Operating Church without a Pastor

How can a church operate without a pastor (ordained person)? Which functions and ceremonies within the congregation can be carried out by those who are not "ordained" to be pastors or ministers fulltime?

Anointing the sick

James 5 tells us that elders in the Church should pray for the sick and anoint them with oil. It does not say, however, that an ordained pastor or 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 someone who is older and wiser that can help 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 like pastors 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 pastors that continues a perverse cycle of leadership.


There are no scriptures that say brethren must go to an "ordained" person like a pastor or priest 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, a pastor of a church 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 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 the recommended study materials at the end of this article.

Performing Marriages

In marriages, those who are "ordained" by an church, like a pastor, 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 pastor or 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 operating as a pastor 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
Can Anyone Perform a Baptism?
What Is the Laying On of Hands?
How to Handle Family Inheritance
How Does the Bible Define Marriage?
How Should a Church Be Led?
What Do Wedding Rings Symbolize?
What Does Baptism Symbolize?
Does God Require a Marriage License?

How To Start and Run a Church!
Why Start a New Group?
Finding a Meeting Place
Naming a New Church
Setting Up a Schedule
Setting Up Church Music
Should You Have Dress Code?
Tracking the Money
Teaching the Bible
Handling Disputes
Operate Without a Pastor

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