A Laugh a Day (At Least)!

SafeRedirectMy 14-year old daughter, Alexis, overheard me the other day talking about my blog, and she asked me when I was going to write something about her.  I told her that I didn’t know what I would write about her, and besides, I said that people might find it kind of odd that I would randomly blog about one of my kids.  But, Alexis did something the other night at dinner that – I believe – warrants a post.

What she did the other night was something she’s done hundreds of times before, but in light of her request, it struck me that I should share it with others through my blog.  What did she do, you ask?  She made us laugh.  Hard.

As long as I can remember, Alexis has been funny.  We have video of her doing and saying funny things as early as before she turned two.  We’ve often thought that we’d be $10,000 richer if we would have sent some of her stuff to America’s Funniest Home Videos.

She’s a master at remembering funny lines from movies and TV shows and pulling them out at the perfect time for maximum effect and laughter.  The other night at the table, she rattled off a routine she had seen on YouTube from a recent Saturday Night Live episode.

I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but one of the cast members plays a character named, Judy Grimes, an incredibly nervous travel agent invited to give travel tips on SNL’s news segment called Weekend Update.  Judy is so nervous that – even though she talks a lot – she never gives an travel tips.  Instead, she rattles off frenzied monologues that change direction every time she says “just kidding”.  (Check out the video below to see her in action!)

Without so much as a thought, Alexis perfectly rattled off a portion of Judy’s frenzied monologue at the table the other night…and we roared!  (If you’re lucky, maybe she’ll do it for you.)  Later on that evening, I got to thinking about how much laughter and fun Alexis brings to our home on a daily basis.  She is truly a blessing, and one of the ways she regularly blesses us is with her wonderful sense of humor.

I’m not kidding.

A Great Blog Lost

Just spent the last hour-and-a-half writing a powerful blog about how we – as followers of Christ – are called by Him to bring redemption to those around us in Jesus’ name.  It was good.  It was life-changing.  It would have rocked the blogoshphere.  And then I lost it.

As I went to pcussingublish it, my computer freaked out, and what I thought had been saved was evidently not.  I frantically tried to rescue the earth-shattering text of my blog, but it had already been devoured by the demons of cyberspace.

Yes, there were choice words spoken.  Words that I used to get my mouth filled with soap by my mother for when I spoke them.  Words that I dare not speak from the pulpit because they would reveal to my parishioners that I am merely human like them.  Words that thankfully only my deaf dog could hear, but praise to the Lord, his hearing impairment has spared him from the vile verbiage.

So, I guess for now I’ll just have to boil the eloquence and power of the lost blog down to its one main point: People are sick of Christians talking about Jesus. It’s time for us to stop talking and start joining God in His redemptive mission on earth by seeking ways to meet the needs of our neighbors in Jesus’ name.

Not as power-packed nor as beautifully stated as it was in the lost blog.  But seriously, it’s time for us to stop talking so much about God’s redemption and start living it.  It’s time for us to come out from behind our walls of safety and security and get dirty loving our neighbors and seeking to meet their needs.  God is a God of redemption, and He has called us to join Him in His mission of redeeming the lives of those around us.

THAT is missional living.

The Mandate of Missional Living

Our churcmissional-livingh just spent the weekend with Kevin Higgins, the director of Global Teams – an organization that equips and sends missionary teams all over the world.  We’ve partnered with Kevin over the past sixteen years and have seen an entire church movement emerge in South Asia as a result.  Kevin and I spent a lot of time this past weekend talking about God’s call on His people to engage in missional living both locally and globally, a concept that ALL followers of Jesus must come to terms with.

Being missional simply means joining with God in His redemptive mission.  We believe that God is at work all around the world among all the peoples of the world, and so we send workers (missionaries) out to demonstrate and proclaim the good news of Jesus among those people.  As a church, our global emphasis is strong, but what about our local missional emphasis?

Foothills Fellowship has focused our missional efforts over the years on North Africa, Japan, South Asia, and the Middle East (and we’ve even sent people from our church to these places to live), but if we’re not living in one of those places right now, then God has called us to live missional lives right here in Albuquerque.  (Or if you’re reading this from another location, then God has called you to live missionally right where you are!)

THAT’S local missional living, and frankly, we don’t do well at this as followers of Christ, do we?  If we did, our pastor’s sermons would be replaced often with stories of how the lives of our friends, co-workers, and neighbors were transformed by the saving power of Christ.  Our churches would be pulsating with worship because we would be marveling at the wonderful work of God through us.  Our baptismal waters would be flowing weekly, and our worship centers would be full of new believers hungering for discipleship.

But this really isn’t happening, is it?  I contend that it’s not because God is dead, or uninterested, or unloving, or uncaring; it’s because we’ve not fully caught the vision and calling that we all have to live missional lives right where we are.

In Matthew 22:36-39, Jesus said, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

When are we going to realize that – in God’s economy – loving, serving, and caring for our neighbors is right up there with loving Him?  In His mind, those two are inseparable. Loving God and loving others: it’s what we’ve been sent here to do!

So, in order to engage in local missional living, we must be people who daily join with the Lord in His redemptive mission, which is a way of life, not just another once-a-year act of kindness toward our neighbors.  It’s a way of living our lives where we are constantly radiating God’s redemptive plan to those around us, and as we do this as individuals, families, and churches, we’re trusting God for spiritual fruit like we’ve never seen before!

The Launching Pad of Fasting

fastingAs Foothills wraps up our four-week church-wide fast, let me encourage you with these words from Acts 13:1-4:

Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus.

This fasting changed the course of history.

John Piper notes that it is almost impossible to overstate the historical importance of this moment in Antioch in the history of the world. Before this word from the Holy Spirit there seems to have been no organized mission of the church beyond the eastern seacoast of the Mediterranean. Before this, Paul had made no missionary journeys westward to Asian Minor, Greece, or Rome, or Spain. Before this Paul had not written any of his letters which were all the result of his missionary travels beginning here.

This moment of prayer and fasting resulted in a missions movement that would make Christianity the dominant religion of the Roman Empire within two and a half centuries and would yield 1.3 billion adherents of the Christian religion today with a Christian witness in virtually every country of the world. And 13 out of the 29 books of the New Testament were the result of the ministry that was launched in this moment of prayer and fasting.

So I think is it fair to say that God was pleased to make worship and prayer and fasting the launching pad for a mission that would change the course of world history.

What do the Foothills elders hope that God will “launch” through our prayer and fasting?  We hope and pray that God will launch us into our 36th year together in such a way that He uses us to usher in His Kingdom here on earth (in Albuquerque, Africa, Japan, South Asia, Iraq) as it is in heaven.  Thank you, Foothills, for joining us in this act of discipline, sacrifice, and worship.

Lessons on Leadership from Former President Nixon

richard-nixonIt’s not everyday that someone says they learned something positive from someone like former President Richard Nixon.  He was the only president to resign the office, and he did so after being mowed over by a self-made avalanche of lies and illegal activity.  In many ways, he’s the perfect example of what NOT to do as a leader, but there is someone who thinks that in-spite of all his shortcomings, President Nixon had some admirable leadership qualities from which we can learn.

David Gergen is a Harvard professor, editor of U.S. News and World Report, a regular on CNN, and the author of the book, Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership Nixon to Clinton.  Gergen served as an adviser to four presidents: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton, and in the book, he shares leadership lessons he learned from each one.  Here are some of the lessons on leadership he learned while serving President Nixon.

