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Why Biblical Elders Are Vital to Church Health

Church leadership models always seem to be going through a type of cultural renovation. Trying to stay relevant, influential evangelicals try to innovate at every turn; trading in biblical roles like elder and deacon for newer, less biblically stringent leadership positions. Some churches avoid having elders altogether because of bad experiences or horror stories from others who warn, “Don’t have elders, they will control you!”  Other churches have senior pastors with their own agenda in mind who purposely manipulate the system to ensure that only “yes-men”make it into leadership. Still, there are churches who have yet to raise up elders or don’t know how. Whatever the scenario, biblical eldership is not always taken as seriously as it should be, and yet, it is incredibly vital to the health of a church.

Elders are important to the church because, first and foremost, they are the leaders that Christ has appointed to oversee His church. This is not mere suggestion – it is the biblical mandate. A church cannot be a fully healthy church without elders, and a church can most certainly not be a healthy church without qualified elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).  At the very least, there should be elders being raised up where there are no qualified elders yet. Elders are so important that one of Paul’s first apostolic decisions in the churches that he established was to appoint elders there (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5).

Besides their biblically mandated presence in a church, there are several specific ways that elders are important to the vitality and health of a church.Here are are six to consider:

1. The church needs elders who are spiritually minded

Far too many elder boards are nothing more than a polity board when instead they should be pastoral. The church doesn’t need corporate shot-callers, it needs shepherds. True elders are ultimately put in their position by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28), not by being golfing buddies with the senior pastor or a wealthy influencer in the church. The term elder, in the Bible, is reserved for spiritual men who shepherd the flock. The terms πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros), ποιμήν (poimen), and ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos) are all used to describe the same office in the New Testament. Overseers, pastors, shepherds, and elders are all operating as the same kind of servant leader(s) of the church. Therefore, elders are spiritual men who are spiritually minded. They aren’t concerned with holding a position of power, but rather, being a faithful steward of what Christ has entrusted them with.

2. The church needs elders who care for the people

Christ’s people needs care – period. From counseling, to comforting, to correcting, to concern, no body of believers should be without overseers who have a genuine care for their souls (Hebrews 13:17). One of the ways that care is continuous is in the prayer life of an elder. Elders take time to pray fervently for the people. While the people are working, battling sin, and facing another day of challenges, there ought to be elders who are spiritual men going to the throne room of God on behalf of the people. This by no means is to say that the church must have some sort of priestly mediator – for we have Christ and need no other. It is to simply say that shepherds should be praying for the flock; knowing that God uses the power of prayer to preserve people.

3. The church needs elders who model for the people

They don’t need to be perfect or on a pedestal, but elders should be joyfully modeling a commitment to Christ and holiness in their lives. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 lays out qualifications that all Christians should strive for, but specifically, it lays out qualifications that all elders must possess. In fact, one of the responsibilities of an elder is to set an example for the flock (1 Peter 5:3). Elders who are qualified prove to be helpful models for people who need encouragement, discipleship, and a real life example of how sanctification works! Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). That’s the kind of leadership the church needs from elders.

4. The church needs elders who support church discipline

Elders oversee church discipline and support a system of correction, purification, and restoration within the church.  This is a healthy ecosystem in that the elders are often appointed by those within the church based on their qualifications, then serve to support the church through discipline and oversight. What a model of humility by both the congregation and the elders! (Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15; Titus 3:9-11).

5. The church needs elders who teach the Word

While all believers are to be teaching and admonishing one another (Colossians 3:16), elders are specifically called to the ministry of the word (1 Timothy 3:2) and charged with the task of preserving sound doctrine within the church (Acts 20:31; Titus 1:9). No church should ever have to suffer through the burden of not having gifted leaders who guide them in the Scriptures. Elders should be seen as essential to feeding the flock so much so that one of the primary emphasis in a local church is the raising up, and support of, biblical elders.

6. The church needs elders who protect them from deceivers

Elders are essential to a church because their ministry includes an emphasis on protecting the people by using the word to refute those who would harm them. Again, this is something that all Christians can do, but Christ has seen to it that there’s no question of who must do this. Even though people appoint and humbly follow their qualified leaders, it is ultimately the Holy Spirit who “makes” elders the overseers of the church (Acts 20:28) and demands they must protect the people. Elders stand against false doctrines, mark false teachers, and refuse to concede against any wolves that would prey on the flock (Acts 20:28-30; Romans 16:17-18).

Governance models within any given church may vary. Some will opt for elder led, some for congregationalism, and others will mix these two and find a type of balance. No matter the model, biblical elders are critical to the health of a church. Our goal should be to see Christ raise them up in our churches for the good of His people and glory of His name.

Recommended Reading:

Biblical Eldership By Alexander Strauch

The Masters Plan for the Church John MacArthur

Church Elders By Jeramie Rinne

Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology By John S. Hammett

5 Signs of a Dangerous Pastor

Trustworthy leadership is hard to find. Inside and outside Christianity, men and women with fancy letters behind their names are doing nasty things to innocent people – and children. It’s becoming more and more apparent that academic degrees (while important) and achievements (while admirable) are not the measure of success for a leader.

Integrity is.

I recently tweeted about the “5 signs of a dangerous pastor” and wanted to add some commentary to each of the 5 points in an effort to shed more light on this topic. While it’s understandable that an article like this is not an exciting read, there are people who need to read it. For those who are trying to discern whether or not to stay at their church, this is a huge deal. Just like lives are changed every day when people find faithful pastors who labor in Christ-exalting service, lives are changed for the better every time someone escapes the dangerous ones too. If just one family – no, one individual – is made more aware of what to look for in a church leader because of a list like this, it’s worth it all.

If you’re a pastor, this list is the mirror of conviction we can stand in front of; asking the Holy Spirit to expose where we’ve been compromising and trusting His power to set us straight. If you’re a church member who suddenly realizes this list fits the bill of your pastor – and has for a long time – buckle up. You may need to find a new church.

Here are the 5 signs:

  1. The Pastor Insulates Himself

This is the pastor who surrounds himself with a system of layers; making it nearly impossible to get valuable time with him. Still, he makes sure to appear personable and approachable in public settings. He insulates himself because he’s CEO-minded and deeply believes that the best way to grow the church is to be distant from the people. This pragmatic approach gives him a sort of “holy-aura” as he attempts to make himself a novelty to his followers. Like the Pope waving from an ivory tower in the Vatican City, the pastor who insulates himself can remain god-like in status while doing whatever he pleases out of sight. You won’t find him doing a whole lot of discipleship. This guy is the show-and-go type. You see him Sunday – then he’s gone!

  1. The Pastor is Threatened by Smart Individuals

This is the pastor who can’t stand educated and discerning people who ask tough questions. He will tolerate some question-asking because he’s smart enough to appear fair and tolerant. However, you won’t find men with a high degree of theological knowledge hanging around for very long. This threatens his pride. Instead of receiving constructive wisdom from those who may even be wiser, or being open to feedback from people within the congregation, he patronizes those with less experience and demeans those with less knowledge. This pastor draws influence and power from knowing more than others do – or appearing like he does. He maintains a long term following by drawing unsuspecting people he can manipulate.

  1. The Pastor Punishes Those Who Disagree

This is the pastor who creates a punitive culture within the church. This church becomes a place where it’s the dogmatic pastor’s way or the highway. Should you or anyone else even think about gently pointing out inconsistencies in the theological positions he holds, you run the risk of being privately shamed. Think about addressing something unbiblical or unethical within the church, and you run the risk of public retribution. For staff members, this means the loss of livelihood. For church members, this could mean the loss of reputation in the community as the pastor publically or privately paints an opponent in a negative light.

  1. The Pastor is Obsessed with His Own Vision

This pastor knows exactly what he wants and his will, ahem…I mean God’s will be done. You may hear this pastor say something like, “I started this church and this is how it’s going to be!” or “This is my church and no one is going to take it from me!” Those exclamatory statements may seem shocking but they are not uncommon. So is all “vision” bad? No. It’s actually beneficial when a leader has a plan for the future of a church but all a pastor needs to say about “his vision” is that his vision is to do what the Bible says to do. Unfortunately, many churches only hire people if they sign on to serve “Pastor Steven’s vision” (or Mark’s, Jim’s, and Greg’s). Guess what? The church has nothing to do with a man’s vision. It’s about Christ’s. No church growth book can change that, no advice from a pragmatic guru can change that, and no amount of pastoral kicking and screaming can change that. The church belongs to Jesus.

  1. The Pastor Twists the Bible to Fit His Own Rules

From elders who aren’t really biblical elders, to using money for whatever he deems noble and necessary, this pastor views stewardship and accountability systems as very fluid concepts. In other words, stewardship is really about what he wants to do vs. what he must manage on behalf of the church. Accountability, to this pastor, is about putting “yes” men in key positions. In most cases, this pastor will boast about his high level of accountability and adherence to Scriptural authority in order to appear trustworthy. He will claim them to be his deepest convictions until those things infringe on his decision making process, then the twisted game begins. Instead of admitting a mistake or facing the difficult pain of owning a poor decision, he twists (even ignores) the Bible to fit his own rules and make excuses for his decision making.

This kind of leadership is not the kind of leadership that Jesus had in mind when He promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18). If this is the kind of autocratic ruler that dominates your assembly week-in and week-out, run to safety – even if it means switching denominations for a while.

Recommended Resource: “9Marks of a Healthy Church” by Mark Dever

 

Private Lives Define Public Leaders

It was the great Puritan John Owen who said, “A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more.”

