Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Repost: What is the right number of elders?

I have been thinking a bit about elders for the last week or so. It is a topic I used to write about more, usually to decry single elder model churches and professionalized ministry, but it also is a topic that I have long thought gets little more than a perfunctory examination from the broader church. Often elders are simply either staff to be hired (or fired) or just a handful of older guys who have been around a while. In Biblical reality the elders of the church are some of the most important men, even if the elders don't "preach" or more accurately to be said, teach, from the pulpit because they are supposed to embody the qualities and characteristics that every Christian man should be striving toward. The qualities that mark a man as an appropriate candidate to be an elder are qualities that every single Christian man should be striving toward. None will ever reflect perfectly what God has decreed are the praiseworthy attributes of a man of God but each and every one of us should see the lists in 1 Timothy and Titus as our own marching orders even if we never hold the title of elder.

Thus my repost briefly touching on the topic of elders in the church and how many a local church should have. The usual notion is "not very many" and I get why that is, primarily because so few men have the qualities that would make them eligible to be an elder, but I don't think that a small handful of men is always the right ratio. What do you think?


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?

1 comment:

Kevin said...

I absolutely agree that every mature, godly man should be recognized as such, i.e., as an elder. Like most practices in the modern western church, the quantity and function of elders is dictated by human wisdom and not the wisdom that is from on high.