Chapter 07 Aa

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From 1844 to Eternity Chapter 07

Who will provide pastoral care for the existing churches?

Whereas chapter 5 dealt with the question of whether the church members might lose their salvation if the ministers were assigned to plant churches instead of pastoring existing churches, it did not present much information on how the churches without ministers are to receive pastoral care. If the ministers are elsewhere planting new churches, who will be responsible for caring for the churches? Who will be in charge if there is no minister present?

From the General Conference Bulletin, March 30, 1903, Ellen White writes, “When we see what God can and will do for us, when we know that His church is the supreme object of His regard in this world, why are we not willing to believe His Word?”.1

God loves His church and has a plan for its care, the same plan contained in scripture and in the writings of Ellen White. God’s church must have shepherds. God loves the saved as much as the lost. He loves the current church members as much as those who have not yet heard the message. He will not leave His church without caregivers. But who are those caregivers?

The writings of the Apostle Paul are very instructive in this matter. Paul is the example in scripture for the modern minister to pattern his method of ministry after. Paul spent most of his time raising churches in regions where churches had not previously existed. While He spent time with new churches instructing them on how to labor, he did not (as we have already seen) serve as their pastor for any significant length of time.

To understand God’s plan for the pastoral care of churches, we need to look at how the New Testament uses a few words. Look at the following words found in the King James Version of the Bible, and the Greek root words from which they have been translated.

  1. These three words (pastor, shepherd, and feed), come from the Greek root word, “poimen.
  2. These two words (oversee and bishop), come from the Greek root word episkopos.
  3. The word “elder,” comes from the Greek root word “presbuteros.”

Some words in Greek, as well as in English, have both the noun and verb forms. For example, we might say: “pastors (noun) can pastor (verb) churches,” or “farmers (noun) can farm (verb) their farms (noun).” We will look at several passages to understand the plan which the Holy Spirit has given for the care of the churches. For an excellent and more complete examination of these passages, I would refer you to the work of Pastor Blake Jones, in his paper presented to the Adventist Theological Society on November 22, 2014, titled: “An Apostle or Elder? The Critical Need to Define the Adventist Ministers’ Role.” His paper was a blessing to me in gaining more insight into these passages.2

Eph 4:11-12

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors (poimenas) and teachers;

12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

In Ephesians 4:11, the Greek word for “pastors,” is poimenas, the plural form for the noun poimen. Poimen is a root word which can be used as a noun (singular or plural), or as a verb, depending on how it is spelled. As a noun, it is found 18 times in the Greek New Testament: 15 times it is translated into the singular form as “shepherd,” two times into the plural form as “shepherds,” and only one time into the plural form as “pastors.” In its verb form, poimaino, it is found 11 times: 4 times translated into the word “rule,” and seven times translated into either “feed,” “feedeth,” or “feeding.”

Ephesians 4:11, is the only time it is translated as “pastors” and is used to identify a church officer. In Ephesians, however, the duties of pastors are not defined. To learn the responsibilities of pastors, we must look at other passages where the verb form, poimaino, is used when referring to church officers.

There are only two places where the verb form, poimaino, is used as it pertains to the duties of church officers.

In Acts 20:17 and 28 we find that it is the elders (presbuteros), who have been made overseers (episkopos) of the churches by the Holy Spirit, and they are supposed to feed (poimaino) the church of God.

Act 20:17 and 28

17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders (presbuteros) of the church.

28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers (episkopos) to feed (poimaino) the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

Likewise, in 1 Peter 5:1-3, we find that it is the elders (presbuteros) who are to take oversight of the churches and to feed (poimaino) the flock willingly.

1 Peter 5:1-3

1 The elders (presbuteros) which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:

2 Feed (poimaino)the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight (episkopeo – verb form of episkopos) thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;

3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

In Acts 14:23, we find that elders (presbuteros) were ordained in every church.

