THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS ABOUT CHURCH LEADERSHIP
In Acts 14:23, we read that “they” appointed elders in every church. Who were the “they” who appointed elders? Well, the “they” of verse 23 must be interpreted in the light of the “they” of verses 21 and 22. Clearly the “they” of verses 21 and 22 refers to the missionary team of Paul.
I Timothy 3:1 along with many other passages indicate that elders are overseer. What does it mean to be an overseer? Are elders to be underseers who wait for the congregation to make the decisions and then follows through with their orders? Are they to check everything out with the congregation? Where does the checking out begin and where does it stop? How much and how little do the elders have the congregation vote on? On what issues should they do this and on what issues should they not do this?
In I Timothy 3:4, 5 the Bible says that elders are responsible to manage the church of God? What does managing involve? Does this mean that the elders should put everything up for a vote and then simply orchestrate what the congregation has decided? Where does managing start and where does it stop?
Later in I Timothy 5:17 Scripture talks about the elders ruling? What does that mean? Again, should they put everything up for a vote and let the congregation decide how they and the church should function on issues not clearly spelled out in Scripture?
Chapter 5:18 – 25 gives instructions about how elders should be selected, taken care of, treated and even disciplines. Well, to whom were these instructions primarily given? Who was responsible to do these things? I think I Timothy 1:1, 2 makes it very clear that Timothy as a prototype elder/pastor was responsible to carry out these instructions. Certainly every elder will want to seek the counsel of, gather the opinion and affirmation of godly people. It would be foolish and prideful as well as unbiblical for elders not to do this.
Moving on – what did Paul mean when he said that it was the responsibility of Titus who was functioning as an elder/pastor at the church in Crete to set in order what remains and to appoint elders in every city (1:5). Was he telling Titus who again was a prototype of all elders and pastors to put these issues up to a vote? And when he told him in 1:10, 11 to silence the “rebellious, empty talkers’ was he suggesting that it was necessary for Titus to call a congregational meeting and ask the congregation for their approval before he did this?
And what did Paul mean when he wrote to the Thessalonians and told them that the elders had charge over them in the Lord? What does it mean to have charge? What was the nature of their authority? Certainly it involved faithfully preaching God’s Word and commanding people to obey it? But did their authority extend to other congregational issues such as scheduling the time of the services, choosing what hymns should be sung, choosing the days on which special services were to be held, selecting elders, selecting Bible Study materials, etc.? Did they first have to bring these items up to the congregation in terms of the decisions that were made? Having “charge” must mean something.
Why have elders at all? Why not just have congregational meetings? Why should it be necessary for the elders to be prudent and hold fast to the faithful word if what they do must first be submitted to the congregation for a vote? What is the point to having elders and calling them overseers if they are primarily followers when it comes to important issues of congregational life?
Scripture calls elders Shepherds (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:1, 2). What does it mean to be a Shepherd? Does a shepherd have any responsibility to lead – to set the pace or should the sheep be doing the leading?
And what about Hebrews 13:7? What does verse 7 mean when it says that Christians in the congregation should imitate the faith or faithfulness of their leaders? What does Scripture mean when it speaks of the fact that the leaders are to lead Christians. What does it mean to lead? Certainly elders are to lead by teaching the Word of God, but is that all the Bible means by leading. What about issues where there is not a clear thus saith the Lord? What about issues where we can’t turn to the Word for specific direction? As mentioned previously, certainly in keeping with Proverbs 15:22 and 11:14 any godly elder will be interested in the perspectives of the people even as any godly husband who is charged with the responsibility to manage and lead his wife and family will seek the counsel of his wife. And unless he has some very good, in most cases biblical reason for not following her counsel he won’t do something which she strongly opposes. In similar fashion godly elders will avoid being authoritarian. Certainly they will consult with the people over whom they have God given leadership responsibilities when making important decisions. Certainly, as godly husbands will listen to their wives, godly elders will listen to their people and be slow to do anything with which the people in their church disagree unless it is specifically commanded by Scripture.
And what does Hebrews 13:17 mean when it says that the people of the church are to obey their leaders and submit to them? Certainly this doesn’t mean that church members are to obey and submit to their elders on issues that are contrary to Scripture? Nor, does it mean that Christians are obligated to obey and submit to their elders on issues to which the Scripture does not speak or even give guiding principles. But when it comes to matters related to the elders fulfilling their God given responsibilities such leading the church, feeding and teaching the church, caring for the church, protecting the church, motivating the church, watching over the souls of the people in the church, guiding and overseeing the church, disciplining wayward church members and rescuing people who have gone astray, the members are responsible to obey and submit to them and do their best to make their ministry a joy and a delight (I Thessalonians 5:12,13; Hebrews 13:17).
And incidentally, if you want to read more about the biblical concept of leadership in the church and what it means for Christians to obey and submit to their elders, you will find more exposition of these issues in a book that David Swavely and I wrote called Life in the Father’s House. You may order a copy of this from www.mackministries.org or http://www.audubonpress.com.