Leadership in today’s society is such a hot-button issue. Our society is so polarized that leaders are loved by half the population and hated by the other half. On any scale, large or small, people seem to always find things to complain about when it comes to leaders in society. In sports, the greatest athletes are critiqued for their leadership (or maybe lack of it). In politics, leaders are critiqued for positions taken past and present. It feels like stepping into the role of leader in our society is a lose–lose situation, who would want it?
Even in the church leadership can be an intimidating position. Still, despite society’s distaste for leadership the church must desire and respect leadership. Church leaders must rise to fulfill biblical expectations and not cultural expectations. When church leaders do this, the church thrives and grows, the church matures.
Clearly, the Bible calls for a specific leadership in the household of God, the church. God has ordained for men to lead the church in the office of elder (or pastor or bishop). He gives these elders or pastors as gifts to the church (cf. Eph 4:11). They bear the unique responsibility to model the Christian faith to the church (1 Tim 3:1–7; 1 Pet 5:1–5) and to lead with love and humility. This is why it is a good thing when men in the church step up and take up the call to shepherd.
There are several clarifying truths about eldership that can help us see the benefit they bring to local churches. These benefits are more than what happens from behind the pulpit.
The Pastor as Teacher. One factor that may get in the way of a man’s calling to the office is the expectation of preaching. Some believe that the term preacher is synonymous with pastor, but it really isn’t. Yes, it is a qualification that the elder must be “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2). Yet, that does not mean that every elder in the church must occupy the pulpit on a weekly or regular basis. Clearly, the Bible teaches that some elders will assume primary responsibility of teaching, that is why some elders receive “double honor” (1 Tim 5:17).
What does this “able to teach” mean? Teaching is not necessarily preaching. It could refer to counseling or discipleship. Still, elders must be men who know the word well enough to communicate it in some level. In most people’s minds this means the pulpit. It must be stressed that the main point is that “able to teach” is broader than and is not limited to pulpit ministry. The phrase itself implies that the teacher is first a student; it assumes elders love, study, and apply God’s Word. Elders must have an insatiable desire for God’s Word, for sound doctrine and exegesis (and I wouldn’t even hesitate to include historical theology). “Able to teach” is counseling, discipling, and evangelizing. It is being able to share the Word and defend it (Titus 1:9).
Therefore, it is necessary elders teach. It may not be necessary for them to stand behind the pulpit on a weekly basis. In terms of a plurality of elders, this means that some within the eldership may have a stronger pulpit ministry than others. It means that some elders can be at rest and feel comfortable without being penciled into the preaching schedule. It does not mean that they can slack on their biblical qualification to know, teach, and live the Bible.
In this sense, elders bring a much broader benefit to the local church. A team of plural elders helps with the pulpit ministry, but also applies the Word of God in varying contexts such as counseling, discipleship, Bible studies, and evangelism. There is a public (pulpit) and private (house-to-house) ministry of the elder (Acts 20:20). Churches need more elders, not because we need more preaching, but because the Bible needs to be applied all throughout the life of the church by God-called leaders.
The Pastor as Shepherd. Second, the role of the pastor as shepherd needs to be emphasized (I realize “pastor as shepherd” is redundant given that “pastor” actually means “shepherd”). Instead of merely seeing your pastors or elders as preachers, they must be viewed as shepherds of your soul. Biblically, this is one of the most dominating ways elders are described (Eph 4:11; 1 Pet 5:1–5).
When Paul gives qualifications for eldership to both Timothy and Titus they are instructed to implement qualifications that emphasize the pastor’s character (1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9). This indicates that elders model the Christian faith. They also function as shepherds who tend to the flocks care (1 Pet 5:1–5). This implies more than pulpit ministry, but indicates personal care and attention. Shepherds care for the flock; they do more than just feed the flock. They protect, they discipline, and they build up the flock.
Elders are only elders in their local churches. Peter gives the instruction, “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Pet 5:2, emphasis added). While it is a title, it is one that implies personal relationship unique to a local church. It is similar to the way we may refer to those within our family. Just because someone in my life is a father does not require me to call him “father.” In fact, the term can only be reserved for one particular person who fills that role in my life. In the same way, the term “pastor” should be a unique title reserved for the plurality of elders that function as your shepherd in your local church. When a Christian can meaningfully call a person their “pastor” or “shepherd” it should mean something. This is beneficial for the Christian because it indicates a Christian’s submission to leadership and their entrustment to them for spiritual care.
Therefore, elders are beneficial to the flock for more than just feeding them the word, but they protect, discipline, and build up the flock. This task requires more than just a preacher. It requires a plurality of elders who can faithfully serve as humble under-shepherds.
The Pastor as Leader. The Bible also describes the pastorate as an office of leadership (1 Thess 5:12–13; 1 Tim 3:2). The pastors of your local church function as overseers. They lead the congregation by setting examples and making decisions beneficial for the body.
The biblical model of leadership is one of service (Mk 10:45). The role of leadership requires hard labor for the benefit of others (2 Cor 1:24). It is modeled after Christ’s love and service for His people (Phil 2:5–11). Clearly, leadership requires that elders set a good example of Christian living.
This has major implications for a local church. For men, it sets a biblical standard for the “follow me as I follow Christ” principle (1 Cor 11:1). For parents of boys, it gives them something to point to in addition to fatherly example in the home. For parents of girls, it gives a picture of a godly man to marry or admire in addition to the fatherly example in the home. Having pastors as leaders who exhibit servant leadership is good for the church because it helps to embody the biblical principles taught by the elders.
Biblical leaders also make decisions that are beneficial for the body. They help guide the congregation and make decisions that may not always be popular, but are necessary. Biblical leaders exercise biblical wisdom in all areas of the church that will result in the church’s growth and sanctification. This is beneficial for the congregation because it allows them to maximize their time in ministry.
Prayers for More Leaders. Many men aspire for the pulpit, but not many aspire for the pastorate. The office of pastor-elder-overseer is a tall task and in our anti-authority society it may not be very attractive. Still, authority is a good thing when biblically exercised and it is a necessary thing in the local church. Where are the men who will shepherd-elder-oversee without the “glamour” of the pulpit? Where are the men who are able to teach in the private homes of church members? Where are the men who will shepherd and make tough decisions for the benefit of God’s people? Lord, be gracious and grant us gifts of such men.