1. He seized the opportunity for personal growth while in the wilderness.

In 1960, Nixon lost the presidential election by less than one percent to John F. Kennedy.  Two years later, he decided to build on that momentum by running for governor of California.  He was defeated by Pat Brown, and it appeared that his political career was over.  As it turned out, his banishment from politics was one of the best things that ever happened to him.  It prepared him to lead.  For the next six years, he wandered in the political wilderness and took that opportunity to deepen and broaden himself intellectually.  He visited four continents, investigating conditions, examining the interests and motivations of other nations, and expanding his storehouse of contacts.  He also read many influential books and spent a lot of time writing out his thoughts.  Gradually, he developed a more sophisticated, tempered, longer-range view of world affairs that became the foundation of his presidency.

2. Faced with bad news, he didn’t flinch but plunged ahead with even more grit.

Toughness in adversity became a hallmark of Nixon’s life.  From childhood, when two of his brothers died and his family faced incredible hardship, all the way through to the dark night of his presidency, toughness proved to be an indispensable element of his success in politics and in life.  In the summer of 1974, as his presidency was crumbling, Nixon was on a trip to the Middle East when the White House physician traveling with him discovered that Nixon had phlebitis – an inflammation that can be fatal.  The doctor advised Nixon to cut his Middle East schedule in half, but Nixon, knowing the political importance of the trip, ordered his agenda be doubled instead!  This scenario was indicative of the resolve and toughness of Nixon who lived through and excelled in times of hardship and crisis.

3. He understood that history was a handmaiden to leadership.

Nixon was a history buff.  He voraciously read books about famous past leaders in order to learn from their successes and failures.  While he spent much of his time reading about foreign leaders, he also took notes repeatedly on his predecessors, analyzing their greatest qualities and evaluating how he measured up.  He drew upon the past in three ways: to gain a broader perspective on his own times, to impress upon his listeners his place in the sun, and to find role models for action.  He believed that a leader must be able to “get on the balcony” in order to observe the patterns of action from afar so that he may participate in them more effectively.

4. He surrounded himself with a steady stream of talented and effective leaders.

Although some of these men – like Chuck Colson – ended up helping Nixon seal his demise, most of the leaders he surrounded himself with became his greatest strength and his greatest legacy.  The dedication in 1990 of his library drew together a wide array of former presidents, cabinet members, and other major figures – almost all of whom had roots in the Nixon era.  Among those who gathered were the Republican Big Four: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and the sitting President, George Bush.  They all knew that had it not been for Nixon, they might not have made it to the White House.  And by the way, the story didn’t end with Watergate for Colson.  He has gone on to become the leader of Prison Fellowship and one of the most influential voices of our time for justice, humanity, and redemption.  Nixon surrounded himself with a steady stream of leaders who continue to lead well even to this day.

Thoughts on Biblical Elders

elders-titleAs Foothills Fellowship embarks on voting to approve an amended constitution that calls for a Christ-ruled, elder-led church, I want to share some excerpts from an article entitled “A Proposal for Elder-led Church Government” by Dr. Bob Whitney, a seasoned pastor and Director of Ministry Support-Training for Slavic Gospel Association.  Here’s what he writes:

“Everything rises and falls on leadership.” After 20 years in pastoral ministry I can look back at the three local churches where I served and see the truthfulness of this statement. The health, strength, and effectiveness of the church is directly related to the quality and function of its leadership.

The Bible recognizes and regulates the need for leadership and authority in society, in the home and in the church. It speaks to the issue of church government. The controversy, however, has always been over exactly whom did God intend to have the authority to lead the church. There have been several answers given, even by those of us who believe in the autonomy of the local church. Some have said the authority rests in a singular local church pastor. Others say the church is properly led by a plurality of godly pastors or elders. Still others say the authority of the church is in its membership. Who is right?

Who should make the important decisions in the life of the church; the pastor, an elder team or the congregation? I believe the biblical evidence points clearly to a team of elders as responsible for leading the church.  Let’s discuss this under two headings. First, Biblical Principles, where we will briefly examine four clear guidelines for structuring a biblical form of elder church government. Second, Practical Considerations, where we will answer six questions on the details of how these guidelines work themselves out in the life of the church.

BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES

1. Elders are responsible for the oversight of the church.

There are three terms for church leaders that are used interchangeably in the New Testament. The word elder (presbuteros) is the most common biblical term used of church leaders. The word overseer or bishop (episkopos) is also used for the same office. The third word is pastor or shepherd (poimen).  While pastor is the most common term used today for church leaders, it is the least used in the Bible. All three terms are used to speak of the same office. Elder emphasizes the man’s mature character, overseer emphasizes his function and pastor emphasizes his caring spirit. In I Peter 5:1-3, Peter exhorts the elders (verse 1) to shepherd (verse 2) the flock of God among you, exercising oversight (verse 2).  When we examine the use of these three terms in the Bible a clear picture emmerges of the leadership and authority of elders in the church.

2. There should be a team of elders leading every church.

As Luke records the history of Paul’s church planting ministry, he carefully recounts how from the beginning these men where deeply concerned with the appointment of elders (plural) in every church.  Acts 14:23 is part of a short summary statement of the things that mattered to Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Their ministry of planting and strengthening churches was not complete without the appointment of elders within each local church. Notice the plurality of elders while the sphere of their leadership is a singular local church.

There are six other New Testament passages where this pattern is clear, and there are an additional eight passages that refer to the office of elders in the plural form. There are only three passages where the terms for the office of elder appear in the singular form. Two of these passages refer to the examination of individual elders as to their qualifications for the office and the third is how to handle an accusation made against an elder, There is nothing in these verses that contradicts the overwhelming evidence from Scripture that the church is to be led by a plurality of godly elders.

3. Elders must be spiritually qualified.

Paul lists at great length the qualifications for elders to serve in the church. There are two significant lists of character traits needed for a man to serve as an elder. They are found in I Timothy 3:1-7 and in Titus 1:5-9. These standards are essential considerations in selecting elders. The New Testament gives more instruction on qualifications of elders than on any other aspect of church government.

Alexander Strauch says, “Proper qualification is a scriptural imperative, objective requirement, moral obligation, indispensable standard, and absolute necessity for those who would serve as leaders in the church” (p. 76, Biblical Eldership).

Wayne Grudem writes, “Those who are choosing elders in churches today would do well to look carefully at candidates in the light of these qualifications, and to look for those character traits and patterns of godly living rather than worldly achievement, fame, or success. Especially in churches in western industrial societies, there seems to be a tendency to think that success in the world of business (or law, or medicine, or government) is an indication of suitability for the office of elder, but this is not the teaching of the New Testament” (p. 916, Systematic Theology).

4. The congregation should submit to the elder team.

It is assumed that church members will read all the Bible passages that clearly give the responsibility for the oversight of the church to the elders. It will be their deepest desire to please Christ and obey his Word. But submitting is not always easy for us. Therefore there is a direct word to church congregations in Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

In another passage Paul speaks of the love and respect that should be in the church for the ones given oversight responsibility: “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (I Thessalonians 5:12,13).

The Bible is clear that the church of Christ is to be led by an official oversight body made up of godly men called elders who meet the strict standards of Scripture and lovingly shepherd the flock.  I realize these four principles or guidelines raise a lot of questions. There are many decisions to be made  by each local church about how to apply these principles in the government of the church. But there is great reward for the hard work of structuring a church according to biblical standards.  Let me move into the realm of practical considerations. I share these ideas as one possible way to apply the scripture we examined together. I personally experienced how this can work successfully in the life of the church. I have served on two elder teams. In one church as an associate pastor for five years in another church as a senior pastor for 13 years. Here are the questions and answers with which we wrestled. I will answer each question with the example of how we applied the principles to our local church.

