The Q&A with Dr. Ben Merkle that took place in the Worship Center on February 21 is now available. WATCH HERE and read this note from Pastor Travis.
Dear Church Family,
I am so thankful for the time we were able to spend together last Tuesday evening with Dr. Merkle during the Q&A on Elder Led Ministry. I certainly understand some of you were not able to attend due to your schedules. Thankfully, we were able to record our time together. If you were not able to attend or if you would like to go back and review the meeting, I encourage you to click here to view it at your convenience. During our emphasis on prayer this year, let’s all commit to pray for the Lord to do a fresh and new work in each of our hearts.
Pastor Travis shares about the New Testament biblical model of an Elder-Led Ministry in a series of articles written to the church family. Scroll to read all the articles or find the most recent one at the top of the list below.
Article 5 - Shared Leadership
As we enter the last month of 2022, I want to close out the series of articles I have shared with you regarding the Elder ministry model on the topic of Shared Leadership. It is clear that the New Testament church was led by a plurality of elders. A team of elders in today’s church could be made up of men who are both staff members of the church as well as those who are non-staff members. The models I have studied reveal that not every staff member who meets the qualifications of an elder would necessary serve on the elder team. Usually there are certain positions on a ministry staff that would be assigned to serve on the team. For example, the position of lead pastor would be recognized as a position that would be represented on the team while the children’s or student ministry positions would not. Thus, you would have a balance of shared leadership among both staff members and non-staff members serving the church as elders.
This leads to the question, does one elder have more authority than another? First, it is clear among the elders serving, there is shared responsibility and shared authority. Any one elder does not have more authority than another. They are seen as being equals. However, they are not equal in how God’s Spirit has gifted them. While all share in the role of shepherding and protecting the fellowship, one elder will be better gifted in teaching, another in shepherding and another will be better gifted in administration. The bible teaches a diversity when it comes to the Holy Spirit gifting His people to serve and this would be true of elders as well. The church must be careful not to create a hierarchy among the elders, but to see them as a group of men uniquely gifted and called to share in the leadership of God’s people in the Church. So, they are equal in sharing in leading the church, but not necessarily equal when it comes to how they are gifted by the Holy Spirit to serve the church family.
Some of you are thinking, “Someone has to lead even among the leaders” and you are right. Dr. Ben Merkle addresses this in his book I referred to you earlier, 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons. Dr. Merkel uses the term, “First Among Equals”. You see this principle lived out among the early disciples of Christ. There were twelve and it was obvious some were leaders among their equals. For example, Peter would be recognized as one of the leaders among the twelve disciples of Christ. Also, in the biblical model of marriage between a man and a woman, oneness is the goal to be achieved. The husband and wife are understood as equals. However, the husband is the recognized spiritual leader. He is the first among equals in the home. This same principle of “First Among Equals” would apply to an elder team where there would be a recognized leader among the equals.
As we close out this year and this series of articles, I want to point out that what I have shared through these articles is a small percentage of the information about elders. In light of that, after a time of prayer and discussion with our ministry leaderships we will use the new year to continue educating ourselves about elder-led ministry. I am working with our leadership on the possibility of scheduling one or two times for questions and answers through the new year. My encouragement to you is to take advantage of the resources I have referenced in earlier articles for your own study and to pray. While I have strong convictions this is the Biblical model for the church, we are a blessed fellowship and in no way should feel rushed to make this decision. In God’s time, leadership will bring this to a point of decision, but again we will use this coming year as an opportunity to continue to educate ourselves and pray about this model of church governance.
The year 2023 will be an important time for our fellowship for many reasons. Foremost will be the search for the two ministry staff positions we are seeking to fill. So, our primary focus must be on praying and seeking the Lord’s guidance in identifying the individuals the Lord has to lead us in our Worship ministry as well as our Children and Preschool ministry. While I want you to continue to pray and learn about this New Testament model of church governance, I want to emphasize that in the new year our main focus needs to be on seeking the Lord in prayer for future leadership in these two ministry areas. I am excited for our church family and what the Lord has for us in the new year. It is my prayer that we will grow in our trust and dependence on the Lord in every area of our lives as we anticipate 2023.
Article 4 - Plurality of Elders
In our Baptist tradition for smaller congregations, most are familiar with a single pastor serving the congregation. In churches like First Baptist, the structure is more of a “senior” pastor with ministry staff serving in specific ministry areas under the “senior” pastor’s leadership. However, in the very beginning of the church, the role of the elder in the local church is always referred to in the plural. For example, in Acts 13:23 (CSB) Luke records, “When they appointed elders for them in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed." Then again in Acts 20:17 (CSB), “Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and summoned the elders of the church.” James 5:14 (CSB) states, “Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” Then in Hebrews 13:17 (CSB), “Obey your leaders and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” While the writer of Hebrews does not use the official title of elder, he does refer to the leadership in the church in the plural and the responsibility of the leadership is to care for the spiritual condition of the church family. This is the very work elders are responsible for in the local church. So there is no doubt he is referring to the elders in the church. These are just a few examples from scripture that reference shared leadership among a plurality of elders in a single church. In contrast, there are no examples in the New Testament of one pastor/elder as the sole or primary leader of the congregation.
