“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


I am posting this because of a conversation I recently had concerning elders. I was talking with some folks in a denomination (that denies it is a denomination) that has an ecclesiastical model built around the fact that the pastor is the ruling authority with elders 'reporting' to him.

This group argues (rightly so, in my opinion) against many of the ecclesiastical structures that are in the church, and they make the statement that they have formed their structure in order to prevent the pastor from becoming a 'hireling'.

While, I agree with some of their argumentation, I feel that they have swung the pendulum too far the other way by making the pastor the RULER of the church in which he pastors. Don't misunderstand me; I believe that a pastor is responsible for, and in charge of, caring for the flock. I think my concern is that in the model we are discussing there is far too much RULING in the position.

I am not simply an outside observer either: I came out of one of these churches and it was abused by the pastor, largely because he was the ruler. I was the associate pastor, and my ability to influence and/or change the direction he was heading in was minimal. He also had another elder, who was/is a very Godly, and sincere man. He likewise was stymied in his attempt to 'assist' the pastor in any way.

And since leaving that denomination I have spoken with many others who have had a similar experience to mine. There are many good pastors within this denomination, but the overall structure is (IMHO) unsound. To compound this, the group also has somewhat of a cult of personality regarding the founder, also a dangerous trait.

When planting our current church we (the other elder and I) spent a great deal of time prayerfully going over the government that the church would be guided under. What I am about to write is no news to anyone, but I just want to state it: We opted to go with a plurality of leadership. We found this to be true to the Bible, and we have found over the years that this has prevented me from wandering off into hobby horse theology. My elder firmly, but lovingly, has guided and helped me, and I would like to think that I have done the same for him.

When I say "MY" elder, I sound a bit pretentious, as if I am the ruler, and he is 'my' assistant. I would like to say that this is not the case, I may use that term, but truly we are BOTH elders, I am simply the elder with the pastoral role. When people in our congregation have issues, they feel as comfortable going to him as they do to me, and this keeps a good balance within the authority of the church.

Also, he sharpens me constantly, challenging me,(in a very positive way, and Christian way), and helping me to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. I fear that the RULING position of pastor would cause me to get lazy in my growth. I know that many good men are pastors in churches where they have a different structure, and they are simply better men than I am; I know my weaknesses and am sure that without the challenge of a great elder, I would become complacent about some things that need attention. That is not false humility, but, I fear, a sober assessment of my state!

Anyway, I just wanted to put this up on the blog to make a statement about where I feel government within the church should be. I am sure that many may disagree, and that I may have missed some finer points of the methodology of the aforementioned group, but I have found a plurality of leadership has been very good for our church.


Charles North said...

Thanks Ray. As you probably know, a big emphasis of our "restoration" theology and practice in Churches of Christ is on church "government." We also believe in a plurality of elders. I use the term "shepherd" rather than elder most of the time because the word "elder" sounds very authoritative to people, and the term "pastor" is now applied to the minister. I'm working on a sermon called "Shepherds, not Cowboys" at the moment.

Most of our debate in Churches of Christ now centers on qualifications for elders. We have two list of these qualifications - in Timothy and Titus. We usually blend the two lists together, though I now believe that is not the proper way to deal with these distinctive texts.

Ray said...

Cool, I'd be interested in checking out some of that sermon...

Steve Sensenig said...

Ray, thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. As a result, I've discovered yours, and now have another interesting blog to read each day!

God bless you down there in the Big D. I lived there for a couple of years while attending Dallas Theological Seminary, and then moved to Austin for about 6 years before moving up here to NC.

Under His Grace,
steve :)

Ray said...

Hey Steve! Good to hear from you... I, too, lived in Austin for a brief period...

I will also be stopping by to see you on a regular basis...

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Interesting subject. As I am Brethren in theology, I do not believe there is any authority in the Church today to appoint elders. Such power has been lost with the death of the apostles.

In any case, as the Churhc today is fragmented and divided, any elders can only claim authority over osme saints in a particular denomination, not in the Church of God locally.

I hope you do not mind my giving my opinion here.

Every Blessing in Christ


Ray said...

I never mind you giving your opinion --

Something to think about -- What about Timothy being given the instruction to appoint elders in the church?

He was not an apostle, and there was not really an indicator that it was to end with the apostles, it seemed to be a normative manner in which the church operated...

Just curious as I am not the most familiar with the brethren...

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Some of the Open Brethren appoint elders by some scheme that nobody really understands (invisible politics).

It is not certain that Timothy appointed elders. Titus needed special permission from Paul to do so. Therefore, presumably Timothy would have needed this.

Every Blessing in Christ


Ryan said...

I recently listened to a prominent, creative church leader teach on church growth. It was the most infuriating thing I have heard in years. He maintains that some of the things that hinder a church from growing is appointing elders and catering to "whinning Christians" who want "more worship" and want to "go deeper".

I'll e-mail a link to you.