For the next couple of weeks we are going to be talking about ecclesiology, which is the doctrine of the church, and more particularly about church polity. Church polity is a branch of ecclesiology that addresses the organizational structure and hierarchy of the church. Jeff McCormack has expressed a desire for eldership at Berean Bible Church, so I thought this would be a good time to share our church's position on church leadership.
There are basically three types of church government that have developed in the various Christian denominations: the episcopal, the presbyterian, and the congregational. And there are variations of all of these.
The Episcopalians hold that Christ, as the head of the Church, has entrusted the government of the church directly and exclusively to an order of bishops as successors of the apostles. In this system the community of believers has absolutely no share in the government of the church. The episcopal form of government has been the polity of the Catholic Church as early as Ignatius of Antioch, all the way down to the time of the Reformation.
This is a Bishopric, or a one man rule, where one man calls all the shots. This system is used today not only in the Episcopalian churches but in many churches that have one man who rules. This leadership model has many variations, but all focus on the one person recognized as the "leader of the church." In some churches this man would be called the senior pastor, and he alone decides what is beneficial for the church family, although a senior pastor sometimes has a board of advisors. A senior pastor often sets the vision for the church, determines all major decisions including significant financial matters, and is acknowledged as the church leader both in the church and in the community. A church that is lead by a single pastor is a dangerous form of government which promotes the preeminence of one man:
I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church. 3 John 1:9-10 NASB
Diotrephes is throwing people out of the church. But the Bible teaches us that it is Christ who is the head of the church:
He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. Colossians 1:18 NASB
Another type of church leadership is the "congregational" model. In an effort to have everyone involved, the entire congregation votes on all important matters and usually elects a board to supervise and/or oversee church ministries. This type of leadership typically has a senior pastor who teaches regularly yet may or may not have responsibility for specific areas of ministry or staff. The "final word" in a congregational
church is the congregation (the "members"). The congregation can replace any board member through the voting process, and the board can usually fire the senior pastor if he doesn't live up to board or congregational expectations.
The strength of a congregational form of leadership is found in its effort to have every person in a church family join together in ministry, with an emphasis on each adult Christian being a voting church member. However, that is also its weakness. The possibility of immature believers "voting" on vital aspects of church life and ministry can lead to "personal voting preferences" instead of biblically based decisions. A detriment of a congregational form of church government is that board members are often elected on the basis of popularity or business acumen. This structure can foster selfish, political maneuvering since the person or group with the most votes "wins," potentially fostering
divisiveness and factions within the church.
Why should a member who attends four or five times a year have a vote equal to that of a wise, experienced church leader who knows the facts and wants only the best for God's church? To let everyone vote is to assume they are all spiritual and informed, and we know that is not true.
Many Churches that are congregational in name are episcopal in fact. The senior pastor runs the show, but maybe once a year you get to vote on something.
The presbyterian form of church leadership has a "presbytery" (leadership board) in charge of church matters. Berean Bible Church is presbyterian in its form of church government. In our case, this means that we are ruled by elders. We believe that the Bible emphasizes two important principles of church government: plurality and representative. Multiple elders are chosen by God and recognized by the congregation to represent the people. Our elders are responsible for the teaching, spiritual oversight, and discipline of individual members. We believe that elder rule is the form of government that best illustrates the principle that Yeshua the Christ, alone, is the Head of His Church.
Church leadership is a team effort and not the sole responsibility of one man or the joint responsibility of everyone. The norm in the New Testament was a plurality of elders. There is no reference in all the New Testament to a one pastor congregation.
Human leaders, even Christian ones, are sinful, and they only accomplish God's will imperfectly. Multiple leaders, therefore, will serve as a check and balance on each other and serve as a safeguard against the very human tendency to play God over other people. Within a plurality of leaders extreme ideas are tempered, harsh judgments moderated, and doctrinal imbalances corrected. I believe the New Testament pattern is that the church be lead by a plurality of men:
Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Yeshua who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: Philippians 1:1 NASB
Now look at what he says, "to all the saints in Christ Yeshua who are in Philippi"—then he adds this—"including the overseers and deacons." This is the only letter in which he does this. This is the earliest Epistle where bishops and deacons are mentioned, and the only one where they are separately addressed.