So, in the early church you have shared leadership among a group of men who clearly have shown the God-given desire and call upon their life to serve and lead the church in the role of pastors/ elders. This raises the question, how many pastors/elders should a congregation have? The short answer is at least two to model the New Testament church example of a plurality of elders. But beyond this, the scriptures are silent to a specific number of pastors/elders serving a local church. In my research, sister churches who have adopted the Elder led model decide on the number of pastors/elders based on the size and needs of the church. But I want to offer this reminder, it is more important the ones filling the role of pastors/elders in a congregation meet the New Testament qualifications than the number of pastors/elders a congregation has. To fill a position on the pastors/elders' leadership team simply because there is an opening is a big mistake if the position is filled by someone who doesn’t have a God-given desire to serve in this role and/or doesn’t meet the New Testament qualifications.
It goes without saying that no leadership structure is perfect because those serving are sinful men who are in need of redeeming. But having a structure that promotes a team of pastors/elders made up of both paid and unpaid men who share the same calling from God to serve and lead the church creates a strong environment for the spiritual growth and maturity of the church family.
I want to encourage each of you to continue to pray and study this important topic. In addition to the resources I have referred you to in earlier articles, I recommend going to the website gotquestions.org and searching for the article, What is the Biblical Pattern of Church Leadership? This brief article gives a good picture of the structure established in the New Testament for the church. The author does a good job of describing the offices of elders and deacons, helping to make the distinction between their ministry roles. I appreciate the time and prayer you are committing to this topic. I am confident that as we prepare ourselves by being properly informed through the study of God’s Word and prayer, we will be able to sense the Lord’s direction for our church family in the future. May we all continue to seek the wisdom and direction of our Lord.
Article 3 - The Calling and Qualifications of an Elder
Elder, overseer, pastor/shepherd are all terms that refer to the same office. In our tradition at First Baptist, we are more familiar with the term pastor. To better understand these terms as referring to the same office, we can apply the term elder to the character of the one called by God to lead in the church. Elder suggests he is mature in his character both physically and spiritually. The terms overseer, pastor/shepherd refer to the function of the office. An elder oversees the affairs of the church; he provides pastoral care by shepherding God’s people.
There are two important matters we must understand from Scripture about the office of Elder. First, an elder should experience a personal call from God to serve the church in this role. Paul shared with Timothy, “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.” To “aspire” speaks of an inner working of the Holy Spirit in the life of a man. It is a deep longing to pastor/shepherd the flock of God. This is not a desire for position, power, or recognition but rather it is a call that God has placed in the life of a man to provide the church with servanthood leadership. This call of God should be evident to and affirmed by the local church. The calling God places on an elder is to be a leader, along with the other elders in the church. He is to serve as a pastor/shepherd, providing emotional, spiritual, and physical care for the church. He shares responsibility with the other elders for the overall spiritual health and wellbeing of the fellowship. Elders are to watch for and call out false teachings and worldly influences that can harm the church family. In addition, his calling is to be a teacher of God’s Word. This applies to the teaching and sharing of God’s Word in counseling, in small groups and for some the teaching of God’s Word to the whole congregation. Finally, an elder is called to equip other followers of Christ to serve and share the hope of the Gospel. Paul refers to the call of God on the elder’s life as a noble work. It is indeed work and the one thing that keeps the elder in the “work” is the call of God upon his life.
The second important matter to understand about elders is the qualifications found in the New Testament. The biblical qualifications are primarily listed in two New Testament passages: 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. The combination of the two lists in these passages identify what a local church should be looking for in those being considered to serve as an elder. Dr. Ben Merkle, in his book 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons, divides these qualifications into three categories: situational qualifications, family qualifications and moral qualifications.
Situational Qualifications relate to one’s situation in life. Do they possess the God-given desire to serve as an elder and do they have the ability to teach God’s Word? How long have they been a follower of Christ and what is their testimony to unbelievers in the community? Paul points out what the situation should be for someone being considered for the office of elder. First, they should have the desire to do the work of an elder that is God-given. They have a love for God’s Word and the ability to teach it correctly while identifying false teachings. Their relationship with Christ is strong and growing and they have a good witness among the unbelieving folks in the community.
Paul shared with Timothy….
“This saying is trustworthy: “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, [a] he desires a noble work.” 2 An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,” (1 Timothy 3:1-2 CSB)
“6 He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and incur the same condemnation as the devil. 7 Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the devil’s trap.” (1 Timothy 3:6-7 CSB)
Then to Titus….
