Summary: The role of the elders is to protect, lead, admonish, care for and equip the local church.
Since we have people here at TFC who have come from all kinds of different church backgrounds, we have all been exposed to different models of church leadership and structure. So as we address that topic here for several weeks, this is going to be an area where many of us may struggle with trying to get a handle on the model established by Jesus and the early church leaders. But after spending over a year studying the Biblical model, our elders area absolutely committed to implementing those principles the very best that we can. And as we do that, we need to make sure that our entire body understands and is committed to those principles as well.
We began our study last week by establishing the overall principle that must be our starting point – that of shared leadership. Since that is such a crucial foundation, let’s take a moment to briefly review what we learned last week:
1. Pastoral oversight of the church is to be a team effort
Every New Testament church in Scripture was led by a group of elders. There is absolutely no Biblical example of a single authoritative pastor or any form of hierarchical leadership.
2. The concept of shared leadership allows for a “first among equals”
We do find that within these groups of elders certain men who were particularly gifted in the area of public teaching rose to positions of leadership and influence with those elder bodies. But they were in no way superior to the other elders nor did they assume all the decision making responsibilities.
3. The New Testament uses three different words to describe the same leadership position:
• “presbuteros” = elder
• “episkopos” = overseer or bishop
• “poimen” = pastor or shepherd
All three terms help us to understand the role of the elders within the body. They are spiritually mature men who oversee the spiritual development of the members of the body and care for the needs of the flock. We’re going to explore those responsibilities in much more detail this morning.
4. Biblical church leadership does not distinguish between “clergy” and “laity”
The distinction between “clergy” and “laity” is a man-made division that is not supported at all by the Bible. Every believer is a royal priest and called to be a minister. Again, we’ll expand on that idea some more today.
Having established a Scriptural foundation for the concept of shared leadership, we’re going to focus today on the role of the elders within a local body. In order to do that, we’re going to look at a couple of passages that describe that role and then see if we can develop a good overall picture of the role of the elders within the body.
The two passages that we’ll look at are ones that we touched on last week, but we’ll go back and draw out some additional information this week. The first is from Paul’s address to the elders from the church in Ephesus in Acts 20.
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Acts 20:28-35 (ESV)
The second passage is Peter’s exhortation to his fellow elders in 1 Peter 5.
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”