I have a question for you, "Why does Paul address the overseers and deacons, but ignores the pastor?" Is Paul mad at him, so he snubs him? Did this church not have a pastor? No, they did not, there was no single pastor. In the New Testament there is never one Book, never one word addressed to one man as the pastor of the church. Yeshua the Christ is the Head of the Church, not a man. Elders are under shepherds who care for the flock.
There are three terms used in the New Testament to describe church leaders, and none of them are "reverend." I don't think it is biblical for a minister to use the title "Reverend." The word is found only once in the KJV Bible and is not a reference to a man, but to Yahweh:
He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name. Psalms 111:9 KJV
It is His name alone that is holy and reverend. The Hebrew word is "yare" and means: "to fear; morally, to revere; cause to frighten:—affright, be (make) afraid, dread(-ful), (put in) fear(-ful, -fully, -ing), (be had in) reverence(-end). (Strong's 3372).
We certainly should not be afraid of any minister, for we read in Proverb 29:
The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted. Proverbs 29:25 NASB
Clearly only God is to be revered, and in holding the reverence of God we exercise godly fear, knowing that who He is and of His absolute power over all things. That is certainly not an attribute of a an under shepherd who pastors a local congregation of believers. The reverence this word speaks of is reserved for God alone. I think it is clear that to use the term "Reverend" sends the wrong message as to what God's leader in the local church is to be. Only Yahweh is to be revered.
There are three terms used in the New Testament to describe church leaders, and none of them are "reverend." They are: "bishop, elder, and pastor." The most widely used New Testament designation for local church leaders is "elders."
Elders—isthe Greek word presbuteros. It is used 72 times in the New Testament. It refers to mature in age. Presbuterosis, used 20 times in Acts and the Epistles, is in reference to leaders in the church.
Bishops—is from the Greek word episkopos. It means: "guardian or overseer." It is used 5 times in the New Testament, once of Christ (1 Peter 2:25), and four other times to refer to church leaders. It is plural, bishops.
Pastor—this is from the Greek word poimen. It is only found once in the New Testament in:
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, Ephesians 4:11 NASB
The normal meaning of the word is "shepherd," which means to protect, feed, care for, and lead. Pastors are not distinct from bishops or elders. The terms are simply different ways of identifying the same people. Textual evidence indicates that all three terms refer to the same office:
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. 1 Peter 5:1-5 NASB
The word "elders" in verse 1 is presbuteros. The word "shepherd" in verse 2 is poimaino. And the word "oversight" in verse 2 is episkopeo. Peter instructs the elders to be good shepherds as they oversee the flock:
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. Acts 20:17 NASB
Please notice that the word elders is plural, and church is singular. Each church had a plurality of elders.
"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. Acts 20:28 NASB
Here Paul is addressing the elders from verse 17, and we see the same three Greek words used to describe those who lead the church. Elder emphasizes who the man is, bishop and pastor speak of what he does.
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, Titus 1:5-7 NASB
Titus, who was an apostolic representative, was to appoint "elders," then he begins to give their qualifications; and then in verse 7 says, "the overseeer," which is the Greek word episkopos. The elder is to be a good overseer.
According to the New Testament, the leadership or pastoral oversight of the local church is to be shared by all men in the church who qualify and desire the work.
Church leadership is a team effort. Every place in the New Testament where the term presbuteros is used, it is plural except where John and Peter use it to speak of themselves. The norm in the New Testament church was a plurality of elders. There is no reference in all the New Testament to a one-pastor congregation. Today's tradition of a single pastor leading a church is not the biblical norm, but is a violation of the scriptural pattern.
Pride and selfishness plague much of the Lord's work. The world's concepts of power, honor, and authority in leadership permeate our churches. Shared leadership
and humble servant-hood is the biblical form of leadership rather than one-man leadership. Eldership enhances brotherly love, humility, mutuality, and loving interdependence.
