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4. The Relationship Between Church Leadership And Ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:11-15)

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November 4, 1979


There is a political philosophy that is sometimes epitomized by the statement,

“That government governs best which governs least.”

In my opinion, there is a good deal of wisdom in this philosophy, whether applied to politics or to church government.

The problem is that many have wrongly accused those who practice New Testament church polity of advocating no church government at all.2 This could not be further from the truth. I believe churches that practice New Testament principles are those that will best reflect good management. A highly centralized, authoritarian leadership is not necessarily biblical or effective.

There is, I believe, a direct relationship between church leadership and church ministry. Good management and good ministry are inseparable. Much of the failure of the church to minister effectively has been the result of poor management. It is for this reason that we must take a careful look at the relationship between leadership and ministry in the New Testament.

The Relationship Between the Elders and the Work of the Ministry

Several observations regarding the relationship between the elders and the work of the ministry will help sharpen the focus of our study.

1. The command to pastor (Greek, poimainō, to shepherd) is given only to elders.

Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son (Acts 20:28).3

1 So as your fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings and as one who shares in the glory that will be revealed, I urge the elders among you: 2 give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly (1 Peter 5:1-2).

This observation might cause some to conclude that the responsibility for pastoral care falls exclusively upon the elders, but this is not the case, as we shall point out in our next observation.

2. When the elders are commanded to “pastor the flock of God,” it appears to be a corporate function, as well as an individual activity.

With the exception of our Lord’s instruction to Peter, “shepherd my sheep” (John 21:16), the elders are collectively commanded to shepherd the flock (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). I take the emphasis here to be that of the obligation of the elders as a group to care for the congregation under their care.

The need for collective pastoral care may be inferred from the following considerations. First, while the Lord Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd (John 10:14), the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4), and the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20), no one person can take His place or assume all of His pastoral functions. The elders are a group of men, each having differing gifts, ministries, and degrees of effectiveness (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6). Even the elders, as a group, may lack all the gifts necessary for shepherding the flock. Ultimately, it is only the whole body that can carry out the work of our Lord.

Second, no one dares to take our Lord’s place as the Shepherd of His people. Our Lord’s headship over this church is worked out through a plurality of elders

8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. 9 And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ” (Matthew 23:8-10; see also Acts 20:17, 28; Philippians 1:1; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1).

Elders not only shepherd corporately or collectively (i.e. as a group), but they also are to shepherd the local church corporately. A shepherd guards a flock, not a single sheep. In the passages in Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5, the elders are told to shepherd the flock. This in no way excludes individual ministry on the part of elders, or others. But only the elders (collectively) are accountable for the overall care of the church. They are responsible to direct the broad policies and make the decisions that affect the body as a whole. While the elders have a collective function, it is assumed that each elder will also have a personal pastoral ministry as well (cf. John 21:15‑17).

3. While elders alone are collectively responsible for pastoring the entire flock of God (the local church), each individual member of the church has a personal obligation to engage in pastoral ministry to others.

One evidence of the responsibility for pastoral care being broader than that of elders alone is the fact that the gift of pastor-teacher (Ephesians 4:11) does not seem to be restricted to those who function as elders, or to only the male members of the congregation. Those who have the gift of pastor‑teacher, but are not elders, surely need to exercise their gift for the benefit of the body (cf. Romans 12:6‑8).

The most compelling evidence that forces us to conclude that all Christians are to pastor one another comes from the commands of Scripture to practice those functions that comprise pastoral care.

14 But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another (Romans 15:14).

14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all. 15 See that no one pays back evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15; see also 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14‑15; Galatians 6:1).

It is especially noteworthy that in the passage in 1 Thessalonians, Paul has spoken of church leaders in the immediately preceding verses. The congregation was instructed to appreciate them and esteem them highly (vv. 12, 13). We would have expected verses 14 and 15 to be addressed to the elders, but such is not the case. The same brethren are addressed in verses 12 and 14. While the elders are surely to be included in the exhortation of verses 14 and 15, the congregation at large is addressed.

How can we put all these various facts of truth together? How is the entire congregation to be pastored by the elders in such a way as to allow all the members of the local church to minister to one another? The answer is found in the relationship between the two terms, pastor and overseer.

4. The flock of God is pastored when the elders (collectively) function as mentors and managers, and the congregation ministers as well.

In the two central passages that deal with the responsibility of the elders to “shepherd the flock,” this function is placed alongside the task of managing or overseeing.

Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son (Acts 20:28, emphasis mine).

Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly (1 Peter 5:2, emphasis mine).4

4 He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity. 5 But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for5 the church of God? (1 Timothy 3:4-5, emphasis mine)

One other passage where the terms “shepherd” and “overseer” are found linked together is noteworthy:

For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian [Bishop or Overseer] of your souls (1 Peter 2:25, emphasis mine).

While I am not suggesting that these two terms are synonymous, I would assert that they are directly related to each other. I believe that pastor care is provided for the whole flock (that is the local congregation) of God when the elders collectively manage or oversee the ministry of each of its members. Shepherding is the goal, while management is the means, so far as the elders are concerned. Look again at Acts 20:28:

Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son (Acts 20:28, emphasis mine).

Do you see the point? The Holy Spirit appoints elders as overseers so that they can shepherd the flock of God. Pastoral care is provided for the flock when the elders properly manage and the flock ministers. Is this not what we see taking place in Acts chapter 6?

1 Now in these days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the twelve called the whole group of the disciples together and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to wait on tables. 3 But carefully select from among you, brothers, seven men who are well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this necessary task. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” 5 The proposal pleased the entire group, so they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a Jewish convert from Antioch. 6 They stood these men before the apostles, who prayed and placed their hands on them (Acts 6:1-6).

I remember going to lunch with an elder of a local church and an inquisitive seminary student. The student asked this elder how many people he felt he could personally pastor. While I don’t recall the exact figure, it was realistically conservative, somewhere around five or ten families. In any church, there are going to be far too few elders to meet the pastoral needs of the congregation, even if they were capable of meeting these needs as an individual. The only solution is for the elders to manage the flock in such a way as to encourage and equip all the saints for the work of ministry.

Just how are the saints equipped for ministry? By and large, the summary answer is this: by good management. But we must pursue this further by suggesting some of the functions of good management.

Two of the primary means of equipping the saints for ministry are suggested in Acts 6:

But we must devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4).

Good management always supplies those who are to serve with the means to accomplish the task. In the realm of Christian service, two of the primary means are prayer and biblical instruction.

In Christian ministry it is ultimately only God who can equip men for service:

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13:20-21; cf. 1 Peter 5:10).

By praying for the flock to the One Who equips the flock, Christians are empowered and equipped for ministry to one another.

Then, the saints are equipped as the Scriptures are expounded:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Another means of encouraging and equipping the saints is by our own example in ministering to others:

Remember those who led you, who spoke the Word of God to you; and considering the outcome of their way of life, imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).

I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me (1 Corinthians 4:16; cf. 11:1).

Nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3; cf. John 13:15; 1 Timothy 4:12).

While the Scriptures do not dogmatically teach this, they do imply that the elders should encourage the saints to minister by publicly recognizing the gifts and ministries of individuals in the body.

And Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means, Son of Encouragement), . . . (Acts 4:36).

Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed upon you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery (1 Timothy 4:14).

In Acts 13, Barnabas and Saul are designated for ministry by the Holy Spirit with these words:

Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them (Acts 13:2).

Now I realize that this text does not mention any as being elders, though it would appear that this call included the leadership of the church at Antioch. It is interesting, however, that the Holy Spirit does not specify what the work is to which these men have been called. I would suggest that the Spirit confirmed the calling and ministry of these two men by including the leaders of the church in identifying or confirming the ministry to which these two had been called, and in which (I assume) they had proven themselves effective.

While we do not have time to pursue other ways in which the elders would exercise managerial functions to equip the flock for ministry one to another, those mentioned above are surely not all-inclusive, but simply suggestive.

The Relation Between Elders and Deacons in Managing the Flock of God

A serious error is distressingly common when it comes to the relationship of elders and deacons concerning the work of the pastoral care of the flock. Some suppose (wrongly) that the elders alone are to pastor the flock. Since there are so many to be shepherded, and there are so few elders, deacons must have been appointed, they reason, so that the elders can be freed from non‑spiritual matters to concentrate on the spiritual care of the flock. The elders, then, are responsible for the spiritual care of the flock, and the deacons take up the merely physical tasks. As a deacon in our church put it:

"The elders get the spiritual work, and the deacons get the dirty work."

Nothing could be more wrong. Several observations will help to clarify this point:

1. The elders are responsible for all the needs of the flock, “spiritual” and “material.”

This is implied rather clearly in Acts 20, where Paul is instructing the elders referring to his ministry:

I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:33‑35).

Shepherding the flock implies seeing that every need of the flock is met. In Acts 6, the apostles 6 were informed of the neglect of the Hellenistic widows, and they responded in such a way that we must assume the responsibility was ultimately theirs. They considered the problem and laid down guidelines for its solution.

In Acts 11, we are told of the prophets who came to Antioch and prophesied of a coming famine in Judea. The saints at Antioch responded by taking up a collection, and this they sent to the elders (Acts 11:30).

It is difficult to find any biblical basis for a distinction which makes the elders responsible for “spiritual” needs, while deacons handle the “physical.”

2. Deacons, in the Scriptures, have very high qualifications, nearly identical to those for elders.

In Acts 6, the qualifications for the seven assistants were unusually high, especially so, if one looks at these men only as table waiters:

But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task (Acts 6:3).

In 1 Timothy 3, the requirements for a deacon are virtually identical with those for elders, except for the quality of “hospitality” and being “apt to teach.” I think, by inference, we would also surmise that elders would, as a rule, be older and exemplify greater wisdom than that required for deacons.7

We cannot pass over the fact that deacons, like elders, must have proven themselves to be good managers:

Let deacons be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households (1 Timothy 3:12).

If the qualifications of deacons are so high, can it be that their work is that different from that of elders?

3. While the duties of elders are well‑defined, that of deacons is not.

While the tasks performed by the elders are well covered by the Scriptures8, apart from the probable reference in Acts 6, no duties are outlined in the New Testament. The only satisfying explanation is that the duties of the deacons are similar to those of the elders; specifically, the deacons are to be assistants of the elders. In this case, there is no need for any further discussion of the duties of deacons other than what is said of the elders.

4. Deacons, like elders, are to function as managers, not ministers. They are not to minister as much as they are to administer.

We have already shown that the way the elders pastor the flock is by overseeing or managing the ministry of the flock to one another. Also, we have observed that deacons as well as elders must meet the qualification of being good managers in their own homes. All of this inclines us to the conclusion that deacons help the elders by assisting them in the administration of the flock.

The best proof text is that passage which is often employed to prove the opposite point. Many turn to Acts 6 to show that the apostles delegated physical matters to the deacons, while keeping the spiritual task for themselves.

It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word
(Acts 6:2b-4).

We must begin by accepting the fact that the apostles recognized the neglect of the Hellenistic widows as ultimately their responsibility. They determined that the complaint was legitimate, and they outlined the solution of the problem. The elders assumed the responsibility for the entire problem, which was both physical and spiritual.

While the apostles did delegate the solution of this problem to the seven men, these highly‑qualified men did not carry out the preparation and serving of the food.

But select . . . seven men . . . whom we may put in charge of this task (Acts 6:3).

These “deacons” were not charged with the responsibility of doing this task, but of seeing to it that it was done, and done right. There is a great difference between the responsibility of doing and that of getting it done. One is ministration, while the other is administration.

The sad fact of church life is that both elders and deacons are running themselves ragged, assuming every task of the ministry. Their function is to see that the needs of the flock are met by managing the ministry in such a way that all the saints minister to one another.

The distinction that is to be found between the duties of elders and those of the deacons is not one of spiritual versus physical needs, but of differing levels of administration. The elders are to solve problems on the broad, policy-making level, while the deacons, as junior executive or vice‑presidents, are to administrate on the level of execution. Both elders and deacons function as managers, but on different levels.

Biblical Principles of Administration

While there are many similarities between good management in the “secular” (pardon the use of the term) world and that in the church, there are also many differences in how this management is exercised spiritually. It is to the biblical principles of management (or leadership) that I would like to draw your attention.

1. Leadership should be thought of more in terms of occupation than an office, more in terms of service than of status. Paul wrote to Timothy,

. . . if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do (1 Timothy 3:1).

While a man is encouraged to seek the office of elder, he is to view it as an occupation, a work. Oversight is no function for a status‑seeker, one who only seeks the office as a means of getting others under his authority:

Shepherd the flock of God among you, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3).

This was a lesson that came hard to the disciples of our Lord, who continually thought of their place as one of status:

And calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all (Mark 10:42‑44).

Perhaps I am seeing too much in the two primary passages which deal with the role of elders, but in each case, they are addressed as being leaders among the flock, rather than over the flock:

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).

Shepherd the flock of God among you, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness (1 Peter 5:2).

Paul understood this principle well. In the context of addressing the problem of holding some in higher authority than others, Paul could write,

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1).

Again Paul wrote,

Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm (2 Corinthians 1:24).

In the unbelieving world, men reluctantly serve, hoping by this means some day to lead. In the Scriptures, men lead, so that by this means they may serve.

Someone in church shared that the test of whether or not we are truly servants is how we react when people treat us like a servant. How true!

I have been impressed in my study for this message that this attitude toward leadership makes it easy for some to lightly esteem us. This was evidently the case in New Testament times (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7, 17). We can see in both 1 and 2 Corinthians a lack of regard for Paul and his apostleship among the Corinthians. Meekness in the eyes of the world is little different than weakness. A macho mentality of leadership has no place in Christian service.

