Thursday, March 08, 2012

Repost: What is the right number of elders?

Thinking more about this. How many elders should the church have? That is a question that seems to be settled in lots of congregations. Many churches have an artificial number, all too often one or sometimes three or another number chosen for some extra-biblical reason and clung to through the years. Or perhaps there is a ratio, for X number of "laypersons" there should be "Y" number of elders. I think this mindset misses the mark.

I wrote about this last year and was thinking about it again. Bottom line, if the pastor of your church and the other elders (hopefully there are more than one) aren't focused on equipping other men to be elders, they aren't fulfilling their calling. If men are part of a local church for years and not either Biblically qualified or well on their way to being qualified, the pastors and elders of that church are failing them. All things being equal, the more more elders the better and equipping men to be elders is a crucial and non-negotiable function of the local church.

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 elders to laity? The Bible is silent on the right number 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?

1 comment:

Frank said...

An excellent article.
However I believe a major false doctrine of all churches is that elders are only elders by appointment of the officialdom. Those who are not appointed therefore remain apparently powerless and sit in the pews as a passive audience.
Just imagine what it would be like if all the mature members of a church functioned in their anointing! Why can't they?

The belief that all mature men SHOULD BE appointed to eldership, is approaching the truth. It is obviously far better than the usual methodology of only 2 or 3 elders, but still misses the truth. Biblical truth makes it clear that all spiritually mature men ARE already elders, for that is what the word means. The false notion that only officialdom can create elders, only serves to block the flow of anointing, not release it.

In opposition to my comments, Titus1 obviously comes to mind, where Paul commands them to ordain elders in every church. However a simple but accurate read will show that Paul never, ever, called anyone to be appointed into being an elder.
On the contrary Paul, was actually calling certain EXISTING ELDERS to be appointed as OVERSEERS, which is a very different theology indeed.

With great care, consider this imaginary example.
A denominational council meeting decides to reinvigorate its ministry with the children. It sends a circular to all the local churches.
"For the new work of the children's ministry it is decided that IN ALL THE CONGREGATIONS WE MUST APPOINT WOMEN. These ministers should be.......etc."

A simple question needs to be asked here. IS THE COUNCIL APPOINTING PEOPLE TO BECOME WOMEN? Or is the council perhaps appointing women to become ministers to the children.

If the latter is correct, then we should also ask why we presume that Paul is appointing anyone to become an elder. It denied the text, and denies the following verse where it describes the requirements of an overseer, not the requirements of an elder.
Simply put, nobody could become an overseer unless he was a mature respected member of the church. An elder.
The way people read Titus defies the normal way we would read such a text! It also defies all the other uses of the word elder in scripture. An elder is a mature or older person, and cannot be achieved by mere appointment. It is a state we grow into.

We earthlings have a standard way we always organise institutions. We do it hierarchically, we appoint a CEO and then construct various ranks beneath him.
Hierarchy permits commands to flow downwards, and information to flow upwards. When we read the bible we simply project our tree of knowledge comprehension into it.
This hierarchical system will always be necessary until we find a CEO, who has a hotline to his every member, and is also omniscient.
Ah yes, of course we already have that don't we.
Sadly, like Israel, we continue to demand of God, "Give us a king, like the nations (organisations etc) around us.