Posted by: Drew | March 26, 2008

How Should Our Churches Be Led? 3/3

how-should-our-churches-be-led-3.jpgWhile many people today would argue that the plural elder model of church government is not demanded by the teaching of the New Testament, I think, it nonetheless represents the clear teaching of the NT. To hear this argument see my article How Should Our Churches Be Led 1/3. In this post, I want to address how a plurality of elders is the best model for the spiritual growth of our churches.

Let’s be honest, most baptist churches today do not have a plurality of elders, so I know that there is likely an immediate knee-jerk reaction to a young seminary student like myself who claims that the NT model of church leadership is clearly marked by a plurality of elders. Understanding my lack of long-term experience in church ministry, I hope to humbly show how an elder’s biblical function lends itself best to plural elder model.

In my previous post, I looked at the role of elders in shepherding the flock. I think shepherding the flock means caring for the spiritual needs of the congregation as well as providing biblical vision for spiritual growth of the church. Shepherding the flock is closely tied to the second distinguishing function of elders–to teach.

If you read the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, the clear distinction between a deacon and an elder is that an elder must be “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2, Titus 1:9). Titus 1:9 gives more explanation as to what this involves as Paul says an elder/overseer must be “able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Thus an elder must be able both to teach sound doctrine and recognize and correct false doctrine. Thus Paul commands Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). I think teaching the Bible implies responsibility and authority–not authority inherent in the elder, but as one given authority by the church to teach God’s authoritative Word. Thus the connection between shepherding the flock and teaching becomes more clear.

Protecting the flock against false doctrine is tied to shepherding in that a shepherd would see it his job to protect his sheep from various dangers. This is an authoritative function, an elder is not merely to teach but also to protect the flock from false teaching. Thus it would seem that Paul had in mind for NT to churches to trust their elders and follow their teaching.

As mentioned in my previous post where I looked at 1 Peter’s teaching on elders, “shepherding the flock” involves “exercising oversight” and seems to indicate that elders are given the authority to set the vision and direction of the church (1 Peter 3:2). It makes sense that the same people in the church who are given the authority to set the biblical vision and direction are also given the authority to teach. If a church hopes to move in a biblical direction it must be teaching the Bible well.

This is where the typical single elder model (functioning with a “pastor as CEO with vice president deacons”) runs into problems. In such a model deacons tend to function as quasi-elders. When the head pastor of a church is the sole elder/overseer of the church, the deacons typically function as checks/balances and advisers to the head pastor. I see three significant problems with such a model:

1. In the single elder model, deacons are typically given authority and often are not focused on fulfilling a servant role in the church. As I said in my first post on church leadership, a deacon’s job by definition is to serve. In fact, deacons were appointed in Acts 6 because the apostles said, “it is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables” (Acts 6:2). The verb “to serve tables” in Greek is diakoneo which is the verb that gives definition to the function of deacons–to serve. In contrast to the deacons, the apostles determine to “devote [themselves] to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Thus it seems clear that a deacon’s role is more generally to serve in the church rather than specifically to teach or lead the church.

2. The “pastor as CEO model” often gives authority in overseeing the church to men who are not involved in the teaching ministry of the church. The role of an elder is both to teach and to shepherd the flock by exercising oversight. This single elder model involves casting the biblical vision for the spiritual growth of the church. The single elder model typically gives deacons authority in counseling and advising the pastor as he casts the biblical vision of the church but typically this model does not warrant them the same authority to teach. It ought to go without saying that the primary way that elders set the biblical vision is by preaching and teaching the Bible. Deacons are servants and not those accorded authority to teach–thus the ought not be accorded similar authority to cast the biblical vision for the church.

3. The “pastor as CEO model” fails to adequately recognize the importance of service in the body. Because this model confuses the biblical role of deacons, it fails to adequately recognize those who give of themselves to serve the body when it extends deacons role beyond that of service.

I also think that the “pastor as CEO model” lends itself more readily to failure upon the failure of the senior pastor. While this can happen in a church with a plurality of elders as well, the plural elder model spreads the responsibility to teach, preach, and cast the biblical vision to multiple pastors/elders such that when a pastor falls into disrepute or leaves the church, the church already has recognized men able to teach and preach the Bible in the pastor’s absence.

While I do not think that single elder churches are necessarily in sin, I think the NT clearly points to a plural elder model. Thus, if our churches want to promote faithfulness to the Bible’s clear teaching and spiritual growth, they would do well to consider carefully the Bible’s teaching about how our churches should be led.

While this has not been a comprehensive look at the roles of elders in the local church, I hope it has been helpful to you in thinking about the Bible’s teaching on church leadership and maybe even challenged you to think about how your church ought to be structured to best display the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ!

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Responses

  1. http://anyonecare.wordpress.com/2008/07/12/bad-pastors-bad-deacons-bad-elders-bad-church/

  2. Okay so I’m nosy. While I was here I decided to take a look at a recent blog post instead of just pulling up the single one that came up in the top 3 choices of my google search. Assuming that your blog is on the world wide web for strangers to read, I’m sure you won’t mind. :-)

    Having said that I’m shocked to say I agree with you! Our church body has long abandoned the “Pastor as a CEO” model and we’ve been actively “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” in one anothers homes for 2 1/2 years now with the elders serving effectively! This theory of yours is not idealistic, I assure you. You might be interested in the book “Houses the Turned the World Upside Down” by Wolfgang Simpson, but if you like you can start by reading his “15 Theses” here: http://housechurch.org/basics/simson_15.html

    I sincerely think you’ll find it interesting. Let me know what you think.

  3. Bekah,

    I am encouraged to hear that your church has successful transitioned toward a plurality of elders–that is great. It sounds like you are seeing the health that can come from faithfulness to the Scriptures.

    You are not being nosy at all–that is why this blog is no the worldwide web! Unfortunately I have not updated it in a while–I also write at http://electexiles.wordpress.com which is a group blog but I suppose I am the most active/consistent contributor–I write at least 2-3 articles on there a week, so if you would like to see some of my more recent writing, feel free to check it out.

    If I could be nosy for a bit, I would like to hear a little bit more about your church. Is it a house church? You said you have elders, how many? How do the lead the church? Are they paid by the church? Are some paid and some lay elders? Just curios. I currently attend a church with a plurality of elders though that is rare in Southern Baptist circles. My church is still learning what it means to be elder led and learning how to submit to elders etc! But it is a learning process I am thankful to the Lord for!

    I will have to try and check out that book sometime soon.

  4. One of the frightening things I had seen often in the establishing of House churches, over meeting in the local Church, was how often they led to adultery, the elders, deacons themselves lusted after other women.. ill equipped, poorly chosen elders and deacons seem to be issue..

    I ran a successful house church for years myself next..

  5. Drew, I’m glad to hear that you accepted the call to NCBC. I hope to meet you there one day, or up in Huntsville. Warm regards,


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