The following is a guest post from Juan Sanchez. Juan serves as the preaching pastor at High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. In addition to contributing to the 9Marks blog, Juan writes regularly on his own blog called Straight to the Heart. Juan is married to Jeanine, and they have five children.
Elders: Shepherds of God's Flock
Who leads Christ’s church? The answer is clearly stated in the question isn’t it? If it’s Christ’s church, then Christ is its leader. That is precisely what the Bible declares when it refers to Jesus as the head of the church (Colossians 1:18). The Bible also declares that Jesus is the shepherd of the church; He is both the good shepherd (John 10) and the chief shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).
But how does Jesus Christ lead His church now since He has ascended to the right hand of the Father? Again, the Bible is clear. In Ephesians 4:11-13, we are told that the ascended Christ has granted gifts to His church in ministers of the Word (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) for the purpose of equipping the church for the work of ministry in order to build it up until spiritual maturity is attained. In other words, the ascended Christ leads His church through these ministers of the Word called pastors (elders) who teach God’s Word. That Christ leads His church through human shepherds is confirmed in 1 Peter 5:1-5 when the elders are exhorted to shepherd the flock of God under their care faithfully . . . and when the chief Shepherd (Jesus) appears they will be rewarded. But who are these elders, and how does the church recognize them?
Who can be an elder (pastor)?
Men. It sounds chauvinistic in our enlightened and gender-liberated culture to say that only men can be elders (pastors), but the biblical prescription is both clear and logical (1 Timothy 2:12-15). The Bible roots male/female equality in the fact that both bear God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28). Nevertheless, the man and the woman have distinct roles (Genesis 2:15-25). The man is to lead, protect and provide, and the woman is to follow the man’s leadership and help him, thereby fulfilling their God-given vocations (Genesis 2:18). It is not accidental that this very pattern of male leadership, protection and provision is called for in the church. The practice of male elders/pastors in the church serves to instruct and model God’s pattern of manhood and womanhood ordained in creation.
Men who are above reproach. But it’s not just any man who is to serve. The Bible instructs us that only those men who are above reproach qualify for service as elders/pastors. Clearly, no one is perfect except Christ Himself. However, Christ-followers are expected to be growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ and to be characterized by certain fruit: righteousness, love for the brethren, love for truth (see 1 John). It is such men who qualify for the office of elder/pastor.
Personally, I take “above reproach” to be the one, primary qualification of an elder/pastor. In this light, the Bible exhorts us in 1 Timothy 3 (and Titus 1), to consider various areas in which an elder/pastor must be above reproach. An elder/pastor must be above reproach in his personal life (character—3:2-3), his home life (how he loves his wife if married—3:2; how he manages his children if he has any—3:4-5), his spiritual and doctrinal life (able to teach, not a new convert—3:2, 6), and his public life (a man of good reputation—3:7).
How does the church recognize elders/pastors?
At High Pointe, we believe that elder/pastor candidates should undergo a period of testing and observation (1 Timothy 5:24-25). This happens both informally (as we get to know one another and observe brothers in ministry) and formally (through an elder candidate process). Those men who are seen to qualify for the office are presented to the congregation for affirmation (1 Timothy 5:22). In affirming its elders, the congregation communicates that it wants to be led by such men.
How should the congregation relate to the elders?
By all means, the congregation holds the elders accountable (1 Timothy 5:20-21), but the congregation is also to pray for the elders/pastors, protect them from false charges (1 Timothy 5:19) and follow their leadership (Hebrews 13:17).
Where to begin?
Where may churches begin their journey toward faithful, biblical church leadership? If you need to be convinced of the church’s need for elders, then read Why Elders? A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members by Benjamin L. Merkle.
If you have lots of questions about what the Bible says about church leadership, then read 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons, again by Merkle.
If you are convinced and need to lead your congregation through the process of moving toward biblical church leadership, then Phil A. Newton’s Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership will be of immense help.
If you are convinced and the church is ready to move forward toward installing biblical church leaders, then you will want to read Thabiti Anyabwile’s newest book, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons.