This is a question that has consumed me over the last few weeks: In the New Testament what kind of leadership structure was in operation? Is there a structure that has a clear biblical mandate? I word it like that, instead of “Is there a biblical structure” because you can have a structure that contains biblical principles but doesn’t have a clear mandate from scripture. As a person that is planting a church (having sole responsibility) I essentially want to set up a leadership structure that has a clear biblical mandate. I’m also conscious that bias can lead to unbiblical practice – I’m keen to steer away from this.
So, is there a clear biblical mandate when it comes to church leadership structure or polity as it is known? Well, the obvious answer is “no”. Why obvious? Well the fact that there have been questions rattling around in my mind concerning this, and that there is always a mass of debate that ensues questions like this leads me to that conclusion. It seems that at every turn in my quest to answer this question there iss someone else advocating their own exclusively indispensable brand of leadership insight. I have covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time and I’m indebted to the guys at Simple Minded Preacher for helping in this. I guess it would be helpful to define some models before I go any further:
· The “senior pastor” model ~ one man is responsible to hear from God and lead the church fellowship according to what he hears. People have referred to this as the “Moses Model” (with little justification in my opinion) or the “CEO model”.
· The “congregational” model ~ the whole church is responsible for its direction. Although these churches often have a man that leaders the church it is only a pseudo leadership role because the minister doesn’t really have any authority.
· The “plurality of elders” model ~ a group of men who are equal in authority govern the church.
It quickly became evident in my studies that the congregational model of church polity was completely unbiblical. To give one member one vote, and then vote on absolutely everything is unscriptural. The only place that is found in scripture is when the people elected a replacement for Judas. We never read of Matthias again, instead God chooses Saul. Democracy isn’t for the church. Theocracy is. But the question remains: if God is ruling the church (Christ is head of the church right?) then how do we discover his will and direct the fellowship of believers in His will?
My conclusion from the New Testament is that there is no clear, obvious biblical structure that is laid out for the church.
So how are we to govern ourselves? Well, I’ve just finished reading “Biblical Eldership” by Alexander Strauch. His twofold goal is “first, to help clarify the biblical doctrine of eldership and second, to help church elderships function more effectively” (p11). Seems like just what I need. And it was! Strauch argues that church polity is led by elders or overseers. He lists 6 things in this regard:
1. Elders lead the church.
2. Elders shepherd the church.
3. Elders share in the leadership of the church.
4. Elders are from among the male population within the church.
5. Elders must be biblically qualified to lead the church.
6. Elders are the servants of Christ for the church.
All good so far! But there was one part of the book that hit me like nothing else: “Primus inter pares”. It means “first among equals”. The whole concept makes the teaching “pastor” a “first among equals” as a member of the eldership team. This is such a priceless perspective, because it not only enables the pastor’s weaknesses to be balanced by the leadership team, but it provides the ever important accountability that is lacking in many CEO model churches.
I have come to the conclusion that the role of lead pastor is good and scriptural so long as it is based upon a leadership team that is coequal in authority and responsibility. Indeed, I am certain that biblical leadership is a shared endeavour but is structured and implemented by a central figure. My main reasons for stating this are:
1. While the Old Testament offers the hall of faith, of people that remind us of God’s practice of using one to influence many, the fact remains that in the New Testament Jesus chose 12 men. BUT, even though he chose 12 men Peter was undoubtedly given a very uniquely prominent role.
2. Also, the whole concept of the council of elders comes from Jewish culture whereby a synagogue was ruled by a group of co-equal men. However, each council had a chairman or ruler of the synagogue.
3. A plurality of eldership with no lead pastor is appealing to those that seek to prevent leadership mistakes, and drifting into theological error. It is not set up for expansion but protection.
4. A plurality of eldership with no lead pastor often results in situations where no one voice unites the eldership and speaks authoritatively on its behalf. The result of this is that church members gravitate to their favourite elder, which develops independent identities within the church.
5. A plurality of eldership with no lead pastor makes accountability difficult and diminishes responsibility. (Where everyone is responsible, no one is responsible).
6. A plurality of eldership with no lead pastor means that the most vocal or most gifted elder to all intents and purposes becomes the lead pastor. This compromises the veracity of the eldership in their attempts to make a representation of unity.
7. The spiritual gift of leadership makes not sense if there is a plurality of eldership with no lead pastor.
OK, so what does all of this mean? Well as a church planter it means that I first of all need to make sure that I am building an all male, biblically qualified servant leadership team. A team that leads and shepherds the church of God under the direction and example of a lead pastor.
Some links that have really helped in coming to these conclusion: