Thursday, October 14, 2010

Who leads in the church?

My friend Josh posted not once but twice yesterday, a virtual blogsplosion! His second posting caught my eye and I would like to direct you to an interesting topic. Josh addresses the question of whether the local church should be elder-led or congregation-led. His answer was “yes”, i.e. both are true. Here is his summary from Q&A: Should the Church be led by Elders or by the Congregation?

Absolute elder rule and absolute congregational government are not found in the New Testament. What we do find is the clear command to "submit to one another" (Eph 5:21). I fear that those advocating an 'absolute' form of church government do so (at the expense of clear biblical teaching) out of a refusal to submit. Sadly, we have congregations who refuse to submit to their biblical leaders and we have biblical leaders refusing to submit to their congregations. All of it is sin.

Scripture doesn't give us details. It does not provide of list of things the elders can decide on and a list of things on which the congregation must decide. It does give us (1) clear examples that the congregation made real decisions, (2) clear examples of the congregation being involved with the decisions of the elders/apostles, and (3) clear commands to submit to spiritual leaders. Some have termed this Elder-led Congregationalism.

What do you think?

I think the majority report in conservative evangelical churches is that the elders rule and often the functioning of those local churches is a de facto single elder rule.

There clearly is something in Scripture that distinguishes men who are recognized by the church as elders. Perhaps it is their age (hence the term “elder”) or their maturity in the faith. Whatever it is, it is clear that certain men are elders and by implication other men are not. As Josh also points out, while the qualities to be desired in an elder are quite clearly spelled out in Scripture, the functioning of elders in the church is not nearly as clear.

I would also say that there are men that I respect and would submit to their counsel who are not officially recognized as elders or deacons in a local church and likewise I have met plenty of men who are elders and deacons in a local church that I wouldn’t follow to Dunkin Donuts. As I have written before, Josh is one of those men who I respect for his counsel and also is an elder in a local church. It is important to note again that I am not now nor have I ever been a formal member in a church where Josh is an elder but that doesn't negate the value he has to me as a leader. We are currently gathering with the church in a local group with three elders who I respect deeply and have no issue submitting to, but they also serve without pay and involve the entire local body in decision making and leading and teaching.

This is an interesting topic, run over and check it out and leave a comment or three…


Mark said...


If we are to be a part of "organic church", then our leadership "structure" should be organic as well. Leadership in the body, in my opinion, is not positional, meaning a position that has to be filled. It is functional, meaning the Lord raises those up from among the body who are functioning already in a "leadership" capacity, i.e., they are an example in word and deed in how we should live, serve others and serve God. As you mentioned regarding elders in your life, the Lord has placed those in my life that are elders to me. This was a very "organic" process, meaning it just happened. No one appointed anyone my elder, but the Lord placed someone in my life to serve as an example to me, and what a blessing that has been! It really, for me, has been a discipling process, but not all discipling is done by the elders, obviously. I believe the Spirit weaves the tapestry, and, as in Acts, when the apostles came through and appointed elders, they simply recognized those that were already functioning in that capacity.


Unknown said...

Mark, I agree. Too often we tend to think of church leadership as a position to be filled. In our Membership Class** we teach the following principle: "Leadership is to be lean and efficient, with the focus being NOT on getting more people in office-holding, but rather releasing more and more individuals to serve the King".

Too often churches have a position-based mindset, when Scripture calls us to have a gift-based mindset.

** (This is another issue...which I may take time to explain in a blog post, since I mean something different by that than most churches do).