality of American Culture than it does with NT Exegesis. It is a flawed and dangerous ecclesiology that endorses the idea that men can go without being sent. Any man with that sort of view either needs to be educated or rejected as factious. The only way a house church is biblical is if it is sanctioned by a sending group of elders who watch over it and hold the leading elder accountable. Viola is wide of the mark.

          • Ron Hofman

            Ed, not having read any other of Viola’s books, I don’t know if he actually says anywhere, “just run out and start your own church.” And I’m only half-way through “Pagan Christianity?” from which I quoted in answer to the “pastor burnout” problem in the OP.

            I did say that Viola isn’t the first (nor the last, I might add) to support a NT approach to local church leadership…a plurality of elders. In saying this, I’m not so sure that “where two or three are gathered in MY NAME,” at some point in time, can’t be considered a local church. I know people who have come to Christ simply by reading their Bible (a good friend up the street, actually). He wasn’t led to the Lord by anyone. Is he saved? I believe he is, from his own testimony.

            So, if two or three believers start meeting together, and rely on the Lord of the Churches to guide them, who says they can’t be a genuine local church directly connected to the Head, the Lord Jesus Himself? Why does there need to be a “presiding eldership” giving their stamp of approval? No church in the NT testament relied on another church to validate it. Each one was autonomous. And don’t forget, the “builder” of the Church is the Lord Himself… no one else.

          • Where exactly does one get a plurality of “sent” or “ordained” elders in a house church? I said I am perfectly fine with a house church that is established by sent elders, a sending church. What we see in the modern movement is nothing like that for the most part.

            To somehow claim that Jesus had the idea of church planting in mind when he said “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in there midst” is wide of the mark. You may want to think that through a little more.

            “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

            No man is authorized to just go out and do his thing. There is a reason for elders in the local body. In your scenario we end up with chaos, wolves, unprotected sheep, and every man doing what he thinks is right in his own eyes. We are sent! We don’t just go. The church sends us. This isn’t Acts. The Church was born and established by the apostles only once. The process for her growth was established nearly 2,000 years ago. We build on the foundation that was laid, carefully, respectfully, with fear and trembling. We do NOT presume upon God’s grace and run out and do our own thing.

          • Ron Hofman

            Ed, I’m not sure where you get the notion that we “run out and do our own thing.” There’s more to it than that. The NT presents us with a complete model of what a local church should look like – that is the foundation which was laid. It is all there. But… and its a huge BUT – Churches today, for the most part, look nothing like what we read about in our NT. You said “this isn’t Acts.” May I respectfully submit that the book of Acts leaves us hanging…as if it’s unfinished. And unfinished it is! The Lord Jesus is still building His Church.

            There is no local church near where I live that even resembles a NT church. In fact, they are false churches, according to the NT. One holds to idol worship, and the other does not hold to a Sovereign God/Creator, nor does it believe the Word of God to be the infallible Word of God. To be “established” by one of them would be out of the question.

          • John Byde

            I disagree. A small number of Christians can come together for communion around Jesus and the gospel. No need for big words like “elders”. As our “culture” turns more and more against established, institutional religion, this is the way it will be. And the benchmark will always be the same – adherence to the bible. Peace.

          • Your pragmatism betrays you. Your disagreement is irrelevant. What you must do is demonstrate that you are in agreement with God on the question. That you would even use the word “elders” in a negative light is very telling. It seems that you may want to explore just how infected you are with this hyper-individual, me and Jesus got our our thing going, culture. That you would claim that benchmark as your bible is quite remarkable.

            Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Heb. 13:17

            Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. 1 Cor. 16:16

            We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 1 These. 5:12-13

            The LORD therefore said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. Num. 11:16

            The concept of biblical elders has existed in the covenant community from the start. The idea that people can just go out, get together, and do their own thing is not only reflective of extreme ignorance, it reflects an attitude that calls for serious examination. There is not such thing as a “do-it-yourself-church” in Scripture. in fact, factious men are painted in a very negative light and are to be avoided and shunned by the Christian community.

