A young couple notices something missing on the sign outside the assembly’s building. They enter while a meeting is taking place. One man is praying. Is he the pastor? Then, another requests a hymn? Is he? By the meeting’s end they still don’t have an answer. When a believer approaches, they jump right to the question, “Why don’t you have a pastor?”
Assemblies do have a heavenly Pastor (Shepherd) in Christ (1Peter 2:25} and earthly pastors too (Eph 4:17,Acts 20:28). But our couple is thinking of an individual who is the official minister and head of the congregation. Their question is relevant. After all, organizations generally have a leader who presides over their official “meetings.” A president or prime minister addresses a legislature, a CEO reports to a company, a coach instructs a team and usually a pastor leads and preaches to a congregation. So why, in an assembly, do a number of men participate instead of one pastor?
Before answering this question, it is important to remember that an assembly is different from any human organization. It has been called (1Co 1:9), purchased (Acts 20:28), and inhabited (1Co 3:16, 17) by the Lord Himself. The assembly is described as “body of Christ” in 1Corinthians 12:27 and is better likened to an organism with each member sharing the same spiritual life (1Co 10:17). As such, the assembly functions differently than a mere human organization.
The first reason the assembly is structured and functions this way is because its practice is founded on spiritual realities. In the Bible, truths aren’t just museum pieces to contemplate and admire. They are intended by the Lord to be implemented and enjoyed. Specifically, the three great realities that relate to participation in the assembly meetings are the priesthood of all believers (1Pe 2:5-9), the presidency of the Holy Spirit in the assembly (1Co 3:16; 12:3-11) and the presentation of spiritual gifts by the Lord to those in the assembly (1Co 12:4-7).
The priesthood of all believers is a wonderful blessing that accompanies salvation. It means that, through the Lord Jesus, the believer can come directly into God’s presence in prayer and worship (Heb 10:19; 13:15) at any time. When the believer comes into the fellowship of an assembly, he or she now has the privilege of functioning as part of a company of holy priests just as the Lord intended. Although all believers are priests, the Scripture clearly states that only the males have the responsibility to exercise their priesthood by leading the assembly in audible worship, prayer, and teaching (1Co 14:34; 1Ti 2:11, 12).
The presidency of the Holy Spirit in the assembly means that, rather than one pastor having the official position at all the services, the Holy Spirit has the authority and liberty to preside over and direct the meeting. The Breaking of Bread and Prayer Meeting are the occasions when this is especially evident, as different brethren request hymns, lead in prayer, or minister the Word as the Holy Spirit leads. There are, of course, some assembly meetings seen in the New Testament, like a gospel meeting or a ministry meeting, when specific gifted brethren are selected to speak for a single occasion (Acts 20:7) or for an extended series of meetings (Acts 6:4). These meetings do not deny the presidency of the Holy Spirit because the Lord Himself has sanctioned them and the individuals chosen to speak have been given that responsibility for the occasion. They have no official, permanent role in the assembly to the exclusion of others. The presentation of spiritual gifts by the Lord to men in the assembly is described in 1Corinthians 12:4-12. The main point to notice is that the Lord gives each man a gift or gifts and never invests one man with all the gifts or responsibility in the church. To have just one pastor or a select team of men responsible for public participation in the meetings of the church is a denial of this great spiritual reality. It is important to remember that prayer and worship are not gifts but privileges given to all the brethren in the assembly.
A second reason why a number of men participate in an assembly meeting is because it follows the Scriptural pattern. Like a blueprint, the New Testament presents a positive pattern for the order of meetings in a local assembly. The pattern functioned in the early assemblies as intimated in Acts 13:1 and 1Corinthians 14. While the sign gifts described in 1 Corinthians 14 were for that era (1Co 13:8-10), nonetheless, when the Spirit of God presided, several men edified the assembly (14:26) by participating with the spirit and understanding (vv 14, 15).
A third reason would be that doing so fulfils the Lord’s intention. In the Old Testament, the Lord originally wanted Israel to be a kingdom of priests (Ex 19:4-6). Because of their failure, God selected Aaron’s family to serve as priests for the nation (Ex 28:1). Even so, the Lord’s original intention was for all His people to be priests and participate in worship (John 4:23). This has found its fulfillment in the New Testament, as now, in the local church, we have the tremendous privilege of functioning as a priesthood in our meetings.
A fourth, practical reason for a plurality of men participating in an assembly is that it facilitates spiritual growth in the individual believer and the assembly as a whole (1Co 14:26). It serves both to preserve one person, who has the limelight, from pride and self-exaltation and also to provide for others an opportunity to prepare and participate. In doing so, they develop their spiritual intelligence and exercise. Also, the sheer variety of participation in the meeting can provide spiritual edification and enrichment for the different personalities of believers that make up the assembly.
A final, and perhaps most important, reason an assembly functions this way is that it furthers God’s glory (2Co 1:20, Eph 3:21). The assembly honors Him before the seen and unseen observers who see believers obeying God’s Word, even in the order of their meetings (1Co 11:10, 14:25).