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

1. How are elders chosen?

Each year we asked the congregation to give names to the elder team of those individuals they felt met the qualifications for elders and to the best of their understanding had a desire to serve. This was always a useful exercise. As shepherds of the flock with responsibility for the care of souls (Hebrews 13:17) we had a pretty good understanding of who was ready to serve in this capacity. Yet depending on the size of the church there would be other names given which we did not know as well.

There would be an elder application and interview process for each candidate with the existing elder team. Think of the steps most churches go through when they hire a pastor, for that is exactly what is taking place although the elder may not be paid staff.

After the initial examination process a list of any new elders was posted for the church to review and evaluate. Although the elders took the lead in evaluating an aspiring elder’s qualifications, opportunity was given for the congregation to express any questions or doubts about a candidate. The input from the church was very important. Each elder was available for discussion and a visit by anyone who had a concern to share. After a period of time and answering of questions a final list was posted for the annual meeting and affirmation by the church membership.

Congregational meetings are generally not the time and place to work through issues. Elders should always be approachable and seek out input from the congregation prior to such meetings. This gives careful thought, prayer and personal attention to the issues. This also eliminates most misunderstandings and provides for open communication between the leaders and the congregation. All the work of communicating, explaining, and answering of questions should be done well in advance so that the congregational meeting is a time of affirmation and a celebration of the spirit of unity in the church.

2. Should elders have terms?

Once an elder is affirmed by the congregation and set apart for this task he continues in his work as long as he desires the work and meets the qualifications.

3. What if the elders can’t agree?

Elder teams should strive for unanimity. If there are several elders who have concerns, about moving forward on something, this is a signal to slow down and give more prayer and thought to the decision.  Even if there is only one elder who has concerns, we slow down the process to give more prayer and thought to the issue involved. If after a prolonged time and several meetings there is still only one person opposed then he will typically defer to the unanimity of his fellow elders. Remember there is no room for personal agendas. The goal is to discern the will of Christ for His church.

4. To whom are the elders accountable?

Each year all of our elders went through a personal evaluation as well as an affirmation from the other elders. And every year at the annual meeting, all the elders (not just new elders) were presented to the church for affirmation for another year of service. The congregation affirmed the whole team, not individuals. Each church member knew that they were free to express concern or raise questions about any individual prior to the meeting. This open communication is much better than the typical secret ballot which promotes a lack of communication over congregational concerns. It is an important role of each elder to be humble and approachable with the congregation and their concerns.  While each elder is ultimately accountable to God (Hebrews 13:17) there are also three other levels of accountability: personal, fellow elders, and congregation.

5. What does the congregation decide?

There was one regular scheduled congregational meeting each year. We asked the congregation to affirm two things; the annual budget and all the spiritual leaders for the coming year. Both the budget and list of leaders was given to the church well in advance and opportunities were provided to ask questions and share concerns prior to the congregational meeting. Sometimes small group meetings with the elders were available for anyone who wanted to come with a question. The annual meeting was like a wedding ceremony. All the work was done prior to the event – the counseling, the prayer and the discussions. The meeting, like a wedding, should be an opportunity to celebrate what has already been decided – in this case, by the elders and the church family.

6. Do elders and pastors have equal authority?

The pastor was one of the elders and therefore part of the team. He had no more authority than other team members. However, as John MacArthur writes, “That does not eliminate the unique role of a special leader. Within the framework of elders’ ministries there will be great diversity as each exercises his unique gifts. Some will demonstrate special giftedness in the areas of administration or service; others will evidence stronger gifts of teaching, exhortation, or other abilities. Some will be highly visible; others will function in the background. All are within the plan of God for the church.” (p. 27, Answering the Key Questions About Elders)


“Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I remember the president of the seminary I attended repeating
this phrase many times during my three years at his school. I think he was right. After 20 years in
pastoral ministry I can look back at the three local churches where I served and see the truthfulness of
this statement. The health, strength, and effectiveness of the church is directly related to the quality and
function of its leadership.

The Bible recognizes and regulates the need for leadership and authority in society, in the home and in
the church. It speaks to the issue of church government. The controversy, however, has always been
over exactly whom did God intend to have the authority to lead the church. There have been several
answers given, even by those of us who believe in the autonomy of the local church. Some have said the
authority rests in a singular local church pastor. Others say the church is properly led by a plurality of
godly pastors or elders. Still others say the authority of the church is in its membership. Who is right?
Who should make the important decisions in the life of the church; the pastor, an elder team or the
congregation?

Before we try to answer that question, there are three important truths to keep in mind. First, any
discussion on church government must begin with recognition of the clear teaching that Christ is the
head of the church (Ephesians 5:23,24). This is not a figurehead position. Christ is actively involved in
His church! (Matt 16:18, Rev 1:12,13,20) As a result, His is the only true authority. His will is what we
all want to be done in the church. His commands are the ones we joyfully follow. His glory is why the
church exists. Ultimately it could be said, “Everything rises and falls on Christ!” The role of every
church leader therefore is to discern the will of Christ for His church.

Second, the answer to the question of church government must come from the Word of God. This seems
almost too obvious to mention but unfortunately much of the way the church operates today is a result of
tradition, or pragmatism, or church growth studies and methodology, rather than the result of an
inductive examination of the Word itself, which alone reveals to us the will of Christ, the head of the
church.

Third, it is good for us to remember that church government, while important, is not one of the major
doctrines of the Bible. There are other things more important in the life of the church, such as preaching
a pure gospel message, sound doctrine and dealing with sin. The Bible, for instance, says more about the
character of church leaders then the structure of church leadership. In other words, who leads the church
is more important then how the church is led. The testimony of Christ and the cause of the Gospel are
too important to allow our disagreements over details of church government to fracture churches and our
fellowship with other Christians. Full agreement on this issue should not be required for our acceptance
of one another. As church leaders, we should be able to differ amicably and continue our discussion in
an effort to work for increased purity in the church. As church members, we should be able to worship
and serve in good Bible-believing churches that may have differing approaches to the details of church
government.

That is not to say that this is an entirely unimportant subject. While the Bible may not be a
comprehensive manual on church government it does have many significant and specific things to say
on the subject. There are clear biblical patterns for us to observe and churches will no doubt experience
negative consequences if these are ignored or disregarded.

So who should make the important decisions in the life of the church; the pastor, an elder team or the
congregation? I believe the biblical evidence points clearly to a team of elders as responsible for leading
the church.

Let’s discuss this under two headings. First, Biblical Principles, where we will briefly examine four clear
guidelines for structuring a biblical form of elder church government. Second, Practical Considerations,
where we will answer six questions on the details of how these guidelines work themselves out in the
life of the church.

Biblical Principles

1. Elders are responsible for the oversight of the church.

There are three terms for church leaders that are used interchangeably in the New Testament. The word
elder (presbuteros) is the most common biblical term used of church leaders. The word overseer or
bishop (episkopos) is also used for the same office. The third word is pastor or shepherd (poimen).
While pastor is the most common term used today for church leaders, it is the least used in the Bible. All
three terms are used to speak of the same office. Elder emphasizes the man’s mature character, overseer
emphasizes his function and pastor emphasizes his caring spirit. There are two passages where all three
terms appear in the same text and demonstrate their interchangeable nature. In Acts 20:17-28 Paul
addresses the elders (verse 17) of the church in Ephesus and tells them that the Holy Spirit has made
them overseers (verse 28) to shepherd (verse 28) the church of God. In I Peter 5:1-3, Peter exhorts the
elders (verse 1) to shepherd (verse 2) the flock of God among you, exercising oversight (verse 2). The
qualifications for overseer in I Timothy 3:1-7 are essentially identical to the qualifications for elder in
Titus 1:6-9. In the Titus passage Paul uses both of these terms to refer to the same office. In verse 5 they
are called elder and in verse 7 they are called overseer.

