Summary: God's plan for the leadership of the local church is shared leadership by a group of godly elders.
The mission of our church is:
To develop mature disciples who follow, serve and proclaim Jesus as Messiah.
As the elders developed that mission statement at our retreat almost two years ago, we also began to develop a Biblical structure for the organization and leadership of our church that would facilitate the carrying out of our mission. As part of that process we have spent over a year studying that Biblical structure and working to implement it here at TFC.
But our church will never be effective in our mission if it is only the elders who understand and “buy in” to what the Bible teaches about how a New Testament church is to operate. So for the next four weeks, we’ll be sharing some of the things that we have learned during this process so that together we can all work to put these principles into practice in order to be more effective in doing what God has called us to do.
We’ll begin this morning with an overall principle that is the key to everything else we’ll look at for the next few weeks:
1. Pastoral oversight of the church is to be a team effort
There are a number of different church leadership structures that exist today. Many of them are top-down authoritative models similar to what one might find in a business organization that has a board of directors which sets policies and overall direction for the business and then a Chief Executive Officer who is responsible for carrying out the wishes of the board, usually through numerous levels of management. In this kind of structure there is a clear distinction between “clergy” – those who govern the church - and “laity” – those who are subject to the governing authority of the “clergy”. But as we’ll discover this morning, that kind of leadership model is certainly not Biblical.
What we’ll find this morning is that there is a great deal of consistency in the New Testament when it comes to the leadership model that Jesus has established for His church. And since it is indeed His church, it seems like the best place to begin is with…
• The example of Jesus
During his three year ministry here on earth, one of the most important things that Jesus did was to develop a group of leaders who would be able to carry on His work after His death and resurrection. And it is clear that Jesus entrusted that responsibility to a group of men rather than just one individual. And among that group of twelve apostles we see no evidence of any kind of structure in which one of those men was elevated to a role similar to a CEO in which he was in authority over the others.
To be sure, as we’ll see in a moment, there were those who rose to a more prominent and public leadership role within that group, but there is absolutely no evidence that any one of the twelve was an authoritative leader among that group. In fact, when the mother of James and John came to Jesus and asked Him to elevate her sons to a position of authority, Jesus responded with these words:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Matthew 20:25-28 (ESV)
• The example of Paul
Although Paul was instrumental in planting many churches, especially among the Gentiles in Asia Minor, we find that one of the most important parts of his ministry was to develop teams of leaders in those local churches. In Acts 14 we read the account of how Paul and Barnabas ministered among the churches in Derbe, Iconium, Lystra, and Anitoch. At the end of the account, we see that Paul and Barnabas appointed a group of elders in each of those churches:
And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Acts 14:23 (ESV)
We don’t have time to look at all of them this morning, but both in the accounts of his ministry in the Book of Acts and in several of his letters, we find that Paul’s consistent practice was to develop a group of elders to lead each local church. There is absolutely no evidence that there was ever a single authoritative leader or “senior pastor” in any of these congregations. That is confirmed by the fact that Paul always refers to “elders” (plural) and never to “an elder” (singular).