Pastors & Elders

For over ten years I have been convinced that New Testament churches, churches planted by the Apostles, were led by a plurality of elders—who provided oversight (overseers [bishops in the AV]) and served as shepherds (pastors) of the people of God.  Acts 20:17-28 provides the clearest example of this when Paul calls for the elders of the church at Ephesus and then makes it clear that these men provide the oversight and feed, care for and shepherd the church of God.  See also Acts 15:4 where "church" is singular and elders is plural.

This plurality of elders is often called a council or board (I prefer team).  Elders have as their primary focus the ministry of the Word of God (Acts 6:4). The elders are responsible for governing the church, teaching the Word and tending the flock of God in this church. They focus on the spiritual needs and development of the congregation whereas deacons concentrate on the physical needs of the church.  Together elders and deacons serve the congregation in the fulfillment of the Great Commission to the glory of God.

It bothers me that I see something in the New Testament and we, Berean Baptist, are ignoring what the Bible presents.

When asked the question: ‘Why isn’t Berean led by a plurality of elders like the New Testament presents?’ What should I say? I can’t in good conscience argue against something I definitely see throughout the epistles.  In 1 Tim. 4:14 a council of elders laid hands on Timothy. In James 5:14 the church is to call for the elders.  In 1 Tim. 5:17 Paul refers to elders who labor in preaching and teaching the Word of God. In Phil. 1:1, there is a plurality of overseers.  Plurality protects the congregation from a rogue leader.

I believe a team of elders all approved by the congregation needs to lead Berean.  The council would be made up of lay elders and pastors. Pastors are ordained elders employed by the church; whereas, lay elders are men who meet the biblical qualifications of an overseer in 1 Tim. 3:2-7 whom the church does not pay. (Assistant pastors are men preparing to serve as pastors and serve to extend the ministry of the pastors). I believe the council should consist of 5, 7 or 9 members with the number of lay elders always outnumbering the number of pastors serving on the team. A council of 5 elders would include the senior pastor, the senior associate pastor (Steve Wilson presently) and three other biblically qualified men from the congregation, who can teach the Word of God, would volunteer to serve as elders.  A council of 7 could include another one of the ordained pastors. The elders should not ordain an assistant pastor if they do not think he is ready to serve as an elder (1 Tim. 5:22).

The ability to teach the Word of God is the qualification that most distinguishes an elder from a deacon which is why the congregation needs both offices and why each office has a different focus and responsibility.  Elders (both lay and vocational) concentrate on the spiritual direction and needs of the flock (Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:17).

I believe we need to move forward with constitutional changes to fully incorporate what the New Testament presents into our form of governance.  While we would remain congregational in our form of government; the council of elders would collectively serve to lead the congregation; while the deacons would stay focused on the physical needs of the church (both the people and the facilities).  Ultimately, the authority remains with the flock as the entity that approves (or disapproves) those who serve, the annual budget, expenditures not covered in the budget, new members and missionaries, church discipline, and changes to the church constitution.

What are your questions? Please email me.

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