            If a group of people just run out and do their own thing without being sent, for whatever reason, and this is happening all over the place in these school churches, I refuse to acknowledge them as legitimate Christian communities. They are factious people who lack the basic characteristic of Christian submission. They want things their way and if they have to go do it themselves, well, then, they will. I wonder about such claims to faith.

          • Archepoimen follower

            Except, elders are the biblical mandate.

          • Jeff Schlottmann

            But even Paul went to Peter, James and John in galations 2 where they give him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. Would they have given it if Paul had decided he didn’t need their approval? He holds the original apostles in high regard over himself. It must have been important for him to go to the apostles, and not just be a rogue preacher.

          • Maranatha

            Dear Ron, me and my hsb are a living example for a Matthew 18,20 local church from the very start after being saved. That does not mean that we “do our own thing”. But like with your friend (and brother, God bless and comfort him!), the Lord may have some other plan for each of His elected. In endtimes church conditions (Rev 3,20ff.) we cannot expect to live along Acts2. But He is the shepherd for all of us, be it in a bigger or smaller local frame. Our “elders” are German- and worldwide-spread brothers then we do accept according to Eph4,11 who do not necessarily have to visit us and look after us in person. In a Matthew18,20-size you do not need that because this is family size when the husband is the (only) leader in Christ.

          • Benders

            You should read Matt 18 again. The context is discipline.

          • Maranatha

            The context is even more than that: it is MANDATE. – But what is your point then regarding the size of a local church with a mandate like this?

          • Benders

            The point is that Matt 18:20 has nothing to do with church formation or size and everything to do with discipline. This is a pretty good reason to have a trained pastor at the helm.

          • Maranatha

            1 John 2,27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. — Dear Benders, we do not lack anything here. If sb needs a pastor, then it is a bigger size of flock. Matthew 18 deals in no sense with pastorate anyway but with the minimum size of a local church and with their given mandate to bind and to loose in front of God, in His authority. A small size like ours has the SAME blessings, gifts and duties as the bigger flock but the SAME discipline, mandate and LORD and the Holy Spirit. A local pastor is for a bigger group when the sheep might go astray more often, because there are more members to discipline. We discipline each other in family and matrimony so well that we do not miss anything – the only point is communion with our beloved brethren, which I personally still miss here but am looking forward to in Heaven soon. If we do want to hear good and sound preaching and have contact to our pastor brethren, we use web-podcast, telephone and email to be in touch with them to ask if we do have questions on this and that. I did not say at all that our lifestyle should be the “normal” way for christians – it is far from that, because we do not live in “normal” times in sound Christianity here in Germany. But we get from the Lord EVERYTHING we need to grow spiritually sound, for around 11 years now. We often prayed for more community but as we do not have a car the next local church with sound preaching would be too far away for us. What we definitely NOT have are problems with deception, education and lukewarm church life like others we see around. Sometimes we are even very astonished about the very lack of brotherly love in other local churches – as well as in different “biblical” internet blog groups. 😉 God bless!

          • You are a perfect example of what happens when untrained people set out on their own to do their own thing. You cannot even handle the most basic texts of Scripture and the people who are “under” your care suffer because of it. If you care about people, you will bother to educate yourself by placing yourself in the care of godly elders until THEY think you are ready for the hazardous task of overseeing God’s flock. of course, being a female, you are not qualified to serve as an elder or co-pastor or anything of the sort. But thank you for illustrating the point that people who do this house church thing, for the most part, are untrained laypeople who have little interest in the concept of submission.

          • John Byde

            Ed, I sense a strong feeling of anger and bitterness here. A person whom, in your eyes, is “untrained” may have just as much biblical knowledge and soundness as a “trained” person. How many inadequate, heretical pastors are out there? A great number. Heresy and error can occur in any form of “Church” – home or megachurch.