When we examine the use of these three terms in the Bible a clear picture emmerges of the leadership
and authority of elders in the church. In I Timothy 5:17 we read, “Let the elders who rule well be
considered worthy of double honor.” The word for rule (proistemi) literally means to stand first and has
the idea of general oversight. It is used three other times to speak of the ruling responsibility of elders in
the church (I Timothy 3:4,5; I Thessalonians 5:12). Peter warns elders (I Peter 5:2-5) that they are not to
rule harshly or oppressively which strongly suggests that they having ruling authority and function in the
churches to which Peter is writing. Although Hebrews 13:17 does not use the specific terms for the
office of elder, certainly the author has this in mind when he writes, “Obey your leaders and submit to
them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give account. Let them do this with joy and
not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

There are of course other important duties given to the office of elder but our purpose is to show those
passages that clearly indicate how Christ has given elders the responsibility to oversee His church. This
is not the responsibility of the pastor, although he should be one of the elders, nor is it the role of the
congregation but God has given this serious task to the elders.

2. There should be a team of elders leading every church.

As Luke records the history of Paul’s church planting ministry, he carefully recounts how from the
beginning these men where deeply concerned with the appointment of elders (plural) in every church.
Acts 14:23 is part of a short summary statement of the things that mattered to Paul and Barnabas on their
first missionary journey, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed
with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Their ministry of planting
and strengthening churches was not complete without the appointment of elders within each local
church. Notice the plurality of elders while the sphere of their leadership is a singular local church.
There are six other New Testament passages where this pattern is clear. “And from Miletus he sent to
Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church” (Acts 20:17). “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of
Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons”
(Philippians 1:1). “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor
among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them
very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (I Thessalonians 5:12,13).
Who else but elders could Paul be speaking of as discharging these duties in the church at Thessalonica?
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at
preaching and teaching” (I Timothy 5:17). This verse is part of Paul’s instruction to Timothy, which he
was to pass on to the church in Ephesus. “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order
what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). “Is anyone among you
sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the
name of the Lord” (James 5:14).

There are an additional eight passages that refer to the office of elders in the plural form but may
possibly link them with more than one local congregation. So these texts provide no support for either
plurality or singularity of leadership for the local church (Acts 11:30; 15:2,4,6,22,23; 16:4; 21:18; I
Timothy 4:14; I Peter 5:1,2; Eph 4:11; Hebrews 13:7,17,24). There are only three passages where the
terms for the office of elder appear in the singular form (I Timothy 3:1,2; 5:19; Titus 1:7). Two of these
passages refer to the examination of individual elders as to their qualifications for the office and the
third is how to handle an accusation made against an elder, There is nothing in these verses that
contradicts the overwhelming evidence from Scripture that the church is to be led by a plurality of godly
elders.

3. Elders must be spiritually qualified

Paul lists at great length the qualifications for elders to serve in the church. There are two significant
lists of character traits needed for a man to serve as an elder. They are found in I Timothy 3:1-7 and in
Titus 1:5-9. Space does not permit a full examination of them but it is important to say that elders are
spiritual examples to the flock. These standards are essential considerations in selecting elders. The New
Testament gives more instruction on qualifications of elders than on any other aspect of church
government. Alexander Strauch says, “Proper qualification is a scriptural imperative, objective
requirement, moral obligation, indispensable standard, and absolute necessity for those who would serve
as leaders in the church” (p. 76, Biblical Eldership). Wayne Grudem writes, “Those who are choosing
elders in churches today would do well to look carefully at candidates in the light of these qualifications,
and to look for those character traits and patterns of godly living rather than worldly achievement, fame,
or success. Especially in churches in western industrial societies, there seems to be a tendency to think
that success in the world of business (or law, or medicine, or government) is an indication of suitability
for the office of elder, but this is not the teaching of the New Testament” (p. 916, Systematic Theology).
Included in these qualifications is a heartfelt desire for the work and a sense of God’s call on his life (I
Timothy 3:1). When you study them you will see that they speak of humble servants of Christ who
sacrificially and lovingly shepherd the church.

4. The congregation should submit to the elder team.

It is assumed that church members will read all the Bible passages that clearly give the responsibility for
the oversight of the church to the elders. It will be their deepest desire to please Christ and obey his
Word. But submitting is not always easy for us. Therefore there is a direct word to church congregations
in Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as
those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be
unprofitable for you.” In another passage Paul speaks of the love and respect that should be in the church
for the ones given oversight responsibility: “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those
who diligently labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that
you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (I
Thessalonians 5:12,13).

The Bible is clear that the church of Christ is to be led by an official oversight body made up of godly
men called elders who meet the strict standards of Scripture and lovingly shepherd the flock.
I realize these four principles or guidelines raise a lot of questions. There are many decisions to be made
by each local church about how to apply these principles in the government of the church. But there is
great reward for the hard work of structuring a church according to biblical standards.
Let me move into the realm of practical considerations. I share these ideas as one possible way to apply
the scripture we examined together. I personally experienced how this can work successfully in the life
of the church. I have served on two elder teams. In one church as an associate pastor for five years in
another church as a senior pastor for 13 years. Here are the questions and answers with which we
wrestled. I will answer each question with the example of how we applied the principles to our local
church.

Practical Considerations

1. How are elders chosen?

Each year we asked the congregation to give names to the elder team of those individuals they felt met
the qualifications for elders and to the best of their understanding had a desire to serve. This was always
a useful exercise. As shepherds of the flock with responsibility for the care of souls (Hebrews 13:17) we
had a pretty good understanding of who was ready to serve in this capacity. Yet depending on the size of
the church there would be other names given which we did not know as well.

There would be an elder application and interview process for each candidate with the existing elder
team. Think of the steps most churches go through when they hire a pastor, for that is exactly what is
taking place although the elder may not be paid staff.

After the initial examination process a list of any new elders was posted for the church to review and
evaluate. Although the elders took the lead in evaluating an aspiring elder’s qualifications, opportunity
was given for the congregation to express any questions or doubts about a candidate. The input from the
church was very important. Each elder was available for discussion and a visit by anyone who had a
concern to share. After a period of time and answering of questions a final list was posted for the annual
meeting and affirmation by the church membership.

Congregational meetings are generally not the time and place to work through issues. Elders should
always be approachable and seek out input from the congregation prior to such meetings. This gives
careful thought, prayer and personal attention to the issues. This also eliminates most misunderstandings
and provides for open communication between the leaders and the congregation. All the work of
communicating, explaining, and answering of questions should be done well in advance so that the
congregational meeting is a time of affirmation and a celebration of the spirit of unity in the church.

2. Should elders have terms?

Once an elder is affirmed by the congregation and set apart for this task he continues in his work as long
as he desires the work and meets the qualifications.

3. What if the elders can’t agree?

Elder teams should strive for unanimity. If there are several elders who have concerns, about moving
forward on something, this is a signal to slow down and give more prayer and thought to the decision.
Even if there is only one elder who has concerns, we slow down the process to give more prayer and
thought to the issue involved. If after a prolonged time and several meetings there is still only one
person opposed then he will typically defer to the unanimity of his fellow elders. Remember there is no
room for personal agendas. The goal is to discern the will of Christ for His church.

