Tuesday, April 05, 2011

What is the right number of elders?

Many in the church, across a wide spectrum of folks from simple church advocates to reformed believers recognize that the church should have a “plurality of elders”, i.e. more than one elder (pastor) and a bunch of deacons. In Baptist circles this is still looked at with the stink eye (that ain’t how Bab-Dis do things!) but the Scriptures seems pretty clear that in local churches there should be multiple servant-leaders. But how many should the church have? I am sure someone has already thought this through but I wanted to give it a stab.

Is there a magic number, like five elders in every church? Is there a magic ration of 20:1 believers to laity? The Bible is silent and you know what happens when the Bible is silent about something? We fill in the blanks! So why should I get left out of the fun?!

Here is an assertion that I am going to throw out there, regardless of the denomination (or lack thereof) or the size of your church….

Every mature man in the church should eventually be an elder.

Here is another.

There is nothing in Scripture that indicates that there needs to be a small group of elders overseeing a much larger group of non-elders.

What?! That is heresy! If you have all of those elders, who is going to be in charge? It will be like that old (very politically incorrect) saying: all chiefs and no indians!

Hang with me for a bit here.

First off, there is a real problem with the view of elders as being “in charge” of the church. Men who are elders are recognized as such because of the way they live their lives, for their leading by serving rather than leading by dictating. I won’t list out the Scripture references but it is pretty clear that elders are men who lead through example and service, not through control.

Second, can the church have too many elders? Well let me ask a different question. Can the church ever have too many mature brothers who are living examples to the church?

Now if a local church is functioning like it should be, there should always be a couple of things happening. First, existing Christian men are being discipled, mentored and equipped for the work of ministry by more mature believers and are coming to place of maturity in the faith (Eph 4:11-16 ). If a man is a mature believer in Christ and is living a praiseworthy life worthy of emulation, why wouldn’t he be recognized as an elder?

Second, new Christians should be coming to faith in Christ and becoming part of the church all the time. The men especially need someone to emulate and to learn from and I am convinced that an eight week “New Believer” class and weekly sermons is not going to bring men to a maturity in Christ. The state of the church bears that out. The more elders the church has, the more men to mentor and disciple new believers.

What do you think? Is that kooky, the idea that every man who comes to Christ should be expected to mature to a point where he is considered an elder?


Mark said...


I have to say I agree. I do think, by the definition we adopt of what an elder is, that all believers should reach that point of maturity. How that would end up working in reality I do not know, but I think your thought process is right on.


Paw said...

This looks biblically defensible to me.
Every new male convert is a potential elder, and an elder-in-training until then.

Arthur Sido said...


There is the rub isn't it. I know where we should go but I am working out how we get there!


I agree and I like what you said. how do you think it would change our view of one another if we saw every brother in the church as an elder in training?

Brian said...

Here is how I read about elders..

The Holy Spirit sends Saul and Barnabas to preach the gospel.

They take off to Galatia, where they preach in 4 different towns. In these 4 towns or cities, 4 local gatherings form. I think they spend about a year "equipping the saints" there.

Then Saul and Barnabas take off, leaving no leadership in the local gatherings whatsoever. Instead I see the local gatherings being led by all the people, all the brothers and sisters of the town.

Then Saul and Barnabas return "acknowledging" elders. Or I would say "recognizing" elders

To me this is not an official ordination, just that they recognized some men that are stronger and wiser in their faith.

Then Paul says to all the brothers and sisters found in the local gatherings... something along the lines of "I have been gone for awhile (about a year), and in my return I have watched you all function together as His Bride. The decisions that have been made were made by a consensus of the body. You will still do this even after I leave, and I am leaving...
so, if a problem, or a crisis happens I want you to look to these "elders" that I have recognized, because they are more mature in Christ. So, during a problem, listen to what they have to say and then make the consensus decision."

So as for a number of elders.. no idea, but the Lord will guide that need as His Body gathers.


Matthew S. Ford said...

Your comments on mentoring spoke to me. I have come to see recently that I could use some consistent mentoring but I am not sure that I know anyone qualified and willing to do so. It seems like most of the mature men are too busy.

Arthur Sido said...


That is a very valid comment and a troubling one. We are so busy that we barely have time for our families, much less the church and functioning as the Body of Christ. Not sure what to do about it though. I think that wherever we can simplify our lives we should. I may put a post together on this very subject.

Unknown said...

One approach is to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In that it is not clear from scripture than there is leeway. An assessment of the maturity of the members might dictate the proportion of elders. If all are mature the proportionate number would therefore be small and if many are babies in the Lord the number might rise proportionately. There is a book that purports to speak to this mater:
The Trellis and the Vine [Hardcover]
Colin Marshall (Author), Tony Payne (Author)

Ur Man CD said...

There you go again King Arthur, stirring up the pot, making all these contentious and controversial suggestions. Listen, just because it's in the Bible, just because it's something that should make all believer aspire to maturity in Christ, just because it's something that would bring glory to God and be attractive to those seeking to live for Jesus and just because it would allow the church to further blossom and become the Body that Christ intends, just because it will do all these things, there's no need to SAY it. What next? You'll be expecting us to live up to these principles as if some day we will see Christ as He is!!!

Thanks as ever King Arthur for a thoroughly challenging article.