Monday, June 23, 2008

On the Role of Elders

With apologies to my friend "Kent" of "Kent B. True," I just have to point out some stupidity found in the pages of a recent Christian Standard. It seems one of the brainiacs wrote an article on the role of elders. In the article, the author stated that we can discern from Scripture what an elders is "to be," but we don't much understand what an elder is "to do."

The author says that it was easy to understand the elder's role as shepherd in the first century or in rural America. Now that we live in the 21st century in mostly urban cultures we have to ask, now what? The rest of the article was the result of some reasearch on what contemporary elders do. What they do in the city is serve in an advisory capacity to the staff. Where do you find that role in the descriptive passages of the New Testament elder. Here is what I wrote as a letter to the editor of the Standard.

So we know what elders are but do we know what elders do? Apparently not! Not since we live in a 21st century culture that is often urban and can't identify with the role of shepherd. I have a theological word for that thought: balderdash!

Perhaps it would be a good idea for the author of the article to read They Smell Like Sheep and the Bible. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize that a church is comprised of people who are often as dumb as sheep. They still need someone to look after them and to minister to their needs just as much as they did when they lived in rural areas. Maybe those urban sheep need even more shepherding.

The issue isn't that we can't figure out what elders do, the real issue is that elders have abandoned their God-given responsibilities to a group of people who are at best an expedient for their roles are nowhere seen in the New Testament. The New Testament Church didn't have "a staff," it had elders. For a movement that began with a desire to get away from the laity-clergy distinction, our contemporary elders have permitted just such a distinction to exist. Why "the staff' is even using the title "Pastor" which rightfully belongs to an elder. Maybe what we need to do is adopt the denominational practice of letting "the staff" be the elders and the elders be the deacons and the deacons just be just another brand of peon in the church. We seem to be adopting all the other denominational stuff that seems to be so inviting!

Everywhere we look in the once biblically-oriented Restoration Movement we see the abandonment of principles taught in Scripture regarding the New Testament Church. I'm not much into patternism, but I still think there are principles that mean something and can be aptly applied to the contemporary church. We've supplanted the biblical principles of leadership for corporate practices complete with a Board of Directors (Elders) and a CEO, COO, CFO, and so on. We've replaced biblical principles of leadership with the pragmatism of so many irrefutable laws of leadership (with proof texts rather than real biblical support). I don't think elders should micromanage, but I think they should be overseers and superintendents who know what's going on and who know the difference between sound doctrine and false doctrine.

Okay, I now get all the perks of a senior citizen so you can write off my meanderings as the ranting of an old man, but you can't escape the fact that in the qualifications of elders listed in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and Acts 20 you can find out what an elder is supposed to do. Their servant leadership is implicit in their qualifications. Maybe ... just maybe ... our folks need to spend more time in the Bible than in John Maxwell's tomes!

Michael Hines
Palm Springs, California


Alan said...

Thanks for those interesting and pertinent thoughts. I saw that Christian Standard article and had some of the same thoughts about it.

I've always looked to Ezek 34 as a timeless description of what God wants shepherds of his people to do. Of course that passage prophesied the coming of the Good Shepherd, a title Jesus claimed for himself in John 10. Since Christians are supposed to be followers of Christ, surely Christian shepherds should follow the example of the Good Shepherd too. So Ezek 34 is directly applicable to the role of an elder in the Christian church.

Kent B. True - perhaps one Harold N. Orndorff, Jr. said...


Apologies received! Great, as your writing so often is.

Kent B. True

Frank Guest said...

Amen and Amen.

Elder John said...

About six years ago we had our minister leave (under good terms) and the four elders assumed all the responsibilities until a new minister could be hired. This opened a discussion one evening that every time a minister leaves, the elders assume the duties so why not just assume those duties permanently.

We studied long and hard on this. Read, "They smell like sheep" and "Biblical Eldership" by Alexander Strauch and decided we should have been doing much of this from the beginning. We abandoned the minister search and have been elder led elder fed ever since.

From feed back I can see the assembly has not suffered under this decision and I and the other elders have been blessed as a result. We rotate preaching responsibilities (one each week of the month) and every fifth Sunday have an ask the preacher sermon series (questions submitted by the assembly). each of us has different gifts and are ministered as needed. the idea of a plurality of elders really came to life.

I am amazed in my studies of church history how the leadership of the church has evolved and at time very quickly. Paul in ACts 20 seems to address the Ephesian Edlers as Presbyters (their title) and says they were made overseers (their function) by the Holy Spirit and that they were to Pasotr or shepherd (poimene) the flock (the way their ministry was to be performed)

However by the end of the first and early into the second century I see these ministries or offices being separated. The Bishop was the overseer of more then one assembly. Probably any house churches in their town or city with the local assembly being fed by presbyters (later caled priests).

These bishops grew in authority beyond their own city and perhaps to entire regions soon called dioceses. the more affluent districts had the more authority with Rome of course have the most and we later see the papacy arising from this system.

curious how early this evolved or devolved from the biblical model and why we still seem to cluth so hard to a clergy system never found in Gods word.


Anonymous said...

I read in Sun City Newsletter that you had been ill. I hope you are al OK now.
i've been reading your work in the Restoration Herald and I say amen.
Betty Brandon