4. To whom are the elders accountable?

Each year all of our elders went through a personal evaluation as well as an affirmation from the other
elders. And every year at the annual meeting, all the elders (not just new elders) were presented to the
church for affirmation for another year of service. The congregation affirmed the whole team, not
individuals. Each church member knew that they were free to express concern or raise questions about
any individual prior to the meeting. This open communication is much better than the typical secret
ballot which promotes a lack of communication over congregational concerns. It is an important role of
each elder to be humble and approachable with the congregation and their concerns.
While each elder is ultimately accountable to God (Hebrews 13:17) there are also three other levels of
accountability: personal, fellow elders, and congregation.

5. What does the congregation decide?

There was one regular scheduled congregational meeting each year. We asked the congregation to
affirm two things; the annual budget and all the spiritual leaders for the coming year. Both the budget
and list of leaders was given to the church well in advance and opportunities were provided to ask
questions and share concerns prior to the congregational meeting. Sometimes small group meetings with
the elders were available for anyone who wanted to come with a question. The annual meeting was like
a wedding ceremony. All the work was done prior to the event – the counseling, the prayer and the
discussions. The meeting, like a wedding, should be an opportunity to celebrate what has already been
decided – in this case, by the elders and the church family.

The elders may decide to have other church meetings or even take church votes or surveys. We would
appoint a congregational task force for important issues such as deciding when and how to move to three
services. Communication is key! Elders must get the congregation involved as much as possible in the
important decisions of the church.

6. Do elders and pastors have equal authority?

The pastor was one of the elders and therefore part of the team. He had no more authority than other
team members. However, as John MacArthur writes, “That does not eliminate the unique role of a
special leader. Within the framework of elders’ ministries there will be great diversity as each exercises
his unique gifts. Some will demonstrate special giftedness in the areas of administration or service;
others will evidence stronger gifts of teaching, exhortation, or other abilities. Some will be highly
visible; others will function in the background. All are within the plan of God for the church.” (p. 27,
Answering the Key Questions About Elders)

In conclusion, our conduct in the church in regard to this matter of leadership and authority will also
communicate to a watching world something of how we relate to one another and to our God. May we
recognize and respect the godly authority Christ has placed in His church – for our churches’ health and
God’s gl

“Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I remember the president of the seminary I attended repeating

this phrase many times during my three years at his school. I think he was right. After 20 years in

pastoral ministry I can look back at the three local churches where I served and see the truthfulness of

this statement. The health, strength, and effectiveness of the church is directly related to the quality and

function of its leadership.

The Bible recognizes and regulates the need for leadership and authority in society, in the home and in

the church. It speaks to the issue of church government. The controversy, however, has always been

over exactly whom did God intend to have the authority to lead the church. There have been several

answers given, even by those of us who believe in the autonomy of the local church. Some have said the

authority rests in a singular local church pastor. Others say the church is properly led by a plurality of

godly pastors or elders. Still others say the authority of the church is in its membership. Who is right?

Who should make the important decisions in the life of the church; the pastor, an elder team or the

congregation?

Before we try to answer that question, there are three important truths to keep in mind. First, any

discussion on church government must begin with recognition of the clear teaching that Christ is the

head of the church (Ephesians 5:23,24). This is not a figurehead position. Christ is actively involved in

His church! (Matt 16:18, Rev 1:12,13,20) As a result, His is the only true authority. His will is what we

all want to be done in the church. His commands are the ones we joyfully follow. His glory is why the

church exists. Ultimately it could be said, “Everything rises and falls on Christ!” The role of every

church leader therefore is to discern the will of Christ for His church.

Second, the answer to the question of church government must come from the Word of God. This seems

almost too obvious to mention but unfortunately much of the way the church operates today is a result of

tradition, or pragmatism, or church growth studies and methodology, rather than the result of an

inductive examination of the Word itself, which alone reveals to us the will of Christ, the head of the

church.

Third, it is good for us to remember that church government, while important, is not one of the major

doctrines of the Bible. There are other things more important in the life of the church, such as preaching

a pure gospel message, sound doctrine and dealing with sin. The Bible, for instance, says more about the

character of church leaders then the structure of church leadership. In other words, who leads the church

is more important then how the church is led. The testimony of Christ and the cause of the Gospel are

too important to allow our disagreements over details of church government to fracture churches and our

fellowship with other Christians. Full agreement on this issue should not be required for our acceptance

of one another. As church leaders, we should be able to differ amicably and continue our discussion in

an effort to work for increased purity in the church. As church members, we should be able to worship

and serve in good Bible-believing churches that may have differing approaches to the details of church

government.

That is not to say that this is an entirely unimportant subject. While the Bible may not be a

comprehensive manual on church government it does have many significant and specific things to say

on the subject. There are clear biblical patterns for us to observe and churches will no doubt experience

negative consequences if these are ignored or disregarded.

So who should make the important decisions in the life of the church; the pastor, an elder team or the

congregation? I believe the biblical evidence points clearly to a team of elders as responsible for leading

the church.

Let’s discuss this under two headings. First, Biblical Principles, where we will briefly examine four clear

guidelines for structuring a biblical form of elder church government. Second, Practical Considerations,

where we will answer six questions on the details of how these guidelines work themselves out in the

life of the church.

Biblical Principles

1. Elders are responsible for the oversight of the church.

There are three terms for church leaders that are used interchangeably in the New Testament. The word

elder (presbuteros) is the most common biblical term used of church leaders. The word overseer or

bishop (episkopos) is also used for the same office. The third word is pastor or shepherd (poimen).

While pastor is the most common term used today for church leaders, it is the least used in the Bible. All

three terms are used to speak of the same office. Elder emphasizes the man’s mature character, overseer

emphasizes his function and pastor emphasizes his caring spirit. There are two passages where all three

terms appear in the same text and demonstrate their interchangeable nature. In Acts 20:17-28 Paul

addresses the elders (verse 17) of the church in Ephesus and tells them that the Holy Spirit has made

them overseers (verse 28) to shepherd (verse 28) the church of God. In I Peter 5:1-3, Peter exhorts the

elders (verse 1) to shepherd (verse 2) the flock of God among you, exercising oversight (verse 2). The

qualifications for overseer in I Timothy 3:1-7 are essentially identical to the qualifications for elder in

Titus 1:6-9. In the Titus passage Paul uses both of these terms to refer to the same office. In verse 5 they

are called elder and in verse 7 they are called overseer.

When we examine the use of these three terms in the Bible a clear picture emmerges of the leadership

and authority of elders in the church. In I Timothy 5:17 we read, “Let the elders who rule well be

considered worthy of double honor.” The word for rule (proistemi) literally means to stand first and has

the idea of general oversight. It is used three other times to speak of the ruling responsibility of elders in

the church (I Timothy 3:4,5; I Thessalonians 5:12). Peter warns elders (I Peter 5:2-5) that they are not to

rule harshly or oppressively which strongly suggests that they having ruling authority and function in the

churches to which Peter is writing. Although Hebrews 13:17 does not use the specific terms for the

office of elder, certainly the author has this in mind when he writes, “Obey your leaders and submit to

them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give account. Let them do this with joy and

not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

There are of course other important duties given to the office of elder but our purpose is to show those

passages that clearly indicate how Christ has given elders the responsibility to oversee His church. This

is not the responsibility of the pastor, although he should be one of the elders, nor is it the role of the

congregation but God has given this serious task to the elders.

2. There should be a team of elders leading every church.

As Luke records the history of Paul’s church planting ministry, he carefully recounts how from the

beginning these men where deeply concerned with the appointment of elders (plural) in every church.

Acts 14:23 is part of a short summary statement of the things that mattered to Paul and Barnabas on their

first missionary journey, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed

with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Their ministry of planting

and strengthening churches was not complete without the appointment of elders within each local

church. Notice the plurality of elders while the sphere of their leadership is a singular local church.