What are the duties of elders? There are several listed in Scripture. I think that the main duty of the elder/pastor is to shepherd the flock. Shepherding boils down to two things: feeding and leading, which is feeding them the Word of God and leading by a godly example. Notice what Peter tells the elders to do:
shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 1 Peter 5:2 NASB
Paul says this same thing to the Ephesian elders:
"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. Acts 20:28 NASB
"Be on guard for yourselves"—Paul could mean, "Elders, be on guard of each other's needs and weaknesses and faults." Or it could mean, "Elders, each of you be on guard of your own heart and doctrine and behavior." I'm sure he means both. He is warning them to be a good example to the flock.
Talking to Timothy, who was an elder in Ephesus, Paul writes:
Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. 1 Timothy 4:16 NASB
An elder must first and foremost be on guard for his own spiritual life. He cannot shepherd the flock if his life is a mess.
Paul guarded his own life with extreme diligence:
Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 NASB
Paul didn't want to be disqualified from the ministry, so he disciplined himself. Paul's life was an example to all, and he told Timothy to also be an example:
Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:12 NASB
Timothy is at Ephesus, and Paul tells him to be an example, which is basically what he is saying to these elders, "Be on guard for yourselves."
They are not only to guard themselves, but also "all the flock of God"—and then he tells them to "shepherd." Notice the "sheep" symbolism that Paul used here. The flock were the "sheep," and the elders were the "shepherds" of the flock, who were appointed by the Holy Spirit to protect and to feed the sheep. The danger was to come from the "wolves" who would savagely seek to destroy the flock and to devour some of the sheep. In Jeremiah 13:17 and in Zachariah 10:3, God calls Israel "the Lord's flock." And in John 10 Yeshua is called "the good shepherd":
"I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. John 10:11 NASB
As good under-shepherds the elders are to guard the flock of God against all dangers to its spiritual well being.
Paul says, "The Holy Spirit has made you overseers"—notice that they are made overseers and elders, not by self-election, not by human ordination, but they are made elders by divine appointment. It was the Holy Spirit who made them overseers.
Now my question is, How? How does the Holy Spirit appoint someone as an elder? Well, I think that when the apostles were around, they appointed elders, and those who were apostolic delegates appointed elders:
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, Titus 1:5 NASB
So the apostles and their delegates could appoint elders. Their appointment was the Holy Spirit's appointment. But once the apostles died off, how does the Holy Spirit appoint elders? Look at 1 Timothy 3:
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 1 Timothy 3:1-2 NASB
I see from this text two ways that the Holy Spirit appoints elders: First He plants a desire in their heart for the work. The Greek word for "aspires" is oregomai, which means: "reach out after (long for), covet after, desire."
And secondly, the man fits the qualifications that are listed 1 Timothy 3 and in Titus 1. So it's not that elders appoint elders. Elders recognize those whom the Holy Spirit has appointed, and who have begun to function as elders.
Paul tells these elders that their task is to "shepherd the church of God." Shepherd is from the Greek word "poimaino," which means: "to shepherd." To understand what shepherd means, look at a conversation that Yeshua has with Peter:
So when they had finished breakfast, Yeshua said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My lambs." He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Shepherd My sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Yeshua said to him, "Tend My sheep. John 21:15-17 NASB
Yeshua asks Peter three times if he loves Him. And three times Peter confirms that he likes Him a lot, Peter uses the Greek word phileo, which is a word that means: "to be a friend, to have affection for." In this text three times Yeshua says this, "Tend my lambs. Shepherd my sheep. Tend my sheep." One of those times, the middle time, He uses poimino (to shepherd). But the first and third time He uses the word "bosco," not "poimino." Bosco means simply: "to feed them."
So from what Yeshua says to Peter, we see that the primary responsibility of the shepherd is to feed the flock, to teach them the Scriptures. This is the elder, overseer, pastor"s primary responsibility, to teach the Word of God. This is what Yeshua called Peter to do, this is what Paul did, and this is what Paul calls the Ephesian elders to do.
