This message was preached by Gary Welsh at Gather 2015 Conference at Igatpuri on July 22nd 2015.
When we think of eldership we might get an idea which is not entirely biblical. I grew up with the Baptist church model of 1 pastor who had 12 deacons. I did not know any other model of church government.
In Phil 1, we have a very simple and biblical church government. We don’t need anything else. We do not need the right Reverend or Reverend Father or Pastor, deacons or anything.
Phil 1: 1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,to all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons
Here we have a biblical structure of government.
Q. Why do you think we need anything different?
There is Paul, an apostle, writing to the elders in the local church and deacons. If you don’t have any apostolic relationship, get some. Give some authority away to apostolic leadership. Local church eldership is very important, but they also need apostolic leadership.
Today, we have many voices that speak to us. There is nothing wrong with it, but we need to know who is the main voice. Who is leading you?
Timothy- when you work with an apostolic man like Steve, he will send other people in. Timothy went with the authority of Paul to help the Philippi an church.
The structure is that there is no THE pastor/elder. It’s a team of pastors and elders.
1 Tim 3:1-7
1. Elders are pastors, who are shepherds, who are bishops, who are overseers, etc. All these terms apply to the same group of people. Each of them will tell us something about their role but it addresses the same group of people. The second century church began to use these terms in other ways and then came up with new words. We’ve taken these words and used them as titles. They are not intended to be titles.
In many cultures, there is a godly desire to give honour to the elders. But the concern when you use these terms is that we must make sure that it doesn’t create a divide in the relationship.
It’s very good for us in the church to restore respect to the ones in eldership, but I don’t think we should use names from the Bible to do that. Paul talks about himself as an apostle, but he’s never apostle Paul. He does not write to Pastor Timothy, but to Timothy, my dear son.
2. Eldership has its roots in the Old Testament. It served the church to draw it forward. It’s a term people could understand. Shepherd/ Pastor was understood as a leadership role. In UK, shepherds use dogs to help and in that way we have pastors and apostles. The early church did not call their leaders priests. Why were there no priests? We are all priests with one High Priest i.e. Jesus.
3. Elders are appointed. Titus 1
Paul writes to Titus, I left you in Crete to put things straight and to appoint elders. Elders are not elected. If we did, we’d have electoral hearings, etc. and it’s unhealthy.
In a mature church, it is done within the local church. A new church will need others to appoint the elders.
4. Elders are of good character. They should be an example of a godly man. They should not be exceptions. There should be lots of people in the local church who could be chosen as elders.
No elder has had to step down due to the lack of gifting. But we do have to ask men to stand down due to character problems. With our eldership teams, what’s important is to discuss what’s going on in our lives.
Q. Who asks you about your life, your finances, your marriage?
Someone needs to ask you about your sex life- the kind of questions that a friend can ask. If no one is asking these questions, we could be in a dangerous place.
5. Prepare the church for works of service. It’s not just the elders who are active and the remaining church is passive. Our primary role is to prepare the church for doing works. So gospel advance is not just on Sunday. Outside of revival, when revival is not happening, the gospel gets advanced because I’m talking to my friends about the gospel.
Q. What is Biblical eldership?
The local church eldership is extremely important. It should be atleast a team of three men. When I have planted churches earlier, I’ve waited till there are 3 people I can appoint. These elders can be married or single. That team will have a leader. There are different giftings, different personalities and different measure of gifting. Different elders lead on different issues, but someone needs to lead the team.
Elders are appointed to govern, guide and guard the church. Eldership teams work effectively when there are deacons. Deacons have leadership role to help lead in different areas. It’s a recognized leadership office. The difference between elders and deacons is that elders take responsibility for the whole church whereas deacons can lead just specific areas.
The role of elder’s wives- they should be released into all things that he is gifted with. She is not an elder or a secret elder.
Finally, eldership is not simply functional. It is relational. We need to love one another.
Word of Grace is an Evangelical (Born Again), Spirit filled (Charismatic), Reformed, English speaking church in Pune that upholds the Bible as God's inspired Word for life. We are a church community that have people from every part of India and parts of the world. We are here to put the Great Command and the Great Commission into practice by equipping and releasing every member into works of service. To know more about us please log onto www.wordofgracechurch.org.
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