There are six other New Testament passages where this pattern is clear. “And from Miletus he sent to

Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church” (Acts 20:17). “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of

Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons”

(Philippians 1:1). “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor

among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them

very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (I Thessalonians 5:12,13).

Who else but elders could Paul be speaking of as discharging these duties in the church at Thessalonica?

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at

preaching and teaching” (I Timothy 5:17). This verse is part of Paul’s instruction to Timothy, which he

was to pass on to the church in Ephesus. “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order

what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). “Is anyone among you

sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the

name of the Lord” (James 5:14).

There are an additional eight passages that refer to the office of elders in the plural form but may

possibly link them with more than one local congregation. So these texts provide no support for either

plurality or singularity of leadership for the local church (Acts 11:30; 15:2,4,6,22,23; 16:4; 21:18; I

Timothy 4:14; I Peter 5:1,2; Eph 4:11; Hebrews 13:7,17,24). There are only three passages where the

terms for the office of elder appear in the singular form (I Timothy 3:1,2; 5:19; Titus 1:7). Two of these

passages refer to the examination of individual elders as to their qualifications for the office and the

third is how to handle an accusation made against an elder, There is nothing in these verses that

contradicts the overwhelming evidence from Scripture that the church is to be led by a plurality of godly

elders.

3. Elders must be spiritually qualified

Paul lists at great length the qualifications for elders to serve in the church. There are two significant

lists of character traits needed for a man to serve as an elder. They are found in I Timothy 3:1-7 and in

Titus 1:5-9. Space does not permit a full examination of them but it is important to say that elders are

spiritual examples to the flock. These standards are essential considerations in selecting elders. The New

Testament gives more instruction on qualifications of elders than on any other aspect of church

government. Alexander Strauch says, “Proper qualification is a scriptural imperative, objective

requirement, moral obligation, indispensable standard, and absolute necessity for those who would serve

as leaders in the church” (p. 76, Biblical Eldership). Wayne Grudem writes, “Those who are choosing

elders in churches today would do well to look carefully at candidates in the light of these qualifications,

and to look for those character traits and patterns of godly living rather than worldly achievement, fame,

or success. Especially in churches in western industrial societies, there seems to be a tendency to think

that success in the world of business (or law, or medicine, or government) is an indication of suitability

for the office of elder, but this is not the teaching of the New Testament” (p. 916, Systematic Theology).

Included in these qualifications is a heartfelt desire for the work and a sense of God’s call on his life (I

Timothy 3:1). When you study them you will see that they speak of humble servants of Christ who

sacrificially and lovingly shepherd the church.

4. The congregation should submit to the elder team.

It is assumed that church members will read all the Bible passages that clearly give the responsibility for

the oversight of the church to the elders. It will be their deepest desire to please Christ and obey his

Word. But submitting is not always easy for us. Therefore there is a direct word to church congregations

in Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as

those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be

unprofitable for you.” In another passage Paul speaks of the love and respect that should be in the church

for the ones given oversight responsibility: “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those

who diligently labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that

you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (I

Thessalonians 5:12,13).

The Bible is clear that the church of Christ is to be led by an official oversight body made up of godly

men called elders who meet the strict standards of Scripture and lovingly shepherd the flock.

I realize these four principles or guidelines raise a lot of questions. There are many decisions to be made

by each local church about how to apply these principles in the government of the church. But there is

great reward for the hard work of structuring a church according to biblical standards.

Let me move into the realm of practical considerations. I share these ideas as one possible way to apply

the scripture we examined together. I personally experienced how this can work successfully in the life

of the church. I have served on two elder teams. In one church as an associate pastor for five years in

another church as a senior pastor for 13 years. Here are the questions and answers with which we

wrestled. I will answer each question with the example of how we applied the principles to our local

church.

Practical Considerations

1. How are elders chosen?

Each year we asked the congregation to give names to the elder team of those individuals they felt met

the qualifications for elders and to the best of their understanding had a desire to serve. This was always

a useful exercise. As shepherds of the flock with responsibility for the care of souls (Hebrews 13:17) we

had a pretty good understanding of who was ready to serve in this capacity. Yet depending on the size of

the church there would be other names given which we did not know as well.

There would be an elder application and interview process for each candidate with the existing elder

team. Think of the steps most churches go through when they hire a pastor, for that is exactly what is

taking place although the elder may not be paid staff.

After the initial examination process a list of any new elders was posted for the church to review and

evaluate. Although the elders took the lead in evaluating an aspiring elder’s qualifications, opportunity

was given for the congregation to express any questions or doubts about a candidate. The input from the

church was very important. Each elder was available for discussion and a visit by anyone who had a

concern to share. After a period of time and answering of questions a final list was posted for the annual

meeting and affirmation by the church membership.

Congregational meetings are generally not the time and place to work through issues. Elders should

always be approachable and seek out input from the congregation prior to such meetings. This gives

careful thought, prayer and personal attention to the issues. This also eliminates most misunderstandings

and provides for open communication between the leaders and the congregation. All the work of

communicating, explaining, and answering of questions should be done well in advance so that the

congregational meeting is a time of affirmation and a celebration of the spirit of unity in the church.

2. Should elders have terms?

Once an elder is affirmed by the congregation and set apart for this task he continues in his work as long

as he desires the work and meets the qualifications.

3. What if the elders can’t agree?

Elder teams should strive for unanimity. If there are several elders who have concerns, about moving

forward on something, this is a signal to slow down and give more prayer and thought to the decision.

Even if there is only one elder who has concerns, we slow down the process to give more prayer and

thought to the issue involved. If after a prolonged time and several meetings there is still only one

person opposed then he will typically defer to the unanimity of his fellow elders. Remember there is no

room for personal agendas. The goal is to discern the will of Christ for His church.

4. To whom are the elders accountable?

Each year all of our elders went through a personal evaluation as well as an affirmation from the other

elders. And every year at the annual meeting, all the elders (not just new elders) were presented to the

church for affirmation for another year of service. The congregation affirmed the whole team, not

individuals. Each church member knew that they were free to express concern or raise questions about

any individual prior to the meeting. This open communication is much better than the typical secret

ballot which promotes a lack of communication over congregational concerns. It is an important role of

each elder to be humble and approachable with the congregation and their concerns.

While each elder is ultimately accountable to God (Hebrews 13:17) there are also three other levels of

accountability: personal, fellow elders, and congregation.

5. What does the congregation decide?

There was one regular scheduled congregational meeting each year. We asked the congregation to

affirm two things; the annual budget and all the spiritual leaders for the coming year. Both the budget

and list of leaders was given to the church well in advance and opportunities were provided to ask

questions and share concerns prior to the congregational meeting. Sometimes small group meetings with

the elders were available for anyone who wanted to come with a question. The annual meeting was like

a wedding ceremony. All the work was done prior to the event – the counseling, the prayer and the

discussions. The meeting, like a wedding, should be an opportunity to celebrate what has already been

decided – in this case, by the elders and the church family.

The elders may decide to have other church meetings or even take church votes or surveys. We would

appoint a congregational task force for important issues such as deciding when and how to move to three

services. Communication is key! Elders must get the congregation involved as much as possible in the

important decisions of the church.