“…holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he (an elder) will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9)
Family qualifications is the next area to consider. If a man is asked to lead in the affairs of the church family, he should show he is qualified by leading his household well. He does this by being faithful to his wife as well as demonstrates he can manage his children at home. Let me point out Paul is not teaching that an elder must be married and have children. He is saying that if an elder is married and has children, he must show himself faithful in his ministry to his own family before being considered to provide leadership for the church family. In his marriage, Paul states he is to be the husband of one wife. This has been interpreted in several ways, but the best understanding is, an elder must be a “one woman man.” In other words, there must not be any other women in his life to whom he would relate to emotionally and physically. A general rule in which I agree, is that he should never be alone with a woman other than his wife. The second piece of this requirement is that he manages his “household well.” This speaks to his role in the home as a father. He is raising his children in a physically and spiritually healthy environment. You find these qualifications given by Paul in 1 Timothy and Titus as well.
“This saying is trustworthy: “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, [a] he desires a noble work.” 2 An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not an excessive drinker, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy. 4 He must manage his own household competently and have his children under control with all dignity.” (1 Timothy 3:1-4)
“6 an elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, with faithful[a] children who are not accused of wildness or rebellion.” “(Titus 1:6)
Finally, there is the area of moral qualifications. Dr. Merkle from the combined list in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 divides the moral qualifications into positive characteristics and negative characteristics. The positives speak of someone who does not have a reputation with any glaring sinful behavior. They can control their emotions and feelings in a kind and responsible way, having the respect of others in the church.
“2 An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not an excessive drinker, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy… “(1 Timothy 3:2-3 CSB)
“6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, with faithful[a] children who are not accused of wildness or rebellion…. But hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled,” (Titus 1:6, 8 CSB)
Then there are the negatives to avoid…
“Not an excessive drinker, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy” (1 Timothy 3:3 CSB)
“7 As an overseer of God’s household, he must be blameless, not arrogant, not hot-tempered, not an excessive drinker, not a bully, not greedy for money,” (Titus 1:7 CSB)
The calling and qualifications of an elder are clear in scripture. It is a man who is leading in his home in a Christ-honoring way. He has a deep desire from God to provide selfless Christ-honoring leadership for his church family. In no way do the qualifications found in the New Testament suggest this is a man who is perfect, but rather one who has had a life changing encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. Someone who is in love with Christ, His Word and His people and senses a deep desire placed within his life from God to serve in this “noble work.”
?Pray with me that God would do a work among our men to raise up such a generation of leaders.
Article 2 - The Office of Elder
The term Elder can be found in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. However, the first time the term Elders is used in a Christian group is in Acts 11:29-30 when the church of Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas with financial aid to the “elders” in Jerusalem. In total, there are ten references to Elders in the Book of Acts. Of the ten, the majority are in reference to the Elders in Jerusalem, but there are two that are not. First, we see in Acts 14 Paul and Barnabas appointed Elders in the new churches established from their sharing of the Gospel.
“After they had preached the gospel in that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the[a] disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” 23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14:21-23 CSB)”
Then in Acts 20, Paul calls for the Elders of the church in Ephesus. This was his farewell speech to the Elders. He anticipated persecution was coming to him for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; 20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:17-21 CSB)”
In addition to the Book of Acts, there are references to Elders found in 1 Timothy, Titus, and James. Each of these are in reference to the official office of Elder in the local church. One thing is obvious; the term and office of Elder was a familiar one to the early church.
In the New Testament you will also see the term Overseer, Bishop or Elder depending on the translation. However, these terms all refer to the same office. In addition, Paul identifies leadership the Lord gave to the Church in Ephesians 4:11. In this verse he mentions pastors and teachers who are identified as individuals gifted by God’s Spirit to equip the Saints for service.
Again, there are only two official offices in the church based on the teachings of the New Testament. The office of Elder and the office of Deacon. So why do you see other terms being used like Overseer, Bishop, Pastor, and teacher? In my studies it appears the term Elder is descriptive of the character of the one who holds the office. In 1 Timothy 3:1-7 you find the qualifications for Elders and in 1 Timothy 3:6, Paul says, “He (an Elder) must not be a new convert…” He must be spiritually and emotionally mature. The other terms identify the function of the office. In other words, they identify what an Elder’s role is in the local church. An Elder is an overseer, pastor/shepherd, and a teacher of God’s Word to the congregation. They provide spiritual oversight, teach, and equip God’s people for service. All these terms refer to the same office. Elder is descriptive of his character and the other terms describe what he does.