2. The Scriptures make it clear that members of the congregation are to be in submission to their leaders:

Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors (1 Corinthians 16:15‑16).

Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:17; cf. 1 Peter 5:5).

While it is necessary to submit to the authority of the elders, it is also important to recognize the source of that authority. While it may be true to some extent that the office itself has some authority, the ultimate authority lies in the Scriptures themselves.

O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day. Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Thy precepts (Psalm 119:97-100; cf. 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Hebrews 4:12).

In the final analysis, the elders cannot force anyone to submit (husbands, listen well!). They must ultimately rest in the Spirit of God to convince men of the truth of the Word of God. Their confidence must be in the God who is able to change the minds and hearts of men. This is why Paul can say,

Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude God will reveal that to you (Philippians 3:15).

There is an almost cult‑like emphasis upon submission to authority (the elders) in some churches. The elders seem to feel they must make all the personal decisions for the members of their congregations, even down to the car they buy or sell, and the job they choose. What a far different situation we find in the New Testament.

But concerning Apollos our brother, I encouraged him greatly to come to you with the brethren; and it was not at all his desire to come now, but he will come when he has opportunity (1 Corinthians 16:12).

All of us like to give advice to others. An elder is faced with the added temptation of giving advice under the pretext of counsel, or worse yet, of elderly care, to which the individual must submit.

I believe Paul spoke to this kind of error in his First Epistle to the Corinthians. In the church, men were being exalted above others. Part of the problem was caused by those who attempted to apply authority that went beyond Scripture. Thus, Paul admonished:

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against another (1 Corinthians 4:6).

How tempting it is when speaking from the pulpit to throw in bits of personal opinion, hoping it will be accepted as “the gospel truth.” No wonder Peter wrote,

Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God (1 Peter 4: 11).

Let us be careful to distinguish between biblical truth, counsel based upon wisdom and experience, and personal opinion, based upon our own preferences and preconceived ideas.

In addition to the authority of the Scriptures, the godly life and conduct of an elder gives credence and credibility to their position (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5: 12, 13). A godly life causes others to listen to what we have to say.

3. Church office is not solely a matter of spirituality or faithfulness, but a matter of gift and divine calling.

In many churches, the office of elder or deacon is handed out like a gold watch for years of faithful service. Those who have served faithfully and well often expect to be awarded an office in the church as a kind of merit badge. As a result, many officers are a victim of what is called the “Peter principle;” they have been promoted beyond their abilities.

Much of the problem is the result of faulty reasoning. We know from the qualifications for elders and deacons in the New Testament that they are to be godly men. But the error is in transposing the equation. While all church leaders must be godly men, not all godly men are to be church leaders.

While men are encouraged to strive to become elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1), the office of overseer is ultimately a matter of divine calling and appointment:

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers . . . (Acts 20:28).

Nowhere does the New Testament consider the ideal to be a church whose congregation is composed of all elders and deacons. Thank God for those faithful saints who are content to serve faithfully without public recognition or reward. Women, listen well! Nowhere does the Scripture state or imply that in order to be faithful and effective in the work of the ministry, one has to hold an official position. Nowhere!

Elders (assisted by the deacons) are to function as overseers. They are to manage the flock in such a way that ministry occurs, and the whole body is pastored. There must be leaders and followers, managers and ministers, if the flock is to be adequately cared for. While all should strive to meet the qualifications of elders or deacons, not all should expect to be appointed to such an office.

4. We should not expect all elders or deacons to have the same gift, ministry, or level of success.

Some may have gotten the idea that every elder or deacon must have to possess the gift of administration in order to function as a manager. This is not the case. If it were, I would have to be the first to resign.

It is the elders who corporately shepherd the flock by managing it. The elders, as a board, must manage the flock. Certainly someone among the elders should possess the gift of administration, another the gift of pastor‑teacher, and so on. As I view the board of elders, they are a beautiful blend of variously gifted men who, as a group, are able to provide a balanced administration and ministry for the flock.

One of the elders may have the gift of faith and encourage the others to take bold steps, trusting God to work in a mighty way. Another may be a gifted evangelist and look from the point of view of winning the lost in this venture. The administrator will conceive of how this can be achieved. The pastor‑teacher will bring biblical principles to focus on this project, and so on.

All of this is consistent with what Paul has written:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).

We should expect the elders to be a group of men with differing gifts, diverse ministries, and various levels of effectiveness. Paul implied this when he wrote:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The Laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Timothy 5:17-18).