          • You “sense”? Are you a mystic? A trained elder will know that he does not operate in a vacuum. He will know that Viola’s perspective is wide of the biblical mark. He will know that a man does not just go off and start his own church because he knows better than every other church in the area how to do church. A train pastor knows how to the handle the languages, to respect the text. A train man knows that biblical eldership has been in the covenant community from its beginning, all the way back to Moses. A train know knows what a factious man looks like and avoids such behavior. A trained man knows how to spot an untrained man immediately. And the way some men are handling Matt. 18 is a clear indication that they are untrained and unqualified to lead, and, they are adding very little value to this discussion. A untrained man thinks that the Holy Spirit is some sort of substitute for disciplined training. He is not. He is the one training men THROUGH ordained elders and leaders. In short, your comment is a red herring.

          • Ron Hofman

            No, a person doesn’t have to be a “mystic” to sense underlying emotion, even in the written word. Please give a person more credit. You charge Viola’s perspective is wide of the Biblical mark. Really?

            I’m going to submit that most, if not all, so-called churches today started because of malcontent with the established “church” from which they came. And they are labeled (named, designated) by their particular flavor of doctrine, or their particular leadership style, or after their “founder.”

            Christendom today has something like 14,000+ recognized denominations, a number that grows daily. Were these churches established by “sent ones” as you suggest? Hardly. Most of them (if not all) began because of some perceived (real or imagined) flaw in the original from which they came. Without exception.

            Your charge against so-called “untrained” men is unreasonable. The only training ground presented to us in the New Testament is the local church. There is no other. No seminary. No religious university. No other para-church organization is even mentioned. Why? The Church is enough. God said so. It is His church. He designed it. He started it. His Son paid for it with His own blood. He is building it. He sent the Holy Spirit. Why? It is the Holy Spirit that leads us into all truth… nothing or nobody else. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us the power and the ability to do anything for God. There is no substitute for Him.

            Your reliance and dependence on human “training” is not a Scriptural one.

          • It is very difficult if not impossible to know how “most churches” that exist today were started. Moreover, that is beside the point. 99% of the churches in existence today COULD HAVE been started illegitimately. That would say nothing about the biblical model for how a biblical OUGHT to be started.

            We are not debating what has happened in modern American culture with regard to how some churches start. Our discussion is a theological one. I appeal to Scripture as my final authority for what informs my ecclesiology, not what has come to be the case in American culture.

            It so happens today that most of the necessary training for elder-pastors is within the seminary. But that is not necessarily how things “ought” to be. However, if you decide to train men in-house, all you are doing is moving the seminary training into the church which is fine by me. But do NOT ignore seminary training, discard, and create your own curriculum and call it training. Trained men must be trained by trained men. The lack of church oversight and elder-led seminaries is an admitted problem in my view.

            You continue to point to the Holy Spirit as our teacher. I am afraid you misunderstand the role of the Holy Spirit and are a perfect example of how an untrained, and unqualified man argues. The Holy Spirit is not going to teach you Biblical Hebrew of Greek. He is NOT going to teach you NT History, Church History, hermeneutics, the historical background in which Scripture is unfolded. There is no substitute for the Holy Spirit, but being filled with the Spirit is not sufficient in and of itself to qualify a man to teach and lead a community. If that were the case, any man could do it, or woman I suppose. It requires a special gift and special training. Elders are trained to do what non-elders are not for the most part.

            By the way, a major issue in Viola is his position of women preachers/teachers. Viola’s position on female preachers/teachers is simply a disqualifier immediately. If you hold that a women can in fact teach and lead men, then you and I have even bigger disagreements than your ecclesiology, which by the way, seems terribly confused and extremely misinformed. Turns out you probably could have benefited a great deal from a seminary class or two.

            Your disparagement of seminary training is another clue as to the nature of your objection to a reformed ecclesiology. It is based in wishful thinking, not biblical exegesis. Your comments would require that you submit to serious discipleship training and then, and only then, you may be received to be trained for eldership. But at this stage, your comments disqualify you immediately for such consideration, at least for the present.

            Your references to the Holy Spirit have far more in common with charismatic theology than they do biblical doctrine.

          • Jane Hildebrand

            Tip: Viola’s model is charismatic. They exercise all gifts, including giving each other prophetic words.