Act 14:23

23 And when they had ordained them elders (presbuteros) in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

In Titus 1:5-7, we find that Paul instructed that elders were to be ordained in every city. The qualifications of elders are also listed. We see that the word “bishop” is also used for an elder. The Greek root word for “bishop” is the noun episkopos, which means “overseer,” also used in Acts 20:28 “hath made you overseers.” Episkopos also has a verb form, episkopeo, which means to oversee or take oversight, which is also used in 1 Peter 5:2 “taking the oversight.”

Titus 1:5-7

5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders (presbuteros) in every city, as I had appointed thee:

6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.

7 For a bishop (episkopos) must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;

“It would seem strange to have a standalone, separate office, never before or after mentioned in the New Testament, whose job was to shepherd the church when the task of shepherding the church was elsewhere said to be the role of the elders.”3

J. N. Loughborough was one of the early Adventist pioneers. He saw Ellen White in public visions more than any other person except her husband, James White. In 1907, he published a book titled “The Church: Its Organization, Order and Discipline.” This book served for many years as a church manual until an official manual was adopted in 1932.4 In the book, he stated, “The term pastor is from poimen, and signifies literally a herdsman, a shepherd, especially a pastor, a teacher, a spiritual guide of a particular church. The definition of this term shows that it signifies the same office as presbuteros (elder), and episcopos (bishop), a local office confined to a particular church.5

In the New Testament, a person who is an elder has been designated by the Holy Spirit to be the overseer of a local church. An elder is the equivalent of a modern-day lay-pastor.

In the early days of the Adventist church, using the Biblical plan for ministry as outlined in the New Testament, our denominational growth rate was tremendous. Other denominations wondered how we grew so fast. We had an unpopular doctrine, an unpopular day of worship, and many difficulties that other churches did not have, and yet we were growing more rapidly than any of them. The reason we were growing so fast was simple. The elders were taking care of the existing churches which gave the gospel ministers the ability to enter cities and areas with no Adventist presence and plant new churches. The existing churches could evangelize in the areas where they were located, under the direction of the elders. The Holy Spirit took care of the existing churches by using the elders as pastors, and Christ became their minister as the elders and members labored for souls.

Later in this book, you will see how much the growth rate decreased especially after 1932. That is when changes were officially made in the kind of work ministers were expected to do.

Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, pages 305-307, gives an illustration of some of the expectations for conference presidents, elders, and deacons in the late 1800s. While Ellen White was in Cooranbong, Australia, she wrote the following on September 10, 1896.

“Many presidents of state conferences do not attend to that which is their work—to see that the elders and deacons of the churches do their work in the churches, by seeing that a faithful tithe is brought into the treasury………Presidents of our conferences, do your duty; speak not your words, but a plain “Thus saith the Lord.” Elders of churches, do your duty. Labor from home to home, that the flock of God shall not be remiss in this great matter, which involves such a blessing or such a curse.” 6

It is easy to see that the Biblical plan was in effect. Conference presidents were supposed to hold the elders and deacons of the churches responsible for collecting the tithes and offerings. This allowed the ministers to go and plant new congregations in areas where the Third Angel’s message had not been presented. The elders of the existing churches functioned like unpaid lay-pastors today. The ministers were much more itinerant than today. The ministers raised up new churches and then moved to other previously unentered areas to plant more new churches. Because ministers were so itinerant, it was necessary that the system of tithes and offerings be used to pay the ministers. They could not settle in one area for a long time and hold a regular job as the elders could do.

It is interesting that even in matters of church discipline, the elders functioned as pastors do today. In 1880, Ellen White gave some counsel to churches regarding how to carry out church discipline. In one section of that counsel, there is shown the relationship between the local church elders and deacons and the conference presidents. “Young churches may have leaders in elders and deacons chosen to have a burden and care for the prosperity of the church, yet these men should not feel at liberty in their own judgment and responsibility to cut off names from the church. They should not have so much zeal as to make decisive moves of so grave a character. They should communicate with the one who has been appointed as president of their conference, and confer with him.”7 Please notice that there is no mention of calling a minister away from evangelism and church planting to come and settle church discipline issues in churches already established.