What John Owen had right almost 400 years ago still rings true today. Christian leadership is a public service that begins with private worship. While every leader has unique, God-ordained passions and purposes, there is one common denominator that defines every leader in the same way: Who they are behind closed doors.

Who a leader is outside of the public eye is who they really are – no more, no less.

No matter how hard a leader may try, they can’t fake their private life. In fact, it can even be argued that there is no such thing as a private life at all, only a variety of environments in which a leader operates. God sees everything, a spouse knows them better than anyone next to God, and kids are quick to catch on when parents behave one way in public and another way at home. There’s no getting around the fact that who a leader is in their private life is where the rubber meets the road. A healthy private life means a healthy leader.

Many underestimate the powerful role that a leader’s private life plays in determining the success of their leadership. To take that even further, it’s safe to say that there is no real success in ministry unless the private life of a leader is healthy.

Truth and time go hand-in-hand so what will eventually begin to manifest in public is just the evidence of who a leader is in private.

Here are three private areas that will define a Christian leader, for better or worse:

  1. A Leader’s Private Devotion

A leader may pray eloquent prayers in public, and be able to rattle off quotes from Charles Spurgeon, but true spiritual leadership is ultimately defined by the private devotion that takes place when no one is around to “oooh” and “awe” at their spirituality. A leader’s job may be thriving, their friends may envy their oratorical abilities, and many people may even be swept up by their charisma – but all of that can be an empty shell if private devotion to Christ is not their highest priority. Know this, a leader will not stand the test of time who does not spend ample time on their knees and time in God’s word. Knowing the latest LifeWay research statistics and being articulate on topics like church-trends and growth strategies will prove useless if a leader is not proficient in prayer and the Scriptures. Christian leaders are not called to be experts on culture. They are called to be emulators of Christ.

  1. A Leader’s Private Marriage

Every Christian leader is happily married on Sunday morning. Men talk openly about being the head of the home and flex their spiritual muscles with Bible in hand. Women pick out the perfect outfit and smile with glee; reminiscent of a woman who had a flawless week “respecting hubby.” Her Instagram posts are confirmation of that. It’s the picture of public perfection! But is that always the real story? The way a leader’s “first ministry” operates throughout the week will define who they really are – not merely a Sunday (or social media) show. While a leader’s marriage should be progressing and growing in Christ – which will result in a good example publicly – faking perfection when things are falling apart is dangerous because it lacks the diligence God instructs Christian couples to have when it comes to working on their marriage. If a leader will not take the steps needed in order to nurture their marriage, they are no leader at all. A leader’s marriage must be marked by a deep sacrifice of self, a calendar with dates that match biblical convictions, honesty about weakness, confession of sin, and involvement of qualified church leaders or counseling when needed. A leader’s marriage may look good on the outside (and maybe it really is doing well), but how we live Ephesians 5:22-33 behind closed doors is what truly matters.

  1. A Leader’s Private Conversations

Leaders are constantly communicating both privately and publicly. This means that a lot of words come out that can’t be taken back. Prudence is crucial for every private conversation and taming the tongue is especially necessary in familiar environments where leaders are most comfortable. A leader who “lets it fly” is a disaster waiting to happen. Many leaders use crude language in the name of authenticity but are doing nothing more than creating a locker-room mentality within the church. Furthermore, many leaders use manipulative language with staff members for their own gain. This could be sexual, or it could be production driven – pitting them against each other to spark competition in the name of ministry advancement. This is not becoming of a true Christian leader, though it is how many churches run the business-side of church. Since when did Jesus promise to build His church through leadership styles reminiscent of corporate sharks and verbally aggressive CEO’s? When it comes to frustrations, a wise leader does not shame others. He replaces “venting” publicly (aka: gossip), with “vetting” (aka: prayer) privately with Jesus. Taking every attitude, thought, or frustration to Christ in prayer is the best way for a leader to control the tongue in conversations. Sometimes it’s best to just use the abbreviation: FHL. It means, “Few, honest, and loving”, and refers to the words we ought to use if we’re experiencing some tension in our day-to-day life. Ministry is tough and temptation is everywhere, but leaders have to learn to manage their mouth behind the scenes.

There are numerous more that could be added to this list but all will point to the same truth. A leader’s private life is make or break for their public leadership.

Sound like a tough task? It is. That’s why a leader must depend on God’s grace to be at work within their life above all else. It is a responsibility that should cause every pastor, elder, small group leader, deacon, teacher, parent, layman, or aspiring leader to remain humbly on their knees before God – begging that His power be at work in their prayer life, their marriage, and their mouth.


Verses for further study & reflection:

Devotion: Psalm 1; Ephesians 6:10-20; Colossians 2:6-8

Marriage: Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-25; 1 Peter 3:1-8;

Conversation: Proverbs 15:28; Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 4:6; James 3