The Reasons for Elders–Part 5
One month ago we began sharing the five major reasons or rationales for Grace Baptist Church considering a restructuring of our leadership to include a plurality of elders in the church as its spiritual leaders, as well as continuing to have deacons who would be engaged in serving and ministering to the Body. Thus far, we have presented four reasons, and the principles associated with each that have guided our thinking. They are:
Reason #1. Elders appear in the New Testament as a plurality (multiple elders in one church): see Acts 11:30; 14:23; 20:17; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14 for examples.
PRINCIPLE: When the Scriptures give clear patterns of plurality, and we see repeated instruction to institute plurality, we have strong motivation to organize ourselves in line with, not opposite to, that pattern.
Reason #2. The titles “pastor (or shepherd, or pastor-teacher)”, “elder”, and “overseer (or bishop)” all refer to the same office (Acts 20; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-4), and so the plurality of elders applies no matter the title used.
PRINCIPLE: the shepherding leadership of the church and the oversight and direction of the church are held by a group of mature men appointed to this task.
Reason #3. It ties together the important task of preaching/teaching with the vision and leadership of the church (1 Tim. 3:1-7; 5:17).
PRINCIPLE: the spiritual leadership of God’s church must be held by men who are practiced in the study of Scripture and gifted and qualified to lead others.
Reason #4. It provides protection against the potential of any one leader gathering too much power or leading the church astray.
PRINCIPLE: Plurality of leadership is a protection for the leaders and the people.
It’s time for our final reason!
Reason #5. It ensures that qualified people are leading in the right capacities within both of the offices established in the New Testament Church (1 Tim. 3:1-7, 8-13; Titus 1:5-9)
- While the qualifications for elders and deacons are similar, the clear difference is that an elder/overseer/pastor must be able to teach the Word—privately and publicly. No such requirement exists for deacons.
- The teaching function carries the idea of being able to correct and exhort in the Scriptures, something that deacons are not uniquely called to do.
- The only “ruling” function within the church is assigned to elders (1 Timothy 5), not deacons—in fact there is no scriptural warrant or early church history of deacons forming a governing board. Not until the 18th century do deacons appear to assume a governing function within any congregation.
- The qualifications of deacons include women—some believe these are the wives of deacons, others believe they are women serving. In any case, there is no such inclusion of women within elder qualifications. This would indicate that the service rendered by deacons is not one of ruling leadership, which Paul limits to men (1 Tim. 2). But it also opens the potential of church-wide and church-recognized service by men and women.
PRINCIPLE—those called and qualified to lead God’s church should do so, and those called and qualified to assist those leaders by serving the church should do so, and neither should take the role of the other to themselves.
Having completed our five reasons, I want to answer a question next week that I have heard from a couple of people whose perspective is, “I can see that what you are saying is biblical, but is it required of us to change? Everything seems to be working fine just like it is. Why not leave things as they are?” I’m sure you can guess that I have some thoughts on that question, and I’ll share them next week.
I encourage you to be thinking about these things, praying for your leaders who are working on this, and sending any questions you may have about this my way–either by email (click here to send one), or by asking me whenever you have opportunity. I’d love to explain further if that would help.