In Ezekiel 34 is a divine rebuke of the "shepherds of Israel," who have forsaken their task and calling as shepherds, and have begun to feed themselves from the flock, rather than feeding the flock:
"Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? Ezekiel 34:2 NASB
Their job was to feed the flock, but they were not doing it. Yahweh goes on in this text to rebuke the shepherds of Israel for the fact that His flock had been scattered and was being devoured:
"As I live," declares the Lord GOD, "surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock; Ezekiel 34:8 NASB
Then the Lord promises:
For thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. Ezekiel 34:11 NASB
"I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest," declares the Lord GOD. "I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment. Ezekiel 34:15-16 NASB
So Yahweh promises Israel that He will "seek the lost" sheep of Israel. Now notice what Yeshua says:
"For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:10 NASB
Yeshua, quoting Ezekiel, is saying, "I am Yahweh." Yeshua is God in the flesh who has come to seek and save the lost. He is the Great Shepherd.
This flock that these elders are to feed is "The Church of God"—this flock belongs to the Lord God. And then, he says, "Which He purchased with His own blood." The word "purchased" here is not the common word for "to buy" in the sense of buying a slave out of the slave market. This is the Greek word peripoieomaia, which means: "to get for one's own." The force of this word is, "I have made these things my own."
This flock was purchased with "the blood of His own One." These sheep were so valuable to God that He purchased them with the precious blood of His own Son
So let me say again that I think that shepherding can be boiled down to "feed and lead." Teach the Word of God and live out a godly example. The Puritans sparked renewal in large part through their commitment to preaching as the pastor's primary task. J. I. Packer states, "To the Puritan, faithful preaching was the basic ingredient in faithful pastoring." He then cites from John Owen, who wrote, "The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the Word…. This feeding is of the essence of the office of a pastor." (A Quest for Godliness [Crossway Books], p. 283).
So the main duty of the elders is to shepherd, which means: "to feed and lead." One of the other duties listed in Scripture is Determine Church Policy:
Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas—Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, and they sent this letter by them, "The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings. Acts 15:22-23 NASB
The letter that they sent out said:
that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell." Acts 15:29 NASB
So they set doctrine and practice for the church. They also handle the distribution of money:
And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders. Acts 11:29-30 NASB
So the elders were to be handling the distribution the money. They were to teach and preach (1 Timothy 5:17), exhort and refute (Titus 1:9); they are also to pray for the sick:
Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; James 5:14 NASB
People, you have to let us know you are sick so that we can pray with you. The elders are also to give spiritual advice and counsel:
And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. Acts 21:18 NASB
In the following verses the elders give Paul advice on what he is to do. Again, if you want us to give you spiritual advice and counsel, you need to ask us; we are not mind readers.
I want us to look at several facts about the office of elder that we find in our text of 1 Timothy 3. 1) It is an important office:
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 1 Timothy 3:1 NASB
Paul says, "It is a trustworthy statement"—this phrase is used five times in the pastoral Epistles. It is a creed or formula and was reserved for things of great significance. Let me give you just two of its other uses so you can see its significance:
It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Yeshua came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. 1 Timothy 1:15 NASB
Here the statement is that "Christ Yeshua came into the world to save sinners."
It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 2 Timothy 2:11 NASB
Again you can see the importance of these statements. There was a high value placed on church leadership by the early church.
This was a dangerous and difficult position in that day. You can rest assured that in the days of Paul a pastor did not occupy a plush air conditioned office with a big desk and a cushioned chair with a secretary at his every call.
As we look through the New Testament, we see that elders were very important in the early church from Acts 14 on:
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. Acts 14:23 NASB
Notice what Samuel said to Saul:
Samuel said to Saul, "You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, for now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. "But now your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you." 1 Samuel 13:13-14 NASB
This is what is needed today in church leadership, "Yahweh has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart." We need men with a heart for Yahweh that will shepherd His church.
We'll pick this up next time and continue to look at this text in 1 Timothy and see what we can learn about biblical church leadership.