Leadership In the Local Church

An Introductory Look at What the Bible Teaches Concerning Local Church Leadership

  • Introduction
    • All Christians, as members of the body of Christ, have leadership responsibilities assigned to them through their blessings, talents, and gifts (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-26). This concept is sometimes referred to as multilateral leadership.
    • However, in the New Testament church, there are different groups and individuals of the local congregation, some of which fulfill distinct and recognized positions of leadership with authority. This concept is sometimes referred to as unilateral leadership and will be what is in view when leadership is discussed in these notes.
  • Leadership is Inevitable.
    • There is no such thing as a church (or any group of people) without leaders. If there is direction, there is leadership.
    • There are three basic positions of authority in a group of people.
      • Appointed (ideal, biblical)
        • This happens when the congregation or a selected individual or group assigns a role of leadership to an individual or group.
        • This is the biblical model of putting people in the position of leadership and specified service in the local church (Acts 6:3; 14:23; Tit. 1:5).
      • Assumed (sometimes dangerous)
        • This usually happens when there is someone in a role or position of leadership that has not been specifically appointed by the congregation. Instead, the person has simply adopted the role as his or her own.
        • Generally, someone assumes a position of leadership when he or she believes himself or herself as the best candidate for the job, whether or not he or she is biblically qualified.
        • The potential danger is found in the likelihood of having the wrong people in the wrong positions. The Bible is clear that shepherds are to lead the flock (1 Pet. 5:2), men are to pray (1 Tim. 2:8), the older women are to admonish the younger women (Tit. 2:3-4), and so forth.
        • God knows best, and when people are filling the wrong roles, the congregation is at least not fulfilling its potential, and is at worst sinning against God by defying His divine plan.
      • Perceived (most dangerous)
        • This usually happens out of honest and best interests in mind. The individual in the position of leadership likely has no leadership intentions, but is simply and sincerely trying to fill a need. Sincerity, however, does not make something correct (Prov. 14:12).
        • Usually, the individuals in the position are acting out of instinct or habit without consulting Scripture to learn God’s plan for the specific task.
        • A congregation is likely oblivious to those in this position; however, a visitor would probably have no trouble pointing them out.
  • God has a plan for church leadership and has given specifics regarding the direction of each local congregation.
    • He desires elders (overseers) in every church (Acts 14:23; Tit. 1:5).
      • It is a good thing if a man aspires to this position (“office,” KJV, NASB) in the church (1 Tim. 3:1).
      • This position/office is described with three Greek words and six English words in the Bible.
      • Every time leaders of this sort are mentioned in a local congregation, there is always a plurality of them (never just one).
        • Therefore, it is not biblical to have only one pastor serving a local body of believers.
        • Local preachers in the New Testament (for example, Timothy and Titus) are never referred to as pastors.
        • God knew what He was doing when He instructed a plurality of men to shepherd the local flock of God. There is too much danger involved when one man is exalted (or exalts himself) to the leadership position (see 3 Jn 9-10).
      • Those aspiring to this position must meet certain qualifications before being appointed as elders.
        • The word must (δεῖ [dei]: “it is necessary, there is need of, it behooves, is right and proper;” “a necessity of law and command, of duty, equity” [Thayer]) is found in both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 regarding certain qualities a man is to possess before being appointed. The qualities are as follows.
        • Considering the use of the word must, we can then treat the above list as a “checklist,” meaning that the candidate for the position must meet all qualifications before being appointed. However, this list must not be treated merely as a checklist. All of the qualities point to a spiritually mature man, ready and willing to lead the flock of God with accountability and seriousness.
      • Elders have certain responsibilities, which are laid out in Scripture.
    • God has also developed the office of deacon in the local church (Phil. 1:1).
      • Deacon, διάκονος (diakonos): “one who executes the commands of another, especially of a master, a servant, attendant, minister” (Thayer)
        • In very simple terms, a deacon is simply a servant or minister.
        • All Christians must be servants (Jn. 13:12-17). However, the position of deacon (servant) is a separate office, in which men are appointed to serve in specific areas (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-13).
        • Acts 6:1-7
          • Many have assumed that those appointed in this passage were the first deacons appointed in the church of Jesus Christ.
          • If that is the case, it serves as a good example, showing us that Christians still have individual responsibilities to serve when and where possible, but when there is a specific need in the local church, the deacons can be put in charge.
      • Similar to the position of elders in the church, God has placed certain qualifications upon those who would be appointed as deacons. They are as follows.
      • Since qualifications are given for deacons in a “likewise” manner as the elders’ qualifications (1 Tim. 3:8), we can view this list as a checklist that ultimately points to a group of men who are ready and willing to serve the local congregation of God’s people in any way that they biblically are able.
    • There are four different categories of local congregations.
      • Scripturally organized: A church that has qualified men serving as elders and deacons, who are fulfilling their God-giving responsibilities. This category should be the goal for all churches, since it is part of God’s plan.
      • Scripturally unorganized (distinctive from disorganized): A church that does not have qualified men to serve as elders, and therefore, does not have elders (which is biblical), but is working toward qualifying and appointing men as elders, regardless of how long it may take.
      • Unscripturally organized: A church that has a person or persons in position(s) of leadership, but is not following God’s plan regarding leadership in the local church. An example would be a congregation with either (1) only one elder/pastor appointed or (2) unqualified men serving in such positions.
      • Unscripturally unorganized: A church who either (1) does have qualified men who could serve as elders, but is not willing to appoint or is not working toward appointing the qualified men to that position, or (2) does not have qualified men who could serve as elders, and is not concerned with trying to qualify those they do have in their number.
    • All leaders, whatever position in which they find themselves, are to be servants first and foremost, just as Christ is (Mk. 10:42-45).
  • Though the leaders of a local congregation have responsibilities toward the flock, the members also have responsibilities toward their leaders.
    • Leaders are not put into position to relieve the members of their responsibilities.
      • Ideally, the leaders make Christian living, responsibility, and example more effective.
      • Members must not “leave it to the leaders” for evangelism, visitation, benevolence, etc. Otherwise, the elders will have to do the deacons’ jobs, the deacons will have to do the members’ jobs, the members will not know what to do, and no one will be doing the elders’ jobs.
      • When the flock of God sits back, expecting the leaders to do all the work, church growth ceases, and the local church eventually dies.
    • 1 Thessalonians 5:11-15
      • Although the Thessalonians had leaders who labored among them (elders? possibly, but not likely), every Christian still had the responsibility to comfort and edify the other Christians, as well as “warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, [and] be patient with all” (see also Rom. 12).
      • The members are to take admonishment from the leaders.
      • The members are to esteem their leaders (instead of criticize).

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