Tag Archive | Church

Church Leadership

What is an elder? A biblical elder is a godly qualified man that labors and serves the local church through leadership and teaching. He meets all the qualifications outlined by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9. He is an under-shepherd that seeks to exalt Christ in all he does. He is not the head of the church but seeks to faithfully carry out the will of Christ.
 
I believe the terms “pastor/shepherd” (poimen Eph. 4:11), “elder” (presbuteros Acts 14:23, 20:17, Titus 1:6), “overseer/bishop” (episkopos Phil. 1:1, 1 Tim. 3:2), and “minister” (diakonos 1 Timothy 3:8) all mean the same thing (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5-7; 1 Peter 5:1-3) and only serve to emphasis different aspects of an elder’s calling. Senior pastor, youth pastor, lead pastor, lay pastor are all contemporary terms. They may not be bad in themselves but are not biblical. They reflect contemporary culture more than they do biblical teaching. In this paper, I will be referring to the office as simply elder.
 
Why elders? Although the form of church government is nowhere commanded in the Bible, it at least clearly appears that in the majority of situations a plurality of qualified elders shepherded the church. This is seen from various places. In fact, I cannot think of a New Testament example where it appears that there was not at least two elders. Although there is no explicit text commanding this form of government we feel it is the best option since it appears that this is the form of government in the New Testament church.
 
Biblical examples of a plurality of elders. In the Old Testament we see examples of shared godly leadership. “Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people” (Ex. 18:25) as his father-in-law suggested. There are also other examples of elders in the Old Testament (Lev. 4:15; Ex. 3:16–18; Deut. 21:18–21; 27:1; 31:9; 2 Sam. 5:3; 1 Kings 20:7-8).
 
In the Manual of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in the “Statement on Church Government” “a foundation for strengthening the role of elders” is laid (p. 205). It is pointed out that 
 
“The synagogue was under the management of “elders” (Luke 7:1–5) who seem to have had disciplinary and administrative authority as well as religious…
Because of their heritage, New Testament leaders likely knew and used the synagogue models for the organization of the church… This might explain the fact that the New Testament gives no historical record of the institution of the eldership as it does with the Seven (Acts 6). Much of the church’s organization is assumed in the New Testament rather than argued… However, development in the church’s organization is found in the New Testament.
Christian elders are first mentioned in Acts 11:30 as an existing institution. It is possible that some of the first Christians were already (Jewish) elders and continued in a similar capacity in the early church… Throughout the Book of Acts the elders are seen to be leaders of the church (Acts 14:23, 15:2, 20:17, 21:18).”
All over the New Testament we see that churches didn’t have an elder (sg.) but elders (pl.) (cf. Acts 14:23; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1; James 5:15). In fact, Paul didn’t think a church was as it should be until it had a plurality of elders (Titus 1:5). Paul left Titus in Crete that he “might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town.” The churches were therefore out of order it seems until a plurality of elders was established there. We also see shared leadership in various other New Testament passages (1 Cor. 16:15-16; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:7,17,24 and Paul was almost always accompanied by another leader on his missionary journeys cf. for ex. Acts 13:1-5, 13; 14:14; 15:35-41; 16:3,19; 17:1,10,15-16; 18:2-3,18 not to mention Luke) so this teaching does not arrive from some isolated passage. Rather, we see a good case can be made for shared leadership, i.e., a plurality of elders.
 
What are the biblical qualifications for an elder? Paul gives a fairly long list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 yet his list is not exhaustive. An elder must be (1) above reproach, (2) a one woman man, (3) sober-minded, (4) self-controlled, (5) respectable, (6) hospitable, (7) able to teach, (8) in good standing with outsiders, (9) gentle, (10) able to manage his household well and have faithful children (or child), (11) disciplined, (12) upright, (13) holy, and (14) firm in the faith and thus able to teach, exhort, and rebuke (Titus 1:9). Further an elder must not be (15) addicted to substances, (16) violent, (17) argumentative, (18) greedy, (19) a new Christian, or (20) arrogant.
 
What is a deacon? The book of Acts tells us that the Apostles were dedicating so much time to serve tables that they didn’t have enough time to do what the Lord had called them to do and thus they had neglected “prayer and the ministry of the word.” Therefore, they appointed seven men that would serve the church’s needs and thus free up time for the Apostles (Acts 6:2-4). This, you could say, is the first installation of the office of deacon. It is here that we most clearly see the rule of deacons. They serve the external needs of the flock so that those entrusted with the task of ministering to the internal needs have the time to do so. That is not to say that deacons cannot also teach, they can (see Acts 6:5; 7:2-53) but their primary role is to serve the church to free the elders for prayer and the ministry of the word.
 
After Paul told Timothy what the qualifications for elders were he said, “Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well (1 Tim. 3:8-13).
 
Therefore, although it is often confused, in Scripture deacons and elders have different but complementary roles. Elders are to be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2) and “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). The elders primary ministry is “prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Whereas, for deacons there is no qualification regarding teaching because that is not their main responsibility, they serve the church in a different way.
 
The practical advantage to having biblical functioning deacons and elders is that it frees the elders up to do what they are called and responsible to do: pray and teach. It is also practical because you have the elders, i.e. overseers and shepherds, overseeing the direction of the church. This is significant because it is the elders and not the deacons that have been formally recognized to “hold firm to the trustworthy word” (Titus 1:9). Elders have proven themselves able in both character and scriptural wisdom to guide the church. Thus the office of elder and deacon is different but complementary.
 
What do elders do? To arrive at the precise function of this elder-overseer-shepherd we must look at various texts and descriptions. Elders are to protect (Acts 20:28–31), shepherd (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1–3), teach (Titus 1:9), anoint the sick (James 5:14), represent the congregation (Acts 11:30), and make policy decisions (Acts 15:6, 22). An elder is to intercede in prayer on behalf of people (Acts 6:4). He is to plead with people on behalf of God (Acts 6:1-7). He is to preach, teach, rebuke, and counsel with love and patience (2 Tim. 2:4; Col. 1:28-29). He is to oversee, lead, and protect the flock. In all of these things he is to humbly and happily serve (Jn. 13:14-15; 1 Peter 5:1-5). Those who labor especially hard at preaching and teaching are worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17).
 
Woman elders? Probably the most debated topic here is whether or not women can be elders. This post can only briefly discuss this subject.
I am convinced that Scripture does not allow women to hold the office of elder though there is a lot woman can do. We do not want to minimize the rule of woman, they are vital and a vast blessing to the church! For example Paul had woman co-laborers (cf. Rom. 16:1-15l Phil. 4:2,3). And I would like to see an increase in women practicing the teaching that Paul talks of in Titus 2:3-5.
 
Let’s briefly look at some of the relevant passages. First, an elder is supposed to be a one woman man (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:5) which a woman obviously cannot be. Second, Jesus set the precedence for male leadership because He called twelve men as His apostles (Lk. 6:13) although he had close relationships with women (e.g. Mary and Martha). Even when Judas’ spot as an apostle had to be filled only men were considered (Acts 1:24). This was in keeping with male leadership established at creation (cf. Gen. 2:18-25). Third, every passage in the New Testament that deals with marital relationships says that a wives should submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:1,4,5; 1 Peter 3:1-6). This should lead us away from saying that wives submitting to their husbands was merely based on the cultural context. Further, Paul takes us all the way back to Genesis in his argument, which in my opinion means that woman submitting to their husbands is not just a cultural mandate. It is rather the way it was from the beginning. If Paul says that woman should not exercise authority over men in the context of the church and grounds it in Genesis than he applies it to various churches in his own day and various cultures. If what Paul says holds true from Genesis to his own day than it surly applies to ours as well (Gen. 2:20-23; 1 Cor. 11:8-9; 14:34-38; 1 Tim. 2:11-14).
 
Of course, submission does not mean that women are any less than men in person or character; only that they have a different role. Adam and Eve were both created in the image of God. Similarly, Jesus is not any less than God His Father yet they have different roles. Jesus submits to His Father (Jn. 3:35; 8:21-47; 14:41; 17:1-5; 1 Cor. 11:3; 15:24-28).
 
Practical advantages to a biblically qualified plurality of elders. A qualified plurality of elders is very practical in the life of the church. First, there are many advantages to qualified leadership. If the elders are biblically qualified than the church should have mature and loving Christians leading the direction of the church rather than some who may be less spiritually mature. If elders are holy and able to teach than they should have biblical wisdom and be able to make good decisions for the church. On the other hand, if the general members are making the majority of the decisions then at least some new Christians (contra 1 Tim. 3:6) will be influential in guiding the direction of the church.
 
Second, a plurality of leadership is helpful for accountability. I, for instance, have been under two pastors that fell to grave sin and left their families and church. They were the sole pastor of their church and didn’t have the accountability that they should have. I believe that if they had fellow elders to encourage them and keep them accountable things may have been very different. A plurality of leadership is also very helpful in decision making. The Proverbs attest to this: “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” and “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; cf. 10:17; 12:15; 19:20; 20:18; 24:6; Eccl. 9:17-18).
 
Conclusion. Although there is not a formal command saying that churches must have a plurality of qualified leaders I believe that it is in fact the most biblical model and thus it the best and has the most practical advantages.

The Hospitality of God and our Hospitality

First, what even is hospitality? What does it mean? It means “love for the stranger” or “to befriend a stranger.”[1] One definition says hospitality is having “regard for one who comes from outside one’s group.” That is exactly what God has done for us. God is perfectly holy and exalted and yet He has regard for us. 

The Lord God has regarded us—loved us—even welcomed us into the Triune fellowship (see e.g. Jn. 20:17), we who were sinners and strangers. And He did so with great cost to Himself.[2] And we see from the Gospels that Jesus was a friend (philos) of those we would expect to remain strangers and outsiders, people like tax collectors and other sinners (see Matt. 11:19), sinners like you and me.[3] And so Paul says, “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7).

When we understand the amazing hospitality of God we will find it easier to love and welcome people in. Understanding the hospitality of God is essential as we think about the hospitality that we are called to practice. Because, in one sense, hospitality is supernatural. It is certainly not natural to us. We need to meditate on the hospitality of God if we hope to be hospitable as we are called to. 

It is true, however, that even “secular people” who don’t know God’s love show surprising generous hospitality (cf. Acts 28:2,7[4]). So, how much more should Christians, who have been welcomed in by God with great expense, welcome in and love others?

The LORD has shown undeserved love to us in Christ may we show love to others (Ex. 23:9; Lev. 19:18, 34; Deut. 10:17-20).

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On the Frequency of the Lord’s Supper

There are a variety of practices regarding the frequency of the Lord’s Supper. Some celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday and others only once a year. The Westminster Directory of Public Worship says “The communion, or supper of the Lord, is frequently to be celebrated; but how often, may be considered and determined by the ministers… of each congregation, as they shall find most convenient for their charge.” I agree that the Lord’s Supper is to be frequently celebrated and I appreciate the leeway that the Directory acknowledges.

With that being said, I think it’s ideal that the Lord’s Supper be celebrated every Sunday.[1] There is no command in Scripture for this but it seems from my reading of Scripture to be the practice of the early church (see Act 2:42, 46; 20:7; 1 Cor. 10:14ff; 11). It is also a vital element of the gathered worship of the church and is a picture of the gospel so I think we would be wise to include it in the gathered worship of the church every Lord’s Day.

Notice that in Acts 2:42, it says “the bread” (the definite article in Greek precedes the noun bread) and so this seems to refer to more than just eating together. It should also be noted that “breaking of the bread” is listed along with other practices that were common or characteristic of the early church.[2] Also, upon studying 1 Corinthians 11 my understanding of the text is that Paul expected that the Corinthians were and should partake of the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day. But they should do it in a worthy manner.

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Things to remember from Timothy Keller’s book Center Church

1. “Moralistic behavior change bends a person into a different pattern through fear of consequences rather than melting a person into a new shape. But this does not work. If you try to bend a piece of metal without the softening effect of heat, it is likely to snap back to its former position. This is why we see people try to change through moralistic behaviorism find themselves repeatedly lapsing into sin… But the gospel of God’s grace doesn’t try to bend a heart into a new pattern; it melts it and re-forms it into a new shape. The gospel can produce a new joy, love, and gratitude—new inclinations of the heart that eat away at deadly self-regard and self-concentration” (Timothy Keller, Center Church [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012], p. 67).
 
2. “It is quite easy to assume that if we understand the gospel accurately and preach it faithfully, our ministry will necessarily be shaped by it—but this is not true. Many churches subscribe to gospel doctrines but do not have a ministry that is shaped by, centered on, and empowered through the gospel. Its implications have not yet worked their way into the fabric of how the church actually does ministry” (Timothy Keller, Center Church, p. 28).

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Church Liturgy

We will worship so we must worship wisely. Intentional liturgy is vital. As the gathered church we purport to worship the Lord, we must do so in an intentionally biblical and wise way.

By my calculations, most Christians probably spend around half a year of their life participating in the gathered worship of the church. It’s important that we make the best use of that time! Especially when it’s time that’s intentionally set aside to worship the LORD. Further, the Sunday gathering is one of the primary ways that the church gathered can be equipped to be the church scattered.

It is of utmost importance that the liturgy of the gathered church be very deliberate.[1] Even simple, seemingly insignificant, things in worship communicate doctrine and teach people. This is true of terminology (e.g. “priest” or “pastor”), architecture (simple or elaborate; God’s people are the temple or the building is the temple), positioning (where the person stands when doing the Lord’s Supper or the prominence of the pulpit), and furniture (altar or table). These are all important things to consider and have implications because they communicate certain things even if not explicitly.