          • Ron Hofman

            Well sir, your position is very plain. You accuse without knowledge, based on assumptions. From your comments, you hold to human authority and disparage the Scriptures, the gifts of the Spirit, and the whole plan of God, using the assumption that “untrained men” have no true knowledge or learning, that the Holy Spirit is not involved – what an excuse! Remember, everyone in the Body has been bought by the precious blood of Christ. Included in that price was both salvation and sanctification.

            You say because I do not “know” Biblical Hebrew (or classical NT Greek for that matter), I am untrained. You think I do not “know” NT Church history, therefore I am untrained. You say I do not “know” hermeneutics (your particular “brand”), and therefore, I am untrained. You say I do now “know” how the Scriptures developed over time, and therefore I am again, untrained. You say the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with any of those subjects, and to “know” them does not require the input of the Holy Spirit. Those who do know the subjects listed are a cut above anyone else since they, according to what you wrote, are “qualified” to hold the position of pastor/elder/overseer/deacon, etc. And to top it all off, you label anyone who depends on the Spirit for Biblical knowledge as “charismatic.”

            Those are all accusations made without knowledge and without a Scriptural foundation.

            And have nothing to do with the subject at hand.

          • Ron Hofman

            Benders, the passage says nothing about a trained Pastor “at the helm.” You are reading that into Matthew 18. It does say, “take it to the church.” That is the whole local body of believers, functioning together, those with various gifts operating as it should (as outlined in Paul’s epistles). Elders (plural) were marked out in each local church…always more than one. And this is exactly why the Original Post was made… a single person “at the helm” cannot look after everything, but that is the expectation. Of both the congregation and the Pastor.

            The Lord Jesus Christ has given (is giving) gifts to the Church, for its mutual edification. However, most of the Body is non-functioning – typically, one big mouth, and a bunch of little ears. And that is the problem – a two-sided problem – one in the taking on the role of Pastor, and the other, the lack of teaching that “we” are also to function. The Scriptures teach that every believer receives at least one gift. Do you believe that? We see each member functioning (in the various epistles). We don’t see that happening in our churches today. There’s no room for it. And so the problem persists.

          • Maranatha

            Dear Ron, I think also of Exo18,13-16 here, the same situation for a “contemporary” pastor. But this was OT…

          • Benders

            How can you possibly know that so many true believers in the church are not exercising their gifts? What scripture says all “members” were using their gifts. And what could possibly have given you the idea that I think Matt 18 is about one pastor? Didn’t I say what I believe the text is talking about? I have no issue with home churches. I do see serious problems using scripture out of context to justify what they do and teach.

          • Ron Hofman

            How do I possibly “know?” From visiting the local churches around here – Without exception, there is one “trained” man at the front. All the rest are “pew-sitters.” Spectators. Spectators are not in the game. They are there to watch. I’m sure most are born-again believers… sitting on the bench. Watching the game. Unused, for the most part.

            That scenario is played out in 99.9% of so-called “churches” today (esp. in North America). So, the Scriptures tell me that every born-again believer has at least one gift (as distinguished from natural talent). Again, the Scriptures tell me that gift is meant to be used for the upbuilding of the church. How is a gift being utilized when it is clearly not being used or exercised? It’s not. Clearly.

          • John Byde

            The danger of a permanent, clearly defined pastor is always the same: that of becoming a Catholic Church type leader whose word is final. The personality of the pastor also becomes too great a factor.

          • It is an overreaction if ever there was one. Even among the elders there is a leader, the one who the other elders look to. The abuses of an office do nothing to detract from the legitimacy of the office. Bad argument.

        • Jane, you are spot on. I added a comment to this discussion above.

        • Ron Hofman

          Jane, in reply to your misconception that Viola displays a “disdain for pastors throughout the book,” I will quote a portion of his book you apparently did not read (including the footnote),

          “Note that we are using the term pastor throughout this chapter to depict the contemporary pastoral office and role, not the specific individual who fills this role. By and large, those who serve in the office of pastor are wonderful people. They are honorable, decent, and very often gifted Christians who love God and have a zeal to serve His people. But it is the role they fill that both Scripture and church history are opposed to.”
          (Footnote: “Today those who feel called to the ministry of the local church generally believe their options are limited to serving as a pastor or worship leader. While being called to the Lord’s work is definitely a real experience, these positions did not exist in the first century. Nevertheless, though their office is without scriptural basis, pastors often do help people. But they help people despite their office, not because of it.”)
          (p. 106, “Pagan Christianity,” Chapter 5, “Pastor: Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning”

          And I would suggest, considering the overwhelming statistical odds as noted above, if you do love your pastor, encourage him to read the book as well.

        • Archepoimen follower

          It is unfortunate that Viola views the answer to the unbiblical concept of a single Pastor to be tied up with his “house church” fascination. Yet, the scriptures are clear, a plurality of leaders, elders, overseers or shepherds, a variety of names for a single office, is the God ordained polity. Obviously, since all leaders live in exile on this fallen planet, even plurality does not guarantee all decisions will be biblical. Again, plurality does increase the opportunity for faithfulness and is the biblical pattern. Just some food for thought.


    • Jason

      My sister-in-law met with a congregation that had the plurality of elders you find in the early church. They would all teach at some time or another. To my knowledge, they were paid (which, with the right perspective, I believe is right [1 Timothy 5:18]).

      One of the big issues I see is that everyone in an average congregation expects to be served, but most aren’t willing to support one another so those who are serving are expected to do so without a wage (in direct contradiction of the verse mentioned above).

      That, combined with the concept of a single “pastor” with a board of elders, leads to one guy with all the responsibility, and only able to delegate to those who can swing putting in long hours for no pay to support a body who largely seems to consider it a sacrifice just to sit through a Sunday service.

      I don’t think the building is the issue. I don’t even know if the pastors are the issue (in most cases, they’d probably welcome a more active, supportive body). It’s the lukewarmness of the church that seems to be the issue.Only once the body is caring for itself without the one guy pulling most of the weight can the discussion begin about whether the “office” concept is a problem.

  • Gabriel Powell

    As someone who has also closed down a church and is no longer a vocational pastor, my challenge was thinking through the issue of calling. My mindset from age 16 through 29 was to become a pastor. By God’s grace that happened and I had the privilege of shepherding a flock for two years. When it was clear that the wisest path forward (for many reasons) was to close the church, I didn’t think about the implications for my long-term vocation until after it was all said and done.

    Now, three years later, I’ve come to certain conclusions:

    1. As you indicated, disconnecting your identity tied from your vocation is essential to honoring the Lord in whatever paths He leads. By His grace I did not really struggle with this.

    2. A sense of calling and affirmation of giftedness is not a mandate, such that not being in vocational ministry is disobedience to the Lord. A question I’ve often pondered is, “Am I dishonoring the Lord by not using the gifts and training He’s given me in vocational ministry? Am I ‘missing’ God’s purpose for my life?” No, I’m not. I’m still learning what it means to be a “regular” Christian with advanced training in theology and the Word. I can still use the gifts and training entrusted to me as a non-vocational pastor. I’m very open to being in vocational ministry, should an opportunity arise. But the Lord has placed me in a vocation that is ministry-oriented (I work for Grace to You), utilizes skills and experience that unrelated to ministry (technology), and which I personally find fulfilling and satisfying.

    3. It is noble to desire the office of an elder/pastor. But the desire, too, is not a mandate. The Lord cares infinitely more for His church than we do, and just as in the civil realm, He appoints and deposes church leaders according to His will, not our desires. Should He choose to take us out of vocational ministry and not open another opportunity, we should be willing to submit to that providence and honor Him with whatever vocational door He opens. Doing that will lead to blessing.

    4. Being removed from vocational ministry is a gracious opportunity for a soul-check. Can you, as a lay believer, live according to what you preached? Do you consider yourself “above the law” because of your knowledge? When a year goes by without a preaching opportunity, what is your attitude toward the Word? It’s easy to be a super Christian when you’re in seminary and a pastor. But is that the real you?

