You can listen to the sermon here.
Getting It Right
When you’re baking, it’s important to follow the recipe. Once when my wife was making chocolate chip cookies, she didn’t have any baking soda, so she added baking powder instead. The cookies were alright, but they weren’t as good as they could have been. Of course, not following a recipe can lead to more disastrous results—like when salt is mistakenly added instead of sugar.
In the Bible (specifically the NT), we find God’s instructions for church leadership. These instructions are sort of like a recipe. In many churches, God’s recipe for leadership is not followed. Not following God’s recipe for church leadership might not result in disaster for a church (though sometimes it can). But, as Christians, we should strive to understand God’s instructions for leadership. We shouldn’t merely want church leadership, but biblical church leadership.
Three Names, One Office
In the NT, three words are used to describe church leaders.
The first word is “elder” (presbyteros). Church leaders are to be men of spiritual maturity. “Elder” is the predominate NT term for local church leaders. The qualifications for elders can be found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. “The list of qualities is not intended to be exhaustive but pictures a person of mature Christian character, one whose faith has had tangible impact on his behavior” (ESV Study Bible, p. 2328).
The second word is “overseer” (episkopos). Church leaders are to be managers of God’s church. In the KJV, episkopos is translated “bishop.”
The third word is “pastor” (poimen). Church leaders are to be shepherds of God’s church. Surprisingly, “pastor” occurs only once in the NT when referring to a church leader (Eph. 4:11). In 1 Peter 5:2, the elders are told to “shepherd [pastor] the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2). The elders of the NT were “pastor elders,” not “board elders.”
In summary, a church leader is called an elder who oversees and pastors a church.
“Although some have argued that different forms of church government are evident in the New Testament, a survey of the relevant texts shows the opposite to be true: there is quite a consistent pattern of plural elders as the main governing group in New Testament churches” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 912).
“And when [Paul and Barnabas] 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). “This is why I left 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).
There are many benefits to shared leadership: (1) weaknesses are balanced; (2) the work load is lightened; and (3) accountability is provided.
The division between clergy and laity doesn’t exist in the NT. An elder does not necessarily need to be ordained or have a seminary degree. At the same time, choosing elders is a very serious responsibility of the church: “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Tim. 5:22).
What Does an Elder Do?
An elder is to act as a shepherd of the church. He shepherds the flock of God in four ways.
1. An elder leads the flock.
“So I exhort the elders among you, …shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:1-4).
2. An elder feeds the flock.
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). “All elders must be able to teach the Word, but not all desire to work fully at preaching and teaching. Those who are gifted in teaching and spend the time to do so should be properly acknowledged by the local church. They should receive double honor” (Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership, p. 47). Among the elders of a church, there should be one man who is “first among equals.” (This would be the person who is often known as the “senior pastor.”)
3. An elder protects the flock.
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert…. (Acts 20:28-31a; cf. Titus 1:9).
4. An elder loves the flock.
“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). If the sheep know they are loved by their shepherds, they will be more likely to follow.
The Work of the Ministry
“Although the elders lead and are officially responsible for the spiritual oversight of the whole church, they are not the total ministry of the church. They are not the ministers. Ministry is the work of the whole church. Ministry is not the work of one person or even one group of people” (Strauch, Biblical Eldership, p. 29).
Every Christian is to consider himself or herself a minister. “And [Christ] gave … the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:11-12). We play different roles and possess different gifts, but we are all to work together. This is God’s recipe for the local church.