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.

Ok then.

Some links that have really helped in coming to these conclusion:

simple minded preacher

Biblical Eldership Book

Sovereign Grace Ministries


8 thoughts on “Church Leadership

  1. Sam,

    While there is no single, clear “this is how you do it”, I think we are given many clues, some obvious, some not so much. When the church began they didn’t just start from scratch. They had a model, the high priest, the Sanhedren, the elders, the council. They were all Jewish and that’s all they knew and I suspect that that is what they adopted, at least in the beginning.

    Then the church spread through persecution and evanglism into the Gentile world. Very likely they exported some of that into these new churches, like the elders in Ephesus. (Interesting to note that those elders were new believers, and later Paul tell Timothy not to lay hands on a man suddenly or to put new believers in those positions.) Later we read Paul telling Timothy and Titus to appoint elders, bishops, deacons. I know elders are Strauch’s big thing, but I just don’t buy into his interpretation of things. I think he ignores some things and over emphasises some others.

    It seems to be that if Tim (and Titus) was instructed to appoint these people, that he was in authority over them. To me, this sounds very much like a pastor/elder situation. A pastor, responsible for the leadership and direction of the church, and elders to help him make it all happen since he can’t/shouldn’t do it alone.

    So while I appreciate the accountability aspects of Strauch’s stuff, I don’t see the first among equals thing in scripture. I think it has to be read into it. I guess I, personally, fall inbetween the strictly CEO model and Stauch model. On the one hand, the pattern I see in scripture is that there is a leader, there is one who speaks for the group, appoints leaders. On the other hand there is obviously a need for accountability, and I believe we see that in scripture as well. I think the Pastor should be free to be the pastor, with the understanding that if he really, really is going off track, he can be removed.

  2. Corby, I’m still largley working through all of this and I appricate your insights. I could do with some more in depth reading on this. Do you have any book recommendations that would counter Strauch’s bias? I know Justin Alfred as written a paper on the church leadership but this is proving hard to get hold of.

  3. Sam,
    Thank you for this thoughtful post. My comment is to ask whether the record we have in the NT is prescriptive or descriptive. If prescriptive, then you are definitely on the right track, looking for a leadership model that most accurately reflects the NT structures and practices. If descriptive, then maybe your task is to discover how God wishes you to set up your new congregation in this age, culture and context, which may be quite different from the age, culture and context of Paul.

  4. It seems to me that Timothy and Titus were Paul’s fellow-workers, not officials in any church. Paul sent them to various churches to establish the companies of believers there. Part of their work was the appointment of elders.

    The thought of a single pastor, teaching elder, or pre-eminent overseer seems entirely foreign to Scripture. Whenever we read about the oversight of a specific church in the NT, the role seems to be a plural one. (By the way, it seems to me that ‘elders’, ‘overseers’, and ‘bishops’ are all the same thing – just different words)

    The apostles and their delegates (Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, etc) had no official role within any local church as far as I can see. They were men who moved about the world reaching men for Christ, teaching them and establishing churches. Once the church was established, they moved on. They didn’t stay and ‘run the show’.

    I believe that Scriptural example is a strong statement of God’s will. If the Tabernacle (which Scripture calls a mere shadow of the church) had to be built according to the pattern, wouldn’t you think that God would want his church built according to a pattern also? The New Testament must provide this pattern.

    I recently bought a book in a second-hand bookstore which had some good thoughts on this topic. It’s called “The Church at Work” by Brian Gunning. I recommend it.

  5. hey morningmeditations, thanks for stopping by. I’m intrigued by your statement that Timothy and Titus were Paul’s fellow workers. Six of Paul’s epistles include Timothy in the greeting (2 Cor. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Th. 1:1; 2 Th. 1:1; Phile. 1) – I can either asertain from Scriptures that they moved around alot and were, as you say, apostolic delegates, or that the letters were passed from one church to another which we know was common practise.

    What they clearly had was authority – whther their own or from Paul. So I guess the question would be .. are there any extra biblical writings to support Timothy or Titus as holding positions in a church or being apostolic delegates?

  6. church tradition has Timothy as overseer/pastor/bishop of Ephesus until he was murdered by a mob. Titus was the overseer/pastor/bishop of Crete.

    how reliable is this tradition?

  7. hey, I cam here from the SMP page… you have some good stuff…
    I have information that in may calvary Chapels the Moses style is not even practiced, but its rather several pastors/elders co leading the church…
    Also I know few in CC have told church not to put into the distinctives the chapter on leadership and told him that the reason is, many people dont do it that way… And I thing it is cool that He is fine with that, and he has the right to put how he does it into his book too… 🙂

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