    • Karl Heitman

      Thanks for sharing this, brother.

    • Guillermo Powell

      I have hesitated to respond, after all you may notice the same last name, and the little boy in the picture is his son… I can testify to what Gabriel wrote, not just because I have seen it his life, but because in God’s providence we experienced difficulties in our first (and only) pastorate, having to leave vocational ministry, hurt and seemingly defeated. Yet in his grace, the Lord continued to be honored in our home, my gifts began to be used in different ways, and now 33 years later, I am in seminary because the “call” of the Lord for vocational ministry never left me, yet now it may be directed differently and for that I want to be prepared.

  • Ray Adams

    “I’ve heard numerous stories of pastors just gritting it out, living in a perpetual state of survival and endurance, because their spouse resents the ministry. That is not how God designed the ministry to work.” Agreed. William Carey was one of those who did survive a resentful spouse who never accepted her husbands ministry.

    • Maranatha

      Some time ago, I read the biography of A. W. Tozer. His wife had to raise 7 children alone while he was permanently ‘on tour in the name of the Lord’. She even didn’t have a car to organize all the purchase for the family, he wouldn’t buy her one. When he died, she married again and is cited with the words: “I never have been luckier in my life (i. e. with the second husband). Aiden loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves ME.” Well… (Ephesians 5,25.28)

  • Karl Heitman

    Wow, Scott. So, so sad. There must have been some pretty shading stuff going on to make a man who felt “called” to ministry totally leave the church. I can’t kid myself: I’ve thought countless times about leaving “the ministry,” but I can’t fathom–at this point in my life at least–forsaking the church altogether. I hope you’re right that it’s just a season. Evidently, your friend has been deeply wounded and we owe him the same gentle care we’d expect any pastor to give a wayward sheep.

    Thanks a lot for posting these warnings. May I quibble with one small statement? You said, “We are Christians first, and pastors second, if at all.” If there is a pecking order to be derived from the Bible, it must be 1) Jesus, 2) husband, 3) dad, and THEN 4) pastorate. I have many weaknesses, but I believe God has given me the ability to have no fear of man when it comes to my home life. I will gladly disappoint anyone in my church if my wife and/or children need or request my attention. Every. Single. Time. So far that mindset has paid off. I refuse to be gone more than one night a week and work a ridiculous amount of hours as come congregations shamefully expect their pastor to, for example. Perhaps that’s why so many wives don’t “feel called” like the husband does? In other words, she grows to resent “the ministry” because he views himself as a pastor before a family man.

  • Creighton Ring

    Thanks Scott. This was a helpful post, given that I have stepped away from a church plant. The congregation disbanded after more than a year of wonderful work and tremendous support from people both inside and outside of our little church family. Thankfully, a new Pastor had come into the area shortly before, and our little group of Christ’s children became a part of another one of His congregations. I’ll leave you with another quote from a friend who is in a season of rest and re-fitting. “Don’t shoehorn yourself into the idea that ministry for you, is only pastoral in nature. I’m doing as much or more ministry now, and looking forward to however Christ chooses to use me going forward.”

  • Adam Bohne

    This was an excellent article along with some very insightful posts! Having a gospel tract ministry much of what was said here resonated with me. My website is pending deletion because I haven’t renewed it. I am currently asking many questions that were addressed in both the article and posts. I know one thing for sure – through various circumstances the Lord has showed me that my relationship with Him is most important, then being a husband and father next. I look at my children from the perspective of time – they are time sensitive, simply meaning they are not going to be under my roof forever. What good is it if I devote a large portion of my time to the ministry but in the process neglect time with my children and fail to prepare them to live their Christianity on their own? The ministry God has called me to is my family first – they are my “congregation” for now. Not saying I won’t continue on with my gospel tract ministry, but only that if I decide to do so it will remain on the 3rd tier of importance – God first; family second; ministry third. I know the ministry isn’t going anywhere, but my children will someday. The question I have to ask myself is: When they leave home what will they remember and take with them their whole lives concerning their Christianity. If all they remember is that their Dad always spent so much time on the computer doing work for the ministry, then I have failed in my God-ordained office of father. And that is something I cannot let happen. I trust God to lead me. If He desires to expand the ministry He will let me know. But for now I have resolved not to move ahead of His will. I have tried this on too many occasions and it has caused me nothing but frustration in the ministry. I now know to move only when the Cloud moves. And to rest when the Cloud is at rest, just as Israel did when in the wilderness.