6. Do elders and pastors have equal authority?

The pastor was one of the elders and therefore part of the team. He had no more authority than other

team members. However, as John MacArthur writes, “That does not eliminate the unique role of a

special leader. Within the framework of elders’ ministries there will be great diversity as each exercises

his unique gifts. Some will demonstrate special giftedness in the areas of administration or service;

others will evidence stronger gifts of teaching, exhortation, or other abilities. Some will be highly

visible; others will function in the background. All are within the plan of God for the church.” (p. 27,

Answering the Key Questions About Elders)

In conclusion, our conduct in the church in regard to this matter of leadership and authority will also

communicate to a watching world something of how we relate to one another and to our God. May we

recognize and respect the godly authority Christ has placed in His church – for our churches’ health and

God’s glory.

ory.

“Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I remember the president of the seminary I attended repeating

this phrase many times during my three years at his school. I think he was right. After 20 years in

pastoral ministry I can look back at the three local churches where I served and see the truthfulness of

this statement. The health, strength, and effectiveness of the church is directly related to the quality and

function of its leadership.

The Bible recognizes and regulates the need for leadership and authority in society, in the home and in

the church. It speaks to the issue of church government. The controversy, however, has always been

over exactly whom did God intend to have the authority to lead the church. There have been several

answers given, even by those of us who believe in the autonomy of the local church. Some have said the

authority rests in a singular local church pastor. Others say the church is properly led by a plurality of

godly pastors or elders. Still others say the authority of the church is in its membership. Who is right?

Who should make the important decisions in the life of the church; the pastor, an elder team or the

congregation?

Before we try to answer that question, there are three important truths to keep in mind. First, any

discussion on church government must begin with recognition of the clear teaching that Christ is the

head of the church (Ephesians 5:23,24). This is not a figurehead position. Christ is actively involved in

His church! (Matt 16:18, Rev 1:12,13,20) As a result, His is the only true authority. His will is what we

all want to be done in the church. His commands are the ones we joyfully follow. His glory is why the

church exists. Ultimately it could be said, “Everything rises and falls on Christ!” The role of every

church leader therefore is to discern the will of Christ for His church.

Second, the answer to the question of church government must come from the Word of God. This seems

almost too obvious to mention but unfortunately much of the way the church operates today is a result of

tradition, or pragmatism, or church growth studies and methodology, rather than the result of an

inductive examination of the Word itself, which alone reveals to us the will of Christ, the head of the

church.

Third, it is good for us to remember that church government, while important, is not one of the major

doctrines of the Bible. There are other things more important in the life of the church, such as preaching

a pure gospel message, sound doctrine and dealing with sin. The Bible, for instance, says more about the

character of church leaders then the structure of church leadership. In other words, who leads the church

is more important then how the church is led. The testimony of Christ and the cause of the Gospel are

too important to allow our disagreements over details of church government to fracture churches and our

fellowship with other Christians. Full agreement on this issue should not be required for our acceptance

of one another. As church leaders, we should be able to differ amicably and continue our discussion in

an effort to work for increased purity in the church. As church members, we should be able to worship

and serve in good Bible-believing churches that may have differing approaches to the details of church

government.

That is not to say that this is an entirely unimportant subject. While the Bible may not be a

comprehensive manual on church government it does have many significant and specific things to say

on the subject. There are clear biblical patterns for us to observe and churches will no doubt experience

negative consequences if these are ignored or disregarded.

So who should make the important decisions in the life of the church; the pastor, an elder team or the

congregation? I believe the biblical evidence points clearly to a team of elders as responsible for leading

the church.

Let’s discuss this under two headings. First, Biblical Principles, where we will briefly examine four clear

guidelines for structuring a biblical form of elder church government. Second, Practical Considerations,

where we will answer six questions on the details of how these guidelines work themselves out in the

life of the church.

Biblical Principles

1. Elders are responsible for the oversight of the church.

There are three terms for church leaders that are used interchangeably in the New Testament. The word

elder (presbuteros) is the most common biblical term used of church leaders. The word overseer or

bishop (episkopos) is also used for the same office. The third word is pastor or shepherd (poimen).

While pastor is the most common term used today for church leaders, it is the least used in the Bible. All

three terms are used to speak of the same office. Elder emphasizes the man’s mature character, overseer

emphasizes his function and pastor emphasizes his caring spirit. There are two passages where all three

terms appear in the same text and demonstrate their interchangeable nature. In Acts 20:17-28 Paul

addresses the elders (verse 17) of the church in Ephesus and tells them that the Holy Spirit has made

them overseers (verse 28) to shepherd (verse 28) the church of God. In I Peter 5:1-3, Peter exhorts the

elders (verse 1) to shepherd (verse 2) the flock of God among you, exercising oversight (verse 2). The

qualifications for overseer in I Timothy 3:1-7 are essentially identical to the qualifications for elder in

Titus 1:6-9. In the Titus passage Paul uses both of these terms to refer to the same office. In verse 5 they

are called elder and in verse 7 they are called overseer.

When we examine the use of these three terms in the Bible a clear picture emmerges of the leadership

and authority of elders in the church. In I Timothy 5:17 we read, “Let the elders who rule well be

considered worthy of double honor.” The word for rule (proistemi) literally means to stand first and has

the idea of general oversight. It is used three other times to speak of the ruling responsibility of elders in

the church (I Timothy 3:4,5; I Thessalonians 5:12). Peter warns elders (I Peter 5:2-5) that they are not to

rule harshly or oppressively which strongly suggests that they having ruling authority and function in the

churches to which Peter is writing. Although Hebrews 13:17 does not use the specific terms for the

office of elder, certainly the author has this in mind when he writes, “Obey your leaders and submit to

them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give account. Let them do this with joy and

not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

There are of course other important duties given to the office of elder but our purpose is to show those

passages that clearly indicate how Christ has given elders the responsibility to oversee His church. This

is not the responsibility of the pastor, although he should be one of the elders, nor is it the role of the

congregation but God has given this serious task to the elders.

2. There should be a team of elders leading every church.

As Luke records the history of Paul’s church planting ministry, he carefully recounts how from the

beginning these men where deeply concerned with the appointment of elders (plural) in every church.

Acts 14:23 is part of a short summary statement of the things that mattered to Paul and Barnabas on their

first missionary journey, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed

with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Their ministry of planting

and strengthening churches was not complete without the appointment of elders within each local

church. Notice the plurality of elders while the sphere of their leadership is a singular local church.

There are six other New Testament passages where this pattern is clear. “And from Miletus he sent to

Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church” (Acts 20:17). “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of

Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons”

(Philippians 1:1). “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor

among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them

very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (I Thessalonians 5:12,13).

Who else but elders could Paul be speaking of as discharging these duties in the church at Thessalonica?

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at

preaching and teaching” (I Timothy 5:17). This verse is part of Paul’s instruction to Timothy, which he

was to pass on to the church in Ephesus. “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order

what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). “Is anyone among you

sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the

name of the Lord” (James 5:14).

There are an additional eight passages that refer to the office of elders in the plural form but may

possibly link them with more than one local congregation. So these texts provide no support for either

plurality or singularity of leadership for the local church (Acts 11:30; 15:2,4,6,22,23; 16:4; 21:18; I

Timothy 4:14; I Peter 5:1,2; Eph 4:11; Hebrews 13:7,17,24). There are only three passages where the

terms for the office of elder appear in the singular form (I Timothy 3:1,2; 5:19; Titus 1:7). Two of these

passages refer to the examination of individual elders as to their qualifications for the office and the

third is how to handle an accusation made against an elder, There is nothing in these verses that

contradicts the overwhelming evidence from Scripture that the church is to be led by a plurality of godly

elders.

