Why an Elder-Led Church? - Andrew Anderson - July 2021
We are in transition. You know that. In light of this, the elders decided to give a mini teaching on why we are an elder-led church. This blog may not minister to your soul but perhaps your mind. My goal is to provide a Biblical explanation as to why we are organized this way at our church. We are unique in this model, but not exclusive by any means, especially when considering the conglomerate of denominations and church networks.
Let’s dive into it:
According to the Bible, elders have the primary leadership and oversight responsibility of the church. Scriptures also speak to the plurality of elders. In other words, it is not for one person to lead the charge, but a team. God loves team ministry. This is how He personally operates.
Everything God does, He does as a team. We get our cues from Him as we look to the Trinity. God Himself is a team--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the three equally govern. We were created to mimic God’s design. When He instituted the family, He arranged it as a team: husband and wife working in tandem, with children further expanding the family team. Similarly, the church family is led by a team called elders.
As the early church is being established in the book of Acts, those caring for the congregation and providing leadership are given the titles “Apostles and Elders”. The difference between the two being that apostles give oversight to larger geographical areas, whereas elders give oversight to a local congregation. Apostle Paul uses the words “elder,” “overseer,” and “shepherd” interchangeably in his descriptions of leadership. In fact, Paul gives us several examples in his writings regarding elders in the church body:
“Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.” (Acts 20:17) In this address and many like it, Paul called the elders to come to him, not ‘the pastor.’.
Paul charged Timothy with appointing “elders in every town.” (Titus 1:5) He didn’t say, “Find the most gifted pastor and appoint him.” His command was to find a team of leaders in every city church.
After a year, Paul returned from his first missionary journey. He returned to set elders in place: “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). Notice in these situations that each description of elder was plural not singular.
We just touched on three examples of the plurality of leadership of the early church. Now let me address one issue before we carry on...
Why Not A Pastor
Pastors are great. And they do great ministry. But we need to understand the difference between the title of pastor and the work of a pastor. Pastors shepherd. They care for people. This is also what elders are to do, as Peter said, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight.” (1 Peter 5:1a) Perhaps you grew up in a church that had “a Pastor” and you affectionately would have said after any given Sunday, “My Pastor spoke the most loving prayer over me.” We like to be cared for as sheep. However, Jesus is the ultimate Shepherd. Nothing is wrong with having a personal shepherd outside of Jesus, but we have idealized that role in the church. “The Pastor” has gotten us to a good place historically, but we need to start thinking differently about the title of pastor.
Many Pastors, Not One
The church doesn’t need one Pastor but many pastors. Caring for people, as a shepherd cares for his sheep, is a joint responsibility. One of our stated purposes of our church is that we intend to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Perhaps you have heard the expression, “Every member gets to be a minister.” The role of leadership is to empower the church to do the work in which Jesus has called every believer. Who does the ministering? Every believer! It is not the sole job of “the Pastor” to do that work. Everyone has the opportunity and responsibility to care for people. With this newer understanding, we are saying that everyone gets to be a pastor. And we all can have a flock, whether that be our family, our small group, our accountability group, our family life group, our home group, our Bible study group, our pre-Christian friends, our co-workers, our workout gym group, our “feed the homeless” group, and the list can go on. This is the pastoral fabric that we are a part of weaving—all of us.
The difference between a pastor and an elder may be semantics, but the point is that we need many people shepherding (pastors) and we need a plurality of leaders (elders) to guide us. This is how God spreads the load and multiplies the work.
A Few Practical Reasons for Team Ministry
It is more fun. If something is worth doing, it is probably worth doing it with someone else. Frankly, solo ministry can get boring after a while.
No one should do ministry alone. Sharing the load is actually an admonishment in Scripture (Gal 6:2; Col 3:13). The highs and lows of life should be experienced in community—including leadership. This also prevents a huge liability in ministry—burnout.
Team ministry is a safeguard. Accountability is best with others—it wouldn’t be otherwise! And it also wouldn’t be wise. Personal accountability includes the many pitfalls of life and leadership, two of which are thinking too highly of oneself (pride) and thinking too lowly of oneself (discouragement and depression). Too many solo leaders are left vulnerable to these pitfalls without “teammates” to help them up.
At Way of the Lord, we value the inter-generational aspect of life and church ministry. As such, the eldership can and does reflect this. We want to practice what we preach. In addition, if the leadership isn’t modeling team ministry, it would be harder to expect it with others.
Jesus and Holy Spirit sent out teams in pairs, sometimes more than two. Just like in a family, bearing children is the way we multiply. Having a team multiplies the work, ministry, and fruitfulness. Team ministry is wise, safe, and a fun way to have leadership governing the church and there is Biblical precedence.
This is the bottom line: we bear MORE fruit and do so with JOY working as a team!
If one wanted to study the roles of elders, I would encourage one to look at the following passages to get started: 1 Tim 3:2, 5:17; Titus 1:7,9; 1 Peter 5:1-2; 2 Tim 3:13-17, 4:2; Acts 6:4, 15:6, 20:17, 28-30.