The Meaning of Liturgy

Liturgies have been in use in Christian worship from the earliest of times[2] so it’s important that we consider what liturgy means and its place in the life of the church. Allen P. Ross says “liturgy is a perfectly good biblical word and need not be avoided as something foreign to historic Christianity. The noun is leitourgia, literally ‘the work of the people’; it means a service or a ministry.”[3] The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms says, “Liturgy came to designate the church’s official (or unofficial) public and corporate ritual of worship, including the Eucharist (or Communion), baptism and other sacred acts. Certain ecclesiastical traditions (such as Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican) follow a set pattern of worship (the liturgy), whereas many Protestant churches prefer a less structured style. This gives rise to the distinction sometimes made between ‘liturgical’ and ‘nonliturgical’ churches.”[4]

Spectrum of Liturgy

All churches have a liturgy but some churches seem to be less intentional about their liturgy. It seems some churches operate on a default liturgy. A pastor may inherit a liturgy from the previous pastor and it remains essentially unchanged for a few generations. That, however, is problematic for a few reasons. As Timothy C.J. Quill has said, “Worship practice reflects and communicates the beliefs of the church. Liturgy articulates doctrine.”[5]

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What is Expository Preaching?

What is expository preaching? What are the duties of the pastor and the role of the congregation? 

Expositional preaching has three main characteristics. First, the passaged that is preached on is a single passage rather than various passages put together. Second, the main point or theme of the sermon is derived from the theme or main point of the passage. That is, expositional preaching seeks to exposit the text that is preached. Third, expositional preaching is typically lectio continua—that is, it is preaching that consecutively works through passages of Scripture in their biblical context.[1]

Here are two of my favorite definitions: 

“Expository preaching is that mode of Christian preaching that takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of the text of the Bible. All other concerns are subordinated to the central task of presenting the biblical text. As the Word of God, the text of Scripture has the right to establish both the substance and the structure of the sermon. Genuine exposition takes place when the preacher sets forth the meaning and message of the biblical text and makes clear how the Word of God establishes the identity and worldview of the church as the people of God”   (R. Albert Mohler Jr., He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Post-Modern World, 65).

“To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and it expose it to view. The expositor pries open what appears to be closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted and unfolds what is tightly packed. The opposite of exposition is ‘imposition,’ which is to impose on the text what is not there. But the ‘text’ in question could be a verse, or a sentence, or even a single word. It could equally be a paragraph, or a chapter, or even a whole book. The size of the text is immaterial, so long as it is biblical. What matters is what we do with it. Whether long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly, without addition, subtraction or falsification” (John Stott, Between Two World, 125-26).

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Do the Work of an Evangelist

Timothy is exhorted by Paul to “do the work of an evangelist.” And work it is, as Paul knew well. The Scripture uses the imagery of sowing seed and reaping a harvest. The picture given in Scripture is not surprisingly an accurate one, and a labor-intensive one.

Sowing seed takes lots of work and lots of time. Further, we are never guaranteed a harvest. The Spirit blows where it wills (Jn. 3:8), though He does use means. We must be faithful to sow and cultivate all the while remembering that God brings the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7). We must labor on even when there is no sign of life. We can rest assured that the gospel is the power to salvation and if we are faithful to sow gospel seed a harvest should come. We must always remember that the seed we sow, the only one that can bring new life, is “the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). In the book of Acts, we see that the Word, when “planted,” continued to increase and prevail mightily. It is only when the word of truth, the gospel, is proclaimed that there is fruit and growth (cf. Col. 1:5-6).

We would do well to remember many of the prophets’ experience and realize sometimes the seasons are long and at times we may see droughts. In these seasons, when there seems to be no life, we must remind ourselves that God’s Word will not return to Him void but it shall accomplish its purpose (Is. 55:10-11). Though, sometimes God uses His Word to harden (cf. Is. 6:9-10; Matt. 13;14-15; Acts 28:26-27) we must continue to be faithful to go to the highways and byways and compel people to come to Him (Lk. 14:23).

We have a difficult task, ye impossible. Hear Spurgeon in The Soul Winner:

“We are sent to say to blind eyes, ‘See,’ To deaf ears, ‘Hear,’ to dead hearts, ‘Live,’ and even to Lazarus rotting in that grave, ‘Lazarus, come forth’ (John 11:43). Dare we do this? We will be wise to begin with the conviction that we are utterly powerless for this unless our Master has sent us and is with us. But if He who sent us is with us, ‘all things are possible to him that believeth’ (Mark 9:23).”[1]

___________

[1] C.H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner (New Kingston, PA: Whitaker House, 1995), 157.        

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