Operating Church without a Pastor

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This is the seventh and last in our series on how to start and operate a new church. This article concerns how to operate a church without a pastor. Other installments in this series are listed at the bottom of this article.

Can a church operate without a minister (ordained person) like a Pastor or Priest? Are there certain functions and ceremonies within the congregation that should only be performed by those who serve fulltime? Below are several common services Christian churches commonly perform and how they can be handled by small groups and fellowships.

James 5 tells us that elders in the Church should pray for the sick and anoint them with oil. It does not say an ordained minister must do the job.

Is anyone sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him after anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:14).

The question is who are the church elders? How does a person become one? The Bible does not spell out a specific procedure, but the historical meaning of the word is simply older, wiser, people who helped to govern the affairs of a civil or religious group.

While there are examples of laying on of hands to give people special responsibilities to minister within a congregation, no scripture says that an elder must have hands laid upon them. Older, spiritually mature, righteous brethren in a church group, whomever they are, can pray for the sick and anoint them.

Appointing leaders

A vital function of "ordained" leaders is "ordaining" other leaders so that the cycle may continue. However, when one realizes that the Bible does not teach a chain of human ordination, then having such a need goes away. God continues to give spiritual gifts and congregations choose people to become their leaders (Acts 1:23, 6:3, 11:22, 15:2, etc.).

A system where people choose each leader sometimes is not stable, but it is a far better system than bad church leaders picking future bad leaders that continues a perverse cycle of leadership.


There are no scriptures that say brethren must go to an "ordained" person for counseling. There are, however, numerous scriptures that promise answers to humble prayers seeking God's will. Scripture encourages several counselors be sought (Proverbs 15:22) and that prayer be offered in order to make a wise choice.

Rather than blindly following one counselor, people must realize that they are responsible for finding good counselors and then making the best decision from their advice.


The Bible does not record anyone preaching a funeral message. It mentions burial customs, people mourning for the dead, and people gathering after a death. It does not mention a specific "funeral message" or who must preach it. The Bible contains many verses on the resurrection of the dead, the rewards given to believers and God's great love and mercy.

Mature believers should be able to read these scriptures to comfort those gathering after a death. In the United States, an "ordained minister" does not perform any legal function in connection with a death or a funeral.

Removal of sinful members

There are times when the church must ask a member to leave (1Corinthians 5:1-5). The Apostle Paul makes it clear that this should be done when the congregation is assembled (1Corinthians 5:4). The whole procedure for doing this is described in Matthew 18. A pastor is not required for this, only a concerned believer empowered by the Holy Spirit to start the process and a congregation willing to carry out their duty.

Baptizing new believers

This is another function typically performed by church pastors. The Bible, however, nowhere states that only those who are "ordained" or approved by a denomination are allowed to baptize new members. Please see our articles "Can anyone perform a baptism?" and "Should people be baptized in Jesus' name?" for more information.

Performing Marriages

In marriages, those who are "ordained" by an organization frequently act on behalf of civil governments when they perform weddings. Civil governments will accept almost any person who has "ordination papers" or even a written statement from the congregation that he or she serves them.

However, what does the Bible say about who should perform a wedding? Actually, there is no mention of any minister performing any wedding or marriage in Scripture. Weddings were a public affair and there were certainly wedding feasts with many guests invited.

The history of weddings shows that the practice of those who are "ordained" is only about 600 years old. Before that, weddings were handled primarily by a contract between the married couple's parents. A marriage was seen as a contract between the husband, wife, and God; neither the church (e.g. minister) nor the state had a part in it.

It is not in the scope of this article to go into all the reasons why a couple getting married should or should not obtain an "official" marriage license from a church or the state. As with any life-affecting undertaking, people should find out as much as they can before making a decision that cannot be easily undone.

Marrying without a signed license by someone acting as a minister or a witness to the vows, however, can bring big consequences. Property ownership, child custody, inheritance, and many day-to-day financial agreements will be affected greatly by the presence or absence of a license.

Recommended Articles
Where Is the True Church of God?
What Is the Laying On of Hands?
How to Handle Family Inheritance
How Does the Bible Define Marriage?
History of the Early Church
What Do Wedding Rings Symbolize?
What Does Baptism Symbolize?
Does God Require a Marriage License?

How to Start a Church!
Why Begin a New Group?
Finding a Meeting Place
Finding a Name, Church Finances
Dress Code, Schedule and Music
Teaching the Bible
Handling Disagreements
Operating without a Pastor

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