    • Maranatha

      Dear Adam, you know what? Matthew 6,33 helps not only for dealing with food or clothing but also with ministry. If you focus on Gods Kingdom and will (and your first duties as husband and father as you just learned it), then more and more ministry opportunities will be a kind of byproduct anyway (Romans 12,1). Just try, God bless you and your family! 😉

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  • The book Rn Hofman is recommending has some glaring NT omissions, such as 1 Cor 9, 2 Cor 9, Eph 4:10ff, and the three pastoral epistles (1&2 Tim, and Tius), to name a few. “Not a thread” of NT support for the office of pastor, and the whole argument about “lonely at the top” and one professional paid a fee to deliver orations, etc. is a caricature of the office, and also missing one important NT truth: the plurality of elders/pastors/overseer. The word for pastor is interchangeable with elder and overseer, and there are always a plurality. So I agree the idea of a pastor and his elders/deacons/members is wrong, but the solution isn’t no pastor, it’s to have pastors/elders/overseers all working together to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph 4:12). The solution to the one man band, is not home churches with no leaders, the solution is biblical leadership structure of multiple leaders.

    • Karl Heitman

      Well said, Clint. As an alternative to Viola, would you agree that Alexander Stauch’s “Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership” is the best book in print to help us gain an accurate ecclesiology? I can’t find a better one out there….

      • Ron Hofman

        Clint and Karl, I agree. “Pagan Christianity?” is the first half of
        the issue…in this book, Viola points out the problems. I’m only part
        way through the book myself, but I have the next book, Reimagining Church, waiting on my bookshelf. I quoted Viola’s first book because I’m (coincidentally!) reading the very chapter I quoted from, presenting the statistics which supported the OP.

        I have studied Alex Strauch’s book “Biblical Eldership,” and have five of his other books… all excellent. In fact, I met Alex this summer on a trip down to Texas which took me through Colorado where he lives. A terrific experience!

        • Karl Heitman

          Ron, having tried to synthesize all your comments, I can’t figure out if you agree with Viola or with Strauch…and Clint and myself for that matter. We, very strongly, disagree “that both Scripture and church history are opposed to [the office of pastor].”

          • Ron Hofman

            Me too… I’m still learning.

            As I said, I’m only halfway through Viola’s first book, seeking to learn more about this whole “house church” thing. So I’m not sure what Viola’s stance is yet. But I’ve never held to the thought that the “pastor” (elder, overseer, shepherd) position is an “office.” I suppose the whole thing hinges on the term “office.” The current idea that the only people “qualified” for the position are those who attend seminary and are “trained” professionals in Hebrew and Greek and counseling, etc., isn’t something the NT ever proposes. Nor do I hold to that definition.

          • Karl Heitman

            I guess speaking only for myself, by “office” I simply mean an official position, the other being deacon. Speaking for the rest of us, I’m pretty sure no writer on this blog would dogmatically state that the office of elder/pastor MUST be filled by a man with formal training. I’ve known many pastors who are sound preachers without a MDiv. However, he must be able to accurately divide the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). That implies some kind of training; either formally (ie., seminary) or informally. Some of the men who taught me the most were men with no seminary education….

            The problem of “pastoral burnout” isn’t the practice of having a guy paid to preach the Sunday morning sermon because there’s a biblical argument to be made for that (1 Tim 5:17-18; 1 Cor 9:14). The problem is people believing that they’re spectators instead of servants with gifts to edify the Body. The solution, as some have stated already, is not establishing “house churches” being led by untrained, rouge, fed-up Lone Rangers who want to “do church the way the early church did”; it’s reestablishing a biblical ecclesiology, which undeniably includes elders “who rule well, and labor at preaching and teaching.” Strauch does an excellent job of explaining key passages in his book. Perhaps it would suit you well to revisit that book after having digested Viola?