In closing, there are several helpful resources I recommend for your personal study. I mentioned some of these before my sabbatical, but I want to bring them to your attention again. First, Dr. Ben Merkle’s book 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons. Dr. Merkle was one of our guest preachers during my sabbatical and is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. He also has a second book, Why Elders? A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members. This is a short read you may find helpful. Also, the website gotquestions.org has some very helpful articles on Elders/Overseers as well. Please continue to join me in the study of God’s Word and prayer as we better equip ourselves in understanding and prayerfully consider applying the Elder Led ministry model in our church family.
Article 1 - Church Government
Church government - what is it and why is it important? First, church government speaks to how church leadership is structured. It identifies the roles, duties, and qualifications of those providing leadership within the local church. Also, the importance of having a Biblically aligned leadership model directly impacts the spiritual health of a local church. The writer of Hebrews states, “Obey your leaders[a] and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17 CSB). So, who is to provide leadership and who bears the responsibility for the spiritual wellbeing of the church family? Hebrews 13:17 in general mentions “leaders”, but a thorough study of the New Testament reveals who the leaders of a local church are.
It is absolutely essential the local church submit to Jesus Christ as the Head of the church. He alone is the Chief Shepherd. Paul explains to the church in Colossae that Jesus, “is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). Also, Paul identified two official positions of leadership and their qualifications in 1 Timothy 3. He begins with Elders who are the Undershepherds of the flock. Elders serve directly under the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, in overseeing the spiritual wellbeing of the church family. He continues with the qualifications of Deacons, whose primary role is to serve the church family with the guidance of the Elders. It is important to understand that these two offices are the only ones identified in the scriptures and both come with specific qualifications. This is important to understand because while it is in the best interest of the local the church to align itself with the teachings of the New Testament, it is equally important the local church is being led and served by men who are Biblically qualified to fill the positions of Elder and Deacon.
Since the New Testament speaks of only these two offices with their qualifications, I am confident in saying the most committed and faithful servants of the Lord in the local church should be the Elders and Deacons. Both should model a life that reflects God’s Word as the foundation of their decision making and service they provide for the church family. The one thing I want you to take from this article is that the closer a church aligns itself to the leadership structure in the Bible, the greater the chance that fellowship has in being a healthy and growing church family. However, it is vitally important that not only a church align itself closely to the New Testament model of leadership, but that it calls and affirms leaders who meet the Biblical qualifications.
In the coming weeks, I will be addressing the Office of Elder and the qualifications as presented in the New Testament. Then I will follow up with the Office of Deacon and the qualifications spelled out in the scriptures as well. Let me encourage you to continue to pray and take the time to study God’s Word as we continue this journey together. May the Wisdom of our Lord guide us on this path and may our fellowship be spiritually strengthened to provide a fruitful ministry that honors our Lord Jesus Christ.
Dear Church Family,
Tammy and I want to express our appreciation for the time you gave us these past two months for spiritual renewal and refreshment. While we welcomed and enjoyed this time of rest, we are excited to return to our ministry roles with our church family.
A large portion of my time while away was spent studying the Elder-Led Ministry model found in the New Testament. Looking back over my time of study and prayer regarding this model of church polity, I have come away convinced the closer a local church can get to following this New Testament model of leadership, the greater the possibility of being a healthy growing fellowship.
Many of you will remember that my original plans were to take this time the summer of 2020, but was postponed. I point this out to say that I have had an extended period of time to study and consider this important matter. The time I have spent studying this topic has given me a greater understanding and confidence in this Biblical model of leadership.
However, you and the rest of our church family have not had this opportunity, and my heart is to bring you along with me on this journey. This is not a small task; there will be a lot of work to do to make this transition should the church body decide to make this change. I do want to be clear, any transition to establish the Elder-Led Ministry model is the decision of our congregation. It is my role to lead you and guide with the leadership of God’s Spirit, but it will be your role to make the final decision.
In my interviews and studies, I have been encouraged to allow for an eighteen to twenty-four month process to take place in preparing our church family to make this decision. This time, used wisely, will allow each of us the opportunity to be informed, to pray, and to seek answers from God’s Word. While I do not have that year and a half to two years fully mapped out, I do want to share with you that I am sensitive to the need for ongoing ministry in our church and community; therefore, this process will be worked into our current ministry schedule.
This letter marks the beginning of this journey and I am asking for your faithful prayers for our church leadership and our church family. Beginning the week of August 22nd and continuing through the week of November 14th, I will be writing an article every other week sharing with you from my studies about the Elder-Led Ministry model. It is my intent to simply use this fall to get this topic in front of you by writing and sharing these articles with you. I am hopeful that the information I am able to share through these articles this fall will begin laying a foundation for you in understanding the model of Biblical leadership. The next step will be a scheduled time(s) for Q&A for our church family early in the year of 2023.
As I shared, I do not have this whole process mapped out. However, I am excited to begin this journey with you this fall by sharing the results of my time of study regarding this important topic. May our Lord bless the service that we offer for the wellbeing of His church and for His glory.