Monday, January 14, 2013

The Morning After: Elders, a Shared Leadership


I grew up in a baptist church that was congregationally led. Well, to be fair, in practice, it was mostly a Senior Pastor led church where the congregation affirmed everything that he did. But there was still a very strong congregational feel. I remember late in high school thinking that type of church government felt very American. It felt very democratic, where everyone got their vote. The first time I went to a church other than that type of government was in college, when I attended a church that was led by a group of godly men. They were called Elders. And it just made sense.

I will never forget coming home from college and having a conversation with my parents in which I tried to explain to them this type of church leadership structure. I am positive that I did not handle those conversations well. I am sure I was very arrogant and didn't listen. I remember asking a question like this: "Why would we desire to allow people who are not walking with the Lord to make decisions in the life of the church?" I felt it then and I feel it now. What does it look like to have a congregational form of government where everyone gets a vote . . . including those people who have not cracked their Bible in the past month. As I reflect on it now, I am sure those questions were presented to my parents in pride, not humility. But it is still a valid question.

As I continued my series on the church that I began last week, I have come to the point of trying to make sense of church leadership. Last week, I shared that Jesus is indeed the final authority in the church. He is the head of the church. But that does not mean we leave an office open at the end of the hallways. Jesus leading the church must become practical in some way as to the everyday function of the church. 

Over the course of the years since I was in college, I have only become more convinced that Jesus' design for the leadership of the church is a plurality of godly men. These qualified men share the leadership responsibilities in the life of the church. I believe the Bible very directly teaches this. In Paul's letter to Titus, he gives his dear friend instructions on why he was left on the Island of Crete.
"This is why I let you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you." (Titus 1:5)
Titus was instructed to bring order and structure to the churches on the Island. The primary way order would come about in these churches would be in the appointing of elders in every town. Literally, the phrase, "in every town" could be translated, "city by city." Paul's message was that in every place there was a church, there should be elders in that church to lead or give order to that church. 

We also do not want to miss that Paul says there should be a plurality of elders. In fact, every time this term is used in the NT (other than when John or Peter use it of themselves), it is plural. There is to be more than one elder in the life of a church. For the good of the man and of the church, the ministry is not to be left up to just one man. Other texts of Scripture confirm this.
"And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed." (Acts 14:23)
Acts 14 contains the actions of Paul early in his ministry. The instructions to Titus are his feelings late in his ministry. And in both cases, he appoints multiple elders in each church. The term elders is plural and church is singular. Once again, in every church, there are to be multiple elders. Multiple leaders.
"Elders are nearly always spoken of in plurality because God intends for more than one man to lead and rule over the church, as a safeguard for both the church and the man. We also see this when Paul speaks of a council of multiple elders ruling in a local church. The leadership of the church is to follow the Trinitarian pattern of shared leadership that God himself models" (Mark Driscoll).
A plurality of elders is biblical. But it is also very practical. Tomorrow, I will share some of the very practical benefits of a shared leadership model. Much of my sermon yesterday was investigating the biblical texts that speak about elders and their responsibilities. If you want to listen to the sermon, you can find it HERE (usually posted by Tuesday). If you want to read my notes, you can find them HERE.

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