3. Elders must be spiritually qualified

Paul lists at great length the qualifications for elders to serve in the church. There are two significant

lists of character traits needed for a man to serve as an elder. They are found in I Timothy 3:1-7 and in

Titus 1:5-9. Space does not permit a full examination of them but it is important to say that elders are

spiritual examples to the flock. These standards are essential considerations in selecting elders. The New

Testament gives more instruction on qualifications of elders than on any other aspect of church

government. Alexander Strauch says, “Proper qualification is a scriptural imperative, objective

requirement, moral obligation, indispensable standard, and absolute necessity for those who would serve

as leaders in the church” (p. 76, Biblical Eldership). Wayne Grudem writes, “Those who are choosing

elders in churches today would do well to look carefully at candidates in the light of these qualifications,

and to look for those character traits and patterns of godly living rather than worldly achievement, fame,

or success. Especially in churches in western industrial societies, there seems to be a tendency to think

that success in the world of business (or law, or medicine, or government) is an indication of suitability

for the office of elder, but this is not the teaching of the New Testament” (p. 916, Systematic Theology).

Included in these qualifications is a heartfelt desire for the work and a sense of God’s call on his life (I

Timothy 3:1). When you study them you will see that they speak of humble servants of Christ who

sacrificially and lovingly shepherd the church.

4. The congregation should submit to the elder team.

It is assumed that church members will read all the Bible passages that clearly give the responsibility for

the oversight of the church to the elders. It will be their deepest desire to please Christ and obey his

Word. But submitting is not always easy for us. Therefore there is a direct word to church congregations

in Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as

those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be

unprofitable for you.” In another passage Paul speaks of the love and respect that should be in the church

for the ones given oversight responsibility: “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those

who diligently labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that

you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (I

Thessalonians 5:12,13).

The Bible is clear that the church of Christ is to be led by an official oversight body made up of godly

men called elders who meet the strict standards of Scripture and lovingly shepherd the flock.

I realize these four principles or guidelines raise a lot of questions. There are many decisions to be made

by each local church about how to apply these principles in the government of the church. But there is

great reward for the hard work of structuring a church according to biblical standards.

Let me move into the realm of practical considerations. I share these ideas as one possible way to apply

the scripture we examined together. I personally experienced how this can work successfully in the life

of the church. I have served on two elder teams. In one church as an associate pastor for five years in

another church as a senior pastor for 13 years. Here are the questions and answers with which we

wrestled. I will answer each question with the example of how we applied the principles to our local

church.

Practical Considerations

1. How are elders chosen?

Each year we asked the congregation to give names to the elder team of those individuals they felt met

the qualifications for elders and to the best of their understanding had a desire to serve. This was always

a useful exercise. As shepherds of the flock with responsibility for the care of souls (Hebrews 13:17) we

had a pretty good understanding of who was ready to serve in this capacity. Yet depending on the size of

the church there would be other names given which we did not know as well.

There would be an elder application and interview process for each candidate with the existing elder

team. Think of the steps most churches go through when they hire a pastor, for that is exactly what is

taking place although the elder may not be paid staff.

After the initial examination process a list of any new elders was posted for the church to review and

evaluate. Although the elders took the lead in evaluating an aspiring elder’s qualifications, opportunity

was given for the congregation to express any questions or doubts about a candidate. The input from the

church was very important. Each elder was available for discussion and a visit by anyone who had a

concern to share. After a period of time and answering of questions a final list was posted for the annual

meeting and affirmation by the church membership.

Congregational meetings are generally not the time and place to work through issues. Elders should

always be approachable and seek out input from the congregation prior to such meetings. This gives

careful thought, prayer and personal attention to the issues. This also eliminates most misunderstandings

and provides for open communication between the leaders and the congregation. All the work of

communicating, explaining, and answering of questions should be done well in advance so that the

congregational meeting is a time of affirmation and a celebration of the spirit of unity in the church.

2. Should elders have terms?

Once an elder is affirmed by the congregation and set apart for this task he continues in his work as long

as he desires the work and meets the qualifications.

3. What if the elders can’t agree?

Elder teams should strive for unanimity. If there are several elders who have concerns, about moving

forward on something, this is a signal to slow down and give more prayer and thought to the decision.

Even if there is only one elder who has concerns, we slow down the process to give more prayer and

thought to the issue involved. If after a prolonged time and several meetings there is still only one

person opposed then he will typically defer to the unanimity of his fellow elders. Remember there is no

room for personal agendas. The goal is to discern the will of Christ for His church.

4. To whom are the elders accountable?

Each year all of our elders went through a personal evaluation as well as an affirmation from the other

elders. And every year at the annual meeting, all the elders (not just new elders) were presented to the

church for affirmation for another year of service. The congregation affirmed the whole team, not

individuals. Each church member knew that they were free to express concern or raise questions about

any individual prior to the meeting. This open communication is much better than the typical secret

ballot which promotes a lack of communication over congregational concerns. It is an important role of

each elder to be humble and approachable with the congregation and their concerns.

While each elder is ultimately accountable to God (Hebrews 13:17) there are also three other levels of

accountability: personal, fellow elders, and congregation.

5. What does the congregation decide?

There was one regular scheduled congregational meeting each year. We asked the congregation to

affirm two things; the annual budget and all the spiritual leaders for the coming year. Both the budget

and list of leaders was given to the church well in advance and opportunities were provided to ask

questions and share concerns prior to the congregational meeting. Sometimes small group meetings with

the elders were available for anyone who wanted to come with a question. The annual meeting was like

a wedding ceremony. All the work was done prior to the event – the counseling, the prayer and the

discussions. The meeting, like a wedding, should be an opportunity to celebrate what has already been

decided – in this case, by the elders and the church family.

The elders may decide to have other church meetings or even take church votes or surveys. We would

appoint a congregational task force for important issues such as deciding when and how to move to three

services. Communication is key! Elders must get the congregation involved as much as possible in the

important decisions of the church.

6. Do elders and pastors have equal authority?

The pastor was one of the elders and therefore part of the team. He had no more authority than other

team members. However, as John MacArthur writes, “That does not eliminate the unique role of a

special leader. Within the framework of elders’ ministries there will be great diversity as each exercises

his unique gifts. Some will demonstrate special giftedness in the areas of administration or service;

others will evidence stronger gifts of teaching, exhortation, or other abilities. Some will be highly

visible; others will function in the background. All are within the plan of God for the church.” (p. 27,

Answering the Key Questions About Elders)

In conclusion, our conduct in the church in regard to this matter of leadership and authority will also

communicate to a watching world something of how we relate to one another and to our God. May we

recognize and respect the godly authority Christ has placed in His church – for our churches’ health and

God’s glory.

Unthinkable Forgiveness

forgiveWe must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

A 70-year-old man who lost eight teeth, suffered a cut on his upper lip that required 40 stitches and had his hearing aid crushed into the inner canal of his ear during a road rage attack last year astonished Baton Rouge state court officials on Tuesday with an act of forgiveness.

Steve Bonfanti told the court he would set aside the $41,000 in restitution that District Judge Richard Anderson ordered from the mother of his two attackers for the education of her two young grandchildren.

Anderson, who said he had never witnessed such an extraordinary move in his court, sent Baton Rouge brothers Johnny Mutrie, 26, and Eric Mutrie, 19, to prison and put their mother, Rhonda Mutrie, 54, on probation for their roles in the violent beating of Bonfanti.

At about 5 p.m. on Sept. 10, 2008, Bonfanti was driving home.  Johnny Mutrie, who was driving behind Bonfanti, started blowing his horn, making obscene hand gestures and passed Bonfanti, according to the warrant. Johnny Mutrie then stopped and Eric Mutrie started a confrontation with Bonfanti leading to the brutal beating.

Bonfanti, who did not ask for restitution, pledged the funds for the education of Johnny Mutrie’s two young daughters.

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. – Matthew 18:21-22