Monday, August 26, 2013

Biblical Church Leadership Part 1: Elders

This week I had the opportunity to teach  a group of church planters on what Biblical Church Leadership looks like and many of you have asked about this teaching. The following is a modified form of my notes as we worked through this important issue together. My hope is that the teaching will help those like the church I grew up in move to a more biblical based form of leadership. Today, I will look at the role of an elder answering the questions who leads a church, what are the duties of an elder, and who is qualified to be an elder?

WHO LEADS A CHURCH?

First, and foremost Jesus leads the church, he is the "senior" pastor. The Bible does provide three roles of Christians in the church. Two of these are specific offices and the other is the general role of all believers within the church. All three should be found within a healthy church, but today we will look briefly at the first office, elders.

FIRST OFFICE: PASTOR (SHEPHERD), BISHOP/ELDER (OVERSEER)

In the New Testament all the above words are seen being used to describe the same office, in other words all of these words are used interchangeably.

1. Shepherd - Ephesians 4:11 - "Proimenos" - Literally the word here for shepherd translated pastor.
2. Elder: Titus 1:5-6 - "Presbuterous"
3. Overseer: Titus 1:7 - "Episkopon" - alternatively translated bishop.

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow-elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-not because you must, but because you are willing...1 Peter 5:1-2

The Bible refers to this first office of service as the highest role found within a local church. This role is not given to one as a way to be a dictator over the church, but rather to be the ultimate servant within a church as is the example of Jesus in Matthew 20:25-28.

WHAT ARE THE DUTIES OF AN ELDER?

1. Pastoral care, which includes equipping the body of believers for ministry (Acts 20:28,35; 1 Tim. 3:5; Heb. 13:17; Eph. 4:11-16).

2. Oversight of the churh, including guidance of the teaching and preaching (1 Tim. 4:14; 5:17; 2 Tim. 1:13-14; 2:2; Titus 1:9).

WHO IS QUALIFIED TO BE AN ELDER?

Only godly, qualified men can be elders. If one turns to 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, the list of qualifications of an elder are found. The two lists are generally the same with one pointing out not to make a new convert an elder in a local body. Mark Dever has also pointed out a helpful qualification from 1 Peter 5:2, which shows that one that aspires to the office of an elder be eager to serve.

It is important to note that the Bible also usually refers to elders in the plural sense both in the Old and New Testament. Although it may not happen immediately in a new church start as I was teaching this group of church planters, but it is a good idea to eventually have more than one elder for many reasons.

  • It is the normal practice in the Bible.
  • It allows for unity in the body.
  • It keeps the leaders accountable.

It is also important to note that when studying the biblical qualifications of an elder there is very little emphasis put on gifting or education. Rather what is seen is the majority of the emphasis put on the character of the individual, godly character. Giftedness and education of course are not bad things, but they are not of ultimate importance when it comes to developing or appointing elders within a local church.

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This post is adapted from a recent teaching on biblical church leadership conducted with a group of S. Asian church planters. Four main resources were used in preparation for this teaching: The ESV Study Bible, Danny Akin's A Theology for the Church, Mark Driscoll's Doctrine: What Every Christian Should Believe, and Nathan Shank's Four Fields of Kingdom Growth.

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