Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Summary on Elders Overseers Shepherds

Why am I focusing on this topic of leadership? I think everyone is a leader in some way or another. Whatever you do, good or bad, there could be people that follow your example. I think all believers would benefit from taking a look at what Scripture says on the topic of leadership. We all may have more of a responsibility than you've considered before.

If you haven't seen this funny video yet, this may help: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy

OK, so here is my summary of what I've learned as I've work on this series of posts.

(Each title is a link to related verses and further details.)

Jesus on Leadership
  • Jesus and the religious leaders of His day did not get along for the most part.
  • In the new Kingdom Jesus established, the first are last, the least are greatest, servants are the leaders that others should follow.
  • Jesus instructed His disciples not to rule over others like governments of the world do.
  • Jesus didn't want his followers to be called things like Rabbi, father, or teacher.
  • Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Biblical Elders
  • The Old Testament is full of references to Elders, this isn't a position the New Testament church invented.
  • They were older wise men who were well respected in the community.
  • I believe the Jewish culture had a role for elders to play within the family and community.
Elders and Overseers in 1 Peter 5:1-4

This passage doesn't need to mean more than this:
  • it was written to elders - older respected men in the community
  • They were told to be shepherds - to care for others in their community
Everyone should care for others, and these elders should be an example of this.

Appointing Elders in Acts 14:23
  • Elders were recognized in the Lystra, Iconium and Antioch community of believers
  • These were likely non-Jewish converts who didn't have elders in place
  • Paul and Barnabas either did the appointing themselves, or the community of believers publicly recognized them in some manner
Overseers in Acts 20:28
  • Paul was addressing the elders here
  • They were told to keep an eye on God's flock, to watch over it
  • They were told to tend to it, and care for others
  • These are things all believers should do. These elders need to be examples of this so the rest can follow.
Elders and Overseers Appointed in Titus 1:5-9
  • Crete was one of the predominately non-Jewish places the early church expanded to.
  • Timothy is given the task to appoint, or set in place elders who would have the responsibility for caring for and watching out for others.
  • God is entrusting these men to manage or be stewards of God's household. A noble task to take care of not just earthly treasures, but to take care of God's family.
  • We have a list of godly characteristics that these men should possess or strive toward.
Deacons and Overseers in 1 Tim 3:1-13
  • If someone aspires to be one who watches out for others, visits them, and cares for others, this is a noble task. Not just anyone can do this, they must meet or strive for these godly characteristics.
  • In the same way if someone wants to serve others in the body and care for the needs of others they must meet or strive for these godly characteristics.
Pastors in Ephesians 4:11

If we translate some of the ambiguous terms into common English this passage could read like this:
So Christ himself gave some messengers who are sent out, some who speak a message of God, some who share the good news, some who care for other believers, and some who teach, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and...

What Titles Did Early Church Leaders Use?

The example we have from those leading the way in the early church is they used the following titles or terms to describe themselves and others: servant, slave, prisoner, brother,sister, elder, and Apostle (or messenger of Christ' or 'ambassador of Christ') .

Some things I would NOT conclude from these texts:
  • Elders or other church leaders had some ruling decision making authority over the other believers.
  • That church leadership models can resemble government or corporation leadership models.
  • Elders would serve a 2 -5 year term after which someone else would take their place.
  • A specific number of elders were required in each community or gathering of believers.
  • That things like baptisms, marriage, and funerals can only be done by elders (or pastors).
  • That watching over, tending, and caring for included any decision making authority for others?
  • That some church leaders should be called Minister, Reverend, Pastor, Priest, Deacon, Archbishop, Cardinal, Pope, etc.

In summary I believe Jesus simply wants his followers to serve each other. The leaders among us are the ones who serve best and model a servant life the rest should follow. Serving can include caring for others, teaching others, going out to unreached people, watching out for others... basically loving everyone in the same way Christ loves us.

However I'm a Simple Minded Man.

I admit my viewpoint seems too simplistic if your view of the church includes buildings, staff, and programs. If church has become more complex than simply people coming together - I agree that you will need to have leaders who manage the organization.

I am not against this. I just want to present a point of view which sees these things as extras. I believe Christ's church does not need to have programs, buildings, or staff. It makes sense that I also don't believe it needs a leadership structure to maintain it.

If your view of the church is simply Christ's body of believers it is easier to see that leadership does not need to be a structure with decision making or authority over others.

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Tobie said...

Hi Jon,

Stumbled upon this passage some time ago and found it quite enlightening: In 1947, I asked an Arab priest from Beisan in Palestine, who was well-acquainted with the Arab nomads or semi-nomads, how one became an ‘elder’ of the tribe. He replied that he was not able to say, for there are no rules or laws to determine it. It seems that when a man reached the point where people often ask his counsel and he has the moral authority such as elders have, he is admitted by common, often tacit, consent into their ‘college’. So there is tacit admission into the group of elders, no nomination, nor application of a rule according to which one becomes an ‘elder’. The qualification is a man’s moral authority. It is my clear impression that a person became an elder in Israel in the same way, and this explains why our texts say little of it. (J. van der Ploeg, ‘Les Anciens dans l’Ancien testament, p190-191)

Jonathan said...

Thanks Tobie for sharing that quote.