Posted by: Drew | November 11, 2007

How Should Our Churches be Led? 1/3

How Should Our Churches Be Led

Leadership in the local church has received renewed interest in recent days, thanks in part to ministries such as 9 Marks. It seems like more and more pastors are seeking to transition their churches from a single pastor model of leadership to that of a plurality of elders (while this is a encouraging development–pastors who are making this transition should do so very carefully and patiently!). By a plurality of elders I simply mean multiple pastors, elders, or overseers (these terms are essentially synonymous in the NT). We ought to rejoice in this renewed interest in plural eldership as such a model reflects the clear teaching of the New Testament.

Despite this renewed interest in plural eldership that I have seen in many churches recently, the majority of Baptist churches do not possess a plural elder model. Thus, the leadership model of the New Testament is worth thinking about. So in my next three posts, I will do my best to discuss the model of church leadership found in the New Testament. Thoroughly tracing the New Testament model of leadership in the local church would be a task too vast for this blog, however, I will do my best in this post, to briefly highlight some significant teaching in the NT on plural eldership. In two follow-up posts, I will address what biblical elders ought to be doing in our churches and why understanding the role of elders is important to all members of the church!

First, we should not that the church or churches in Jerusalem had elders (Acts 11:30; 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23; 16:4; 21:18). Acts 14:23 indicates that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in all the churches they visited on Paul’s first missionary journey. Further 1 Timothy 5:17 indicates that the church at Ephesus had a plural leadership model and in Titus 1:5 Paul commands Titus to appoint elders in the church at Crete.

1 Peter gives some of the strongest evidence for the presence of plural eldership in the New Testament churches. Peter’s first epistle is addressed to churches in “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” We don’t know exactly how many churches the epistle of 1 Peter was circulated to, but it was likely at least dozens, possibly even hundreds or thousands of churches in Asia Minor. Peter challenges “the elders” of these churches to “shepherd the flock of God among them.” Thus we can deduce from this that plural eldership was the pattern for all of the many churches that Peter’s letter is addressed to. Further, it should be noted that noted that there is no verse in the NT that describes one person as the single elder of a church. Although the New Testament’s teaching on elders is generally directed at churches in general, Philippians 1:1 is directed to a specific church and the model for leadership is clearly one of a plurality of elders.

While other models of leadership in Baptist churches have been espoused, the burden of proof rests on them to prove the pattern of leadership in the NT is different from that of a plural elder model.

I should mention that I believe local churches are to be led by a plurality of elders rather than ruled by them. I think that NT pattern is one of congregational rule. For instance, in Galatians 1:8-9, Paul tells the churches of Galatia reject false teaching. Thus it was the congregation’s responsibility to preserve doctrinal purity. Further, it was the congregation that ultimately holds authority in issues of church discipline (Matt 18:15-17; 2 Cor 2:6). Thus if elders are not to rule the church, what is their role?

With the plural nature of leadership in the church established, we ought to give thought to what an elder’s function in the local church is. Thus my next two posts will address the two unique functions of biblical elders—teaching and shepherding. In the list of qualifications of elders in 1 Timothy 1:6-9 and Titus 1:6-9, we see the unique qualification of elders is that they be “able to teach.” 1 Peter 5:1-4 indicates that elders are to “shepherd the flock of God.” While there is significant overlap in these two functions—but I do think they are distinct and each is worthy of our attention.

Thus, in my next two posts I will address the two unique responsibilities of elders in the local church—to teach and to shepherd the flock.

For a more thorough discussion on the plural elder model and Baptist church polity see John S. Hammett’s book Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches.

 

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Responses

  1. See here and here for another perspective on what biblical elders are.

    Most Baptist churches already have a plural leadership, most commonly a pastor and deacons.

  2. Thanks for the links Jerome. I have read Dr. Wills book, it is excellent–but his point is that SBC churches in the South in the 19th Century typically had a plural eldership–that is not the case anymore. While many baptist churches have what resembles plural leadership in a pastor and deacons, I think that model doesn’t quite match what we see in Scripture as I have documented in this short article. That said, I am happier with a church with deacons functioning like elders than with a church with a single elder. Further Wills asserts in his book that baptist churches in the south were predominately congregational. The case for ruling elders is suspect in my humble opinion.

  3. Hammett is @ SEBTS!

    I think that many Baptists church have, at the very least, blurred the lines of deacon and elder in the church. For many churches, they may think they are following the ‘single’ elder model (pastor/elder), but they’re actually led by 70 deacons (some Baptist churches have a ton of deacons).

  4. I go to a Baptist church, and can say that my church has a pastor and deacons, but the deacons are like elders in authority without responsibility. So if they want to be in charge of something, they are, and a lot teach Sunday school, but they aren’t doing a lot of service-work in the church. And the people don’t follow the deacons; they follow the pastor. In fact it’s hard to find a decision in which the congregationally-run church I attend voted something that the pastors didn’t suggest, or with which the pastor disagreed. Usually this is not the pastor’s fault, but the people who don’t want to think or have a spiritual life for themselves (not everyone, of course). Like any democracy, it tends toward tyranny because the people default on their responsibility.

    What do you think, Drew, of the working “elders AMONG you”? I mean, you don’t see the New Testament holding search commitees and importing pastors from across the country. Paul sent Timothy to be an elder, I guess, and Paul may have been considered an elder sometimes. But don’t you think he appointed elders, even in relatively new-believer congregations, from among the community?

    To God be all glory,
    Lisa of Longbourn

  5. so…you should post more. c’mon droobs…your audience awaits.

  6. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

  7. I just found this page and you must finish out the other two parts, pleeeeeeease! It has been since October so I am not hopeful, but all I can do is ask you to consider whether it is God’s will for you to finish this, as I believe it is.

  8. I plan to write on this soon. I will indeed finish these posts–though I don’t know how good they will be!


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