Friday, October 21, 2005

Offices and Titles in the Local Assembly

Offices and Titles in the Local Assembly

by David Huston and Jim McKinley

This paper is presented with the hope of eliminating
the practice of using offices and titles within the
local New Testament assemblies.

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our
Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing,
and that there be no divisions among you, but that you
be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in
the same judgment. 1 Corinthians 1:10-11

FROM A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE, there is great difference
between “holding an office” and “functioning in the
body.” In the Church of the living God, there is only
one person who holds an office—the Lord Jesus Christ.
He is the Head of the Church, the Shepherd of the
Sheep, the Lord of All. No one else holds an “official
position” in His Church. This means that if we use the
Bible as our guidebook, there is no such office as
pastor, elder, deacon, bishop, administrator, or
anything else in a local assembly. What the Bible does
describe is the functioning of the members of the
body. As Paul explained, “We have many members in one
body, but all the members do not have the same
function” (Romans 12:4. He did not say the members do
not all hold the same office.

Within the body of Christ there is a great diversity
of functions, but no offices. Yet in many assemblies,
a man’s authority is based solely on the office or
position he holds. This is not a biblical concept. In
the Bible, authority is based on relationship,
character, and gifting. This means that the difference
between offices and functions is far more than mere
semantics. Getting this right is crucial to
establishing proper leadership in the church.

There are at least four very good reasons why we must
not establish offices in our local assemblies:

1. Under the office concept, a man with little
anointing or very poor character could exercise
supreme authority over an entire congregation. This
would never be the will of God.
2. As soon as offices are established, an
unbiblical distinction is made between the office
holder and those who do not hold office. This
inevitably leads to a clergy–laity division. As we
have shown in the opening text, Paul said there are to
be “no divisions” within the body.
3. When an office is vacated, the assembly usually
feels the need to fill it as soon as possible. The
result is often the installation of an unqualified,
inexperienced, or untested man into an office that
carries with it vast authority. The practice of
placing men in unscriptural offices without
accountability to others is a formula for disaster.
The multitude of believers wounded by the moral and
spiritual failures of unaccountable leaders is
powerful testimony against this unbiblical practice.
Again, occupying a particular office should never be
the basis for authority. The issue is not filling an
office; it is enabling the life-functions of the body
to operate.
4. Offices inevitably bring with them titles. But
the practice of prefacing men’s names with titles such
as Reverend or Pastor violates the Lord’s prohibition
in Matthew 23:8-10, where He stated, “But you, do not
be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the
Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone
on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who
is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One
is your Teacher, the Christ.” Paul never referred to
himself as “The Apostle Paul,” only as “Paul, an
apostle,” denoting his function in the body. The only
titles appropriate for use in the Church of the living
God are “brother” and “sister.” In Acts 9:17 and
22:13, Paul is called “Brother Saul.” The Church is a
family, not a corporation or branch of the military.

Please note that the root meaning of the title
“Reverend” comes from the word “revere,” which means
“to venerate or be in awe of someone.” Strictly
speaking, this attitude should be directed only toward
the Lord Himself, for “holy and awesome is His name”
(Psalms 111:9). Imagine writing a letter to believers,
exhorting them to be humble like the Lord and then
signing it, “Respectfully yours, The Awesome Saul of

None of us would even consider calling a church leader
by the title Lord, High Priest, Prince, Master, or
King; so why use other titles reserved by the
Scriptures for exclusive application to the Lord Jesus
or employed by the Scriptures to describe various
functions of the members? We ought to do away with
both the concept of establishing offices and the
practice of using titles in the body.
What a Bishop is Not

Many English language versions of the Bible employ the
word “bishop” to describe the leader of local
assemblies (e.g. Titus 1:7 and 1 Timothy 3:1). But it
is important to note that this word is actually not a
translation at all but an anglicized version of the
Greek word episkopos, which means “one who oversees or
watches over others.” This is why “overseer” is a
better translation and is used at times in many
English Bibles, including the King James version (e.g.
Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2). In Paul’s salutation to
the Philippians, he wrote: “To all the saints in
Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and
deacons” (1:1). Notice that in this instance, the word
“bishops” is plural (episkopoi). This is because the
church in Philippi had more than one bishop (or

In our modern age, as well as throughout much of the
past two thousand years, a bishop is thought of by
many as the chief overseer of a large church or a
collection of local congregations. In some cases the
term has been applied to a regional denominational
leader. But this is a serious misuse of the biblical

Who were the bishops in Philippi? They were men
serving in the same capacity as the elders in Ephesus.
In the Bible, elders and bishops are functioning in
the same ministry. This can be readily seen in Paul’s
letter to Titus, where he instructed his protege,
“Appoint elders in every city as I commanded
you;...for a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of
God” (Titus 1:5, 7). Clearly a bishop is an elder and
an elder is a bishop. In this passage the words are
used interchangeably. The different terms only serve
to provide different emphases. Whereas the term
“elder” denotes maturity, the term “bishop” describes
the overarching task of these mature men: watching
over God’s flock. If we were to translate this verse
literally, we would see that Paul was instructing
Titus to appoint mature men in every city to watch
over the local church.