            I’m checking out of this convo now. Peace, bro.

          • Ron Hofman

            Thanks for the feedback Karl. For the most part, it looks like we are on the same page. I’m speaking from my limited experience with two non-denominational, but Pastor-led churches which are not local to our community. I would have to say that in these two instances, the general feeling in the audience (albeit, unspoken and perhaps even sub-conscious) is that the only qualification for a Pastor is to be a graduate of a seminary (along with a good clean life and other accomplishments to separate him from the rest of the applicants). The application and selection process only bears this out. One Pastor even told us (from the platform) that he supports the “clergy/laity distinction,” which only serves to support that unspoken feeling that those in the pews are really unworthy of anything else but listening to him sermonize week after week, and does nothing to support the idea that one of us could rise from the ranks to do or say anything worthwhile.

            All the while, I continue to hold to the fact that a seminary education is more often than not, a disadvantage. It puts their graduates in a separate “class,” a cut above other ordinary Christians. And that feeling is passed down to the “pew-sitters.” The ONLY training ground envisioned in the NT is the local church. This is God’s plan. Not seminary. Not other para-church organizations. It is through the church, and only through the church, that God’s manifest wisdom is to be displayed. And the only “ideal” model of a local church is found in the NT — God’s model. And that model does not include “clergy/laity,” one-man rule types of leadership. And it is to that I direct my comments, using resources I have and currently reading (ie. Viola’s “Pagan Christianity?”).

            It’s amusing to me that the “house church” movement is being described as “being led by untrained, rogue, fed-up Lone Rangers,” for this is exactly how the Plymouth Brethren movement began… a few breaking away from the long established Churches of the day, tired of the formality, the rote formulas of tradition, the special garb and place of privilege, for they read quite a different story in the NT. I believe the same accusations were leveled at the likes of Darby and the rest… “rogues,” but look how God blessed them! The depth of writings and works by these brethren from the 1800’s have not been surpassed even now. Even in much weakness, they hold to the NT pattern as they see it from the Scriptures.

            I also agree with you about “people believing that they are spectators.” Most of us would rather someone else do the job… and there are those ready to step in and willing to do get hired on, get paid a regular salary, get benefits and eventually a pension… treating the “office” as a regular job. For in most eyes, that is what it is. They may refer to it as a “calling,” but it’s a calling like any other, whether it be a fireman, teacher, or garbageman.

    • Archepoimen follower

      Amen my brother!


  • Maranatha

    Reading through the comments, I do not like very much the ‘aloofness’ some use to judge over simple christians who love Jesus and His Word and getting their knowledge out from good Puritan commentaries of brothers who have already left earth, prooving everything they read and hear through the Holy Spirit who allows them to do that (1Thess5,21). As well as prayer and usage of any other gift the simple saint got from God personally (Ephesians 1,3), together with daily discipleship. There is much of disdain to local ‘house churches’ or family communion indeed. Seminary education and professional pastorate seems to be very high ranking in the US church. No wonder everybody has a burn out there and sheep are leaving the flock.

    • John Byde


    • Ron Hofman

      And so it’s been throughout history… Those who know Jesus and who tell others about Him “will suffer persecution.” And as someone said, “Always remember, it was the religious leaders of the day who hated and crucified Jesus.”

      • Maranatha

        That’s why I am leaving “thecripplegate” now, too. Nice try, but I regret that I thought I might have been among my beloved brethren here, not among haughty pharisees. Bye then! 🙂

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  • Mark Retzlaff

    When the church that I had planted and I could no longer walk in unison, when my dream was dashed before my eyes, when our years of hard work went up in smoke, we attended another church the next Sunday. What else could we do? We sat and worshipped because that’s what Christians do. It is our delight. What I do for a paycheck doesn’t change that. A good word, thank you Scott

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