Elsewhere she speaks of great care in the selection of elders and deacons since they are to be entrusted with the flock of God. “May the Lord impress upon the minds and hearts of all connected with the sacred work of God the importance of ascertaining whether those who are to minister as deacons and elders are suitable men to be entrusted with the flock of God.” 8

W. H. Branson said it well in The Ministry, Volume 4, Number 1, January 1931, “The Saviour Himself set us the example. We see Him going from city to city, teaching in the busy streets, on the hillside and the shore, but we never find Him settled as a pastor of some synagogue. We see the apostle Paul going from country to country, ordaining elders in every church and providing for the care of believers, but he himself ever pressing on to the unworked sections and planting the banner of truth in new fields.”9

Meanwhile, what were the regular members supposed to do? God has specific directions for regular church members as well. Christ promises special blessings to members who labor for lost souls.

“If our people would minister to other souls who need their help, they would themselves be ministered unto by the Chief Shepherd, and thousands would be rejoicing in the fold who are now wandering in the desert. Instead of hovering over our people, let every soul go to work to seek and to save the lost. Let every soul labor, not in visiting among our churches, but in visiting the dark places of the earth where there are no churches.10

If you are bold for Jesus and step out of your comfort zone to seek lost souls, Jesus will be your pastor. He will be your shepherd. God does not always choose those who already possess many needed qualifications. While we are to do our best to become qualified, that is not what God wants the most. He can do for you what you cannot do for yourself if you submit fully to Him. He can give all the help and qualifications needed to do His work if you are willing to follow His leading, ask for and accept instruction and guidance from the Holy Spirit, and give your all to Him daily. But sadly, we have not cooperated with God as we should have. Many souls are being lost day after day as a result.

Jesus said in Luke 10:2, “The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.” He did not say to pray for laborers to be sent to those who are already harvested.

Today, God is looking for people like Isaiah, “I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” Isaiah 6:8. Isaiah did not already have all the qualifications needed to do his job. God was not looking for someone with all the necessary skills. God was looking for someone who was willing to be used by God, changed by God, qualified day by day by God, shaped and molded by His Holy Spirit.

Is God calling you today? Is He looking for you to say, “Here am I, send me.”

Questions for Consideration

  1. How might we spread the 3 angel’s message faster?
  2. How might elder-run churches help us to spread our message faster?
  3. When selecting elders and deacons, what qualifies a person to do these jobs? Remember that the Bible has an answer to this, too.
  4. What qualifies a believer to share the truth with others? What stops them?
  5. What stops you?
  6. How can you, personally, overcome these challenges so that you can better share the good news of Jesus?
  7. For what reasons, do you think, does our church and member growth rate become so much higher with itinerary ministers?


  1. Ellen White, The General Conference Bulletin, March 30, 1903, page 10, par. 1.
  2. Blake Jones, An Apostle or Elder? The Critical Need to Define the Adventist Ministers’ Role, November 22, 2014. This is a paper presented to the Adventist Theological Society on November 22, 2014. The author, Blake Jones, and be contacted at
  3. Blake Jones, An Apostle or Elder? The Critical Need to Define the Adventist Ministers’ Role, November 22, 2014. This is a paper presented to the Adventist Theological Society on November 22, 2014. The author, Blake Jones, and be contacted at
  4. The OFFICIAL Ellen G. WhiteWebsite.
  5. J.N. Loughborough, The Church: Its Organization, Order and Discipline (Washington, D.C., Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1907) p. 129, paragraph 2.
  6. Ellen White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Worker: (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1923) 305.
  7. Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, Vol. 9: (Washington, D.C.: White Estate, 1979) 193-194.
  8. Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, Vol. 21: (Silver Spring, MD: Ellen G. White Estate, 1990) 3.
  9. W. H. Branson, The Ministry, Volume 4, Number 1, January 1931, page 10.
  10. Ellen White, The Review and Herald, June 25, 1895 par. 6.