Not all elders will be preachers and teachers, and not all will necessarily be so gifted or called that they should devote themselves to their ministry full-time. This was never anticipated.

To my way of thinking, it is this diversity among the elders which gives the church management real strength. How grateful I am for elders who have proven themselves to be godly and competent businessmen. It is not without good reason that our church members seek their advice in applying Christian principles to their business or occupation.

5. While the elders are ultimately responsible to make the decisions which determine the policies and direction of the church, they should never do so in a way that excludes or ignores the congregation.

This principle touches an area of great disagreement in churches these days. Some hold that the elders should look to God alone as they seek to govern the church, while others hold to a congregational form of government. In my estimation, there is some truth in each position.

In Acts 6, I believe we see the two seemingly opposing theories of administration blended. The congregation (or some of them) brought the problem of the neglect of the Hellenistic widows to the apostles. The apostles responded to the problem by outlining a solution, one in which the congregation was to be actively involved. When the seven men who met the qualifications set down by the apostles were brought forward, they were formally appointed to administrate this function. Those of us who believe in elder rule must not ignore the statement of Scripture which says,

And the statement (of the apostles) found approval with the whole congregation; . . .(Acts 6:5; cf. 15:22).


We must conclude that a church which is governed according to the New Testament is one which does have government and does have clearly designated leadership. The responsibility for this leadership falls on the elders as they are assisted by the deacons. The elders are to see to it that the flock of God is pastored by managing them well, in such a way that every member of the flock ministers to others.

The way in which church management is carried out is vastly different from many of the attitudes and principles of management which are in use today in the corporate world. My own opinion is that business would run far more smoothly and efficiently if it followed the principles of the New Testament for church leadership. Unfortunately, some Christians feel that the church would operate more efficiently if it patterned itself after the world.

Men, I am firmly convinced that we husbands should apply the principles of good church management to our leadership in the home. Is this not the assumption of 1 Timothy 3:4 and 12? We should look at our responsibility to lead in the home as an opportunity to serve our wife, not to dominate and to use her.

Women, some of you are guilty of equating “macho” with management. Some wives look down on their husbands whose meekness is viewed as weakness. What many wives want in the way of leadership from their husbands is not the biblical ideal.

While all of us are not called to serve as church leaders, I do believe that each of us would do well to develop our managerial skills. As a rule we are not good managers (stewards, if you prefer) of our spiritual gift(s), our money, or our time. Let all of us seek to apply Christian principles of management to our lives.

As we conclude this message on church leadership and its relationship to the work of the ministry, I hope those of us who are elders or deacons will consider the implications for our own areas of service. I would also desire a greater appreciation and understanding of the awesome task undertaken by those who serve as leaders in the church. We are so awe‑struck by these words of the writer to the Hebrews,

Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:17).

1 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on November 4, 1979. Anyone is at liberty to use this edited manuscript for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel. Copyright 1979 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081.

2 Cf. Charles C. Ryrie, “Bible Doctrine II,” A study-graph published by Moody Press in 1965, side 2, where he states:

“Types of church government. 1. National Church (Lutheran in Scandinavia). 2. No government (Plymouth Brethren). 3. Hierarchical Church (Roman Catholic) . . . .”

3 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at:

4 Strangely the NASV chooses not to render the Greek word episkopountes, which the Net Bible translates “exercising oversight.”

5 A different word than “shepherd” is used here, but the sense seems to be the same.

6 I realize that technically the seven men of Acts 6 are not called deacons; however, a related term does occur three times in these verses. It is also true that the leaders in this passage are the apostles and not elders. This is not surprising, however, at this early point in the Book of Acts as elders of the church do not appear until 11:30. It does seem reasonable to view the elders and their seven assistants as prototypes of later elders and deacons.

7 This should not be taken to mean that all elders are more mature or more spiritual than deacons. It simply means that the minimum requirements for an elder would be higher than those for a deacon.

8 Some of the duties of the elders are as follows:

1. Handle distribution of money. Acts 11:30

2. Handle theological/doctrinal disputes or problems. Acts 15:2ff.

3. Guard against false teachers. Acts 20:28ff.

4. Do the work of shepherding/pastoring. Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1ff.

5. Give spiritual advice and counsel. Acts 21:18

6. Rule over/oversee the local church. 1 Peter 5:1ff.

7. Visit and pray for the sick. James 5:14

8. Teach the Scriptures. 1 Timothy 3:2; 5:17

9. Be examples. Hebrews 13:7; 1 Peter 5:1

10. Keep watch over souls. Hebrews 13:17

11. Cooperate with those led by the Holy Spirit to go out to proclaim the gospel. Acts 13:3, and to do follow-up. Acts 11:22.

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership

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