I’ve often wondered about what happens when a pastor does leave, and a church has yet to find someone to fill the empty post. Does a church need a pastor? If a church does not have a pastor, will it eventually lose members, and close? Or will others within the church rise-up and fill the role of the pastor?
I have finally found answers to those questions at Park Hills Christian Church.
Park Hills Christian Church is a non-denominational church at 5701 Alabama. I first heard about Park Hills from Clark Peters who works at KELP Christian Radio. When he first told me that they don’t have a pastor, and seemingly don’t have a plan to search out a new pastor.
First, what is a non-denominational church, as found at Park Hills?
“It’s a church that does not belong to a group of churches under one particular name,” says Gregory Davis. “For example, you have the various names of denominations: Southern Baptist, Northern Baptist,Episcopalian, everything else.”
Gregory Davis said they are an independent church. Everything Park Hills needs, the things they rely on to continue running comes from within the church itself, or from God. There is not a national organization backing them. This is one of the major differences of a non-denominational church.
Another thing that sets Park Hills apart is that they have created their doctrinal statement expressing what they believe, and not what a denomination, like the Southern Baptist Convention or the Episcopal Church, believes.
“We believe the Word of God is without error. We believe God has manifested himself, shown himself in three persons. Man has an eternal problem that is called sin nature, and because of that is destined for eternal punishment, unless they accept the free gift that Christ gives because of His giving His life. He is the only way,” says Clark Peters. “It’s basically conservative fundamental.”
They also use the Bible as their guide. Where the Bible speaks on a subject, giving clear outlines of how one should act, what one should and should not do, they teach that. Where the Bible is silent, they are silent.
What Park Hills Christian Church is trying to do, in my opinion, with the way they live their beliefs is to depend on God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures for guidance and direction without the traditions that seem to sprout up within denominational churches.
Another way to look at Park Hills is to compare it with the Book of Acts.
A few things the early church was doing, as found in Acts 2:43-47 was giving to those in need, meeting together, breaking bread together, and praising God.
At Park Hills, you find a fully functioning church with services, Bible studies, classes, fellowship and more. What made Park Hills stand out to me was the lack of a pastor, someone to act as the shepherd of the church.
“The end of this month it will be three years,” Clark Peters said when answering how long they’ve not had a pastor.
“We do what elders are called to do. We tend to the flock on their spiritual needs. We tend to the flock on their physical needs, when it’s appropriate. We do visitations, we preach the word, we teach,” says Gregory Davis. “Basically, we’re pastors as it were without the title, the usual title that a pastor would have. Even a pastor would be considered a leading elder.”
Park Hills Christian Church is shepherded by five elders. Four preach on a rotating schedule of one Sunday a month, and the fifth takes to the pulpit when a month has five Sundays.
“We’ve been meeting twice a month for virtually the three years we’ve been without a pastor,” says Clark Peters.
With five elders they can divide duties like hospital visitation, home visitation, reaching out to others, and taking turns answering calls to the church each week.
Do they function better without a pastor than they would if they had a pastor?
“That depends on the willingness of the people to continue,” says Gregory Davis. “We have folks who say we need a pastor. But then we have other folks who say ‘we enjoy this, we get to see all of you in action,’ so it’s more personal.”
One thing that Gregory did say is that when you have a pastor people tend to get locked into a certain way of thinking, of seeing the pastor and his role. I tend to agree.
When you have only one person serving as a pastor, then the congregation tends to look only to him for answers. They will approach him with all kinds of questions, bypassing deacons, elders or others who may be in teaching positions who are more than capable of answering the same questions.
Another problem I’ve seen in some churches is akin to a type of pastor worship.
To some groups – and I’m not saying this is true with everyone – some small groups of people begin to elevate the pastor. They see him as someone who is infallible in all he says and does. Though the pastor may have a degree of revolution, he is not a prophet.
Again, that is just my opinion.
But when you have several people sharing the duties of a pastor, like the elders of Park Hills Christian Church, then you begin to have a close-knit community. You begin to see that you are a part of the Body of Christ just as the elders, just as a pastor is.
“No one person is the head, other than Jesus Christ,” says Gregory Davis. “Then everyone shares duties according to the talents God has given them.”
There is one drawback to not having a pastor.
“If there is a limitation, with the normal protocol, is someone to identify, a face to identify at Park Hills Christian Church,” says Gregory Davis. “With five elders there is no one person that is identified, it is a group in people. In today’s time, it’s probably a little radical.”
I think having five people willing to step up and run the church gives the church a greater ability to meet the needs of each member as well as the community. With five elders no one can fall through the cracks – they are simply not ignored. Between the elders and membership of the church, they are living out what Jesus commanded all believers to do: go out into the world and preach the word.
“We’ve learned to work together for the benefit of the congregation to the glory of God,” says Gregory Davis.
You can visit Park Hills Christian Church at 5701 Alabama or call them at 915-566-1771. Sunday School starts at 9:45 am, and Sunday service begins at 10:50. Connect with Park Hills Christian Church on Facebook.
When I lived in New York City I was once told that to know a person you need to know their faith.
This story is another installment in the Year of Faith series I am working writing. I am venturing out into El Paso and meeting others of different faiths and religious backgrounds to share their stories.