In 1 Timothy 3:1, the statement “if a man desire the
office of a bishop” found in the King James version is
misleading. The correct translation is, “If anyone
desires oversight....” As Vine’s Dictionary says of
this verse, “lit., ‘(if any one seeketh)
overseership,’ there is no word representing office.”
The only reason the King James translators employed
the word “office” is because in 1611, the office of
bishop was a very powerful position in the Church of
England. They therefore interpreted the verse through
the perspective of their current church polity rather
than simply translating it out of the original Greek.

The verse goes on to say that those who desire to
serve in an oversight capacity desire a “good work.”
The NIV says “a noble task.” No translations describe
oversight as a good or noble office. Those who only
desire to occupy an office rarely accomplish much. But
those who desire to do a good work or take on a noble
task are the true servants of the Lord.
What Elders and Pastors Are Not

Contrary to common practice, an elder is not a man who
advises and assists the pastor of a church; and a
pastor is not the highest position within a local
assembly. In the Bible, all elders are charged with
the responsibility of pastoring (or shepherding) a
local assembly. Speaking to the elders of Ephesus,
Paul instructed them, “Therefore take heed to
yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy
Spirit has made you overseers [i.e. bishops,
watchmen], to shepherd [i.e. to pastor] the church of
God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts
20:28). The verb poimaino means “to tend as a
shepherd,” which encompasses the complete shepherding
task. This is what all elders do.

The shepherding metaphor blends the ideas of
leadership and authority with tenderness, genuine
care, hard work, self-sacrifice, and constant
watchfulness. The noun form of poimaino is the
ordinary Greek word for a shepherd (poimen). Whereas
the verb form is used three times in the context of
Christian leadership (John 21:16; 1 Peter 5:1-2; and
Acts 20:28); the noun form is found only once, where
the King James version translates it “pastor”
(Ephesians 4:11). It is interesting to note, however,
that in the New Testament the term “pastor” or
“shepherd” is never once used as a title for church
leaders. This practice was initiated by the Reformers
in the sixteenth century. In the Bible, Jesus alone
holds the title Shepherd (John 10:11; Hebrews 13:20).
In fact, in 1 Peter 2:25 He is referred to as “the
Shepherd [poimen] and Overseer [episkopos] of your

Since the work of overseeing and shepherding cannot be
separated, in a general sense, a pastor is a bishop
and a bishop is a pastor. In the New Testament, the
terms elder, bishop (or overseers), and pastor (or
shepherd) all can be used to describe men who are
functioning as leaders in a local assembly. This is
not to say that everyone doing pastoral work is an
elder. Nor is it to say that everyone functioning as
an elder is a pastor. For example, some elders may be
gifted as apostles, prophets, evangelists, or teachers
(ref. Ephesians 4:11). But irrespective of these
gifts, all elders/bishops are responsible for
pastoring and teaching the people of God (1 Peter
5:1-2; 1 Timothy 3:2 and 5:17; Titus 1:5-9)
What Deacons Are Not

The word “deacon” is another biblical word which, like
“bishop,” is an anglicized Greek word (derived from
diakonos meaning “one who serves”). In the modern
church-world, deacons are usually men who do menial
jobs around the church building or assist in managing
the business affairs of the church. From a biblical
perspective, however, deacons serve God’s people in a
wide variety of ways. Their principal purpose is to
maintain unity among the people and to protect the
elders’ time so they can focus on prayer and the
ministry of the Word (see our paper The Operations of
the Deacon Team). Deacons do important spiritual work
in behalf of others and should never be regarded as
merely occupying an office or holding a title.
Unbiblical Titles

The title “Senior Pastor” is the exact equivalent of
the term “Chief Shepherd.” Yet would any of the men
who have assigned themselves the title Senior Pastor
allow themselves to be addressed as the Chief
Shepherd. Not likely. The idea of a senior pastor who
operates as a chief pastor over a large church with
other sub-pastors under him is completely without
biblical mandate.

And what about the title “Pastor Emeritus”? This term
literally means one who deserves to be called shepherd
but is no longer doing the work of a shepherd. He is
retired. Where did these titles originate? Clearly not
from the Scriptures.

In Philippians 1:1 we read of the bishops (the
overseers), the deacons (the servers), and saints (the
holy people of God). This is not to say that those who
serve in specialized capacities and those who oversee
are not saints. They are just as much saints as the
rest of the body of believers. They have simply been
called to function in specific ways for the benefit of
the assembly as a whole. In the context of local
church oversight, we never read of any individual
called The Pastor, The Senior Pastor, or The Pastor
Emeritus. What we do read of are teams of mature men
called elders or overseers, but never do we see a
solitary leader over an assembly. And never do we see
men seeking out prestigious offices and honorific
titles as a basis for exercising authority over the
people of God.

Note to the reader:

If you would like to comment on the contents of this
paper, please contact us through our website at We welcome and appreciate all
honest comments, questions, and criticisms.

Copyright © 2003 David Huston and Jim McKinley

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this article may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or by any information storage and retrieval
system, without permission in writing from the
to reprint all or part of this document for personal
study and research provided that reprints are not
offered for sale.

All Scripture references are from the New King James
Version of the Bible, copyright 1990 by Thomas Nelson
Inc., Nashville, TN, unless otherwise indicated.

Published by
Rosh Pinnah Publications
PO Box 337, Carlisle, PA 17013 717-249-2059

Rosh Pinnah means ‘Chief Cornerstone’ in Hebrew.


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