Where Churches of Christ Missed the Boat on Governance

When it comes to elders the topic that always comes up is qualifications. We talk qualifications because we do Bible things Bible ways and call Bible things by Bible names…so you need biblical authorization for picking the right kind of people. So we go to Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 for qualifications.
We obsess over how an elder gets in and who gets but we are missing two very important things:

First, we miss who it is who actually appoints elders, in the Bible. It wasn’t other elders, it was the minister or apostle. In Acts 14:23 it is Paul and Barnabas (apostles) who appointed elders. In Titus 1:5, Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders. Although not elders, we see deacons appointed in Acts 6 by the recommendation of the congregation, not the apostles. The congregation recommended and the apostles appointed them to serve.

There aren’t any instances of elders selecting other elders. If it is in there, I missed it. And yet, that is the process that we use in our churches. We obsess over the qualification but we don’t obsess over their actual process.

Second, I don’t find much conversations or study on the passages that talk about elders AFTER they get the position rather than before.

We get the idea that they should be teachers (1 Tim 5:17).

Elders can be reproved before the congregation for sinning (1 Tim 5:20)

They are to help the sick (James 5:14).

In one of the most important passages, 1 Peter 5:1-4, we learn this,
“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

Elders follow the example of the Chief Elder, Jesus. The church is under their care. They must serve willingly, don’t keep doing it if you are worn out…instead, eager to serve. Not lording it over the congregation. They are to be an example to the congregation. They receive special honor when Jesus returns.

I have seen far more concern that the qualifications are followed than that the characteristics are followed. How about you?

If you are looking for elders, don’t try to find people successful in the world but people successful in kingdom business. Worldly success won’t work in shepherding. It will backfire.

If we just followed the Bible more thoroughly in these matters, churches would be a lot healthier. Instead we have a model where there is BOTH no honor for elders and no reproof. And no one can operate healthily in such a system for more than a short while before things get out of balance.

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  1. Actually, the only apostles we see appointing elders, are Paul and Barnabas. And as far as evangelists is concerned, Titus. But I digress.

    As I have written before, we are really good at putting elders in place – but then what? How do elders get ‘un-elded?’ And what when our elders are more executives (o, wait, that problem is solved. We now seem to have ‘executive’ ministers). than elders, sheep-carers?

    heard somebody say the other day that “too many elders are too busy doing deacon things…” And the reason is obvious! I, as a supervisor of people, would much rather do anything else than sit down and have the difficult conversation about their non-functioning as an employee. I would much rather speak with them about their latest car purchased than the fact job expectations are not met.

    That, and the elder’s job to keep the faithful free from attackers. Too many splits among “us” have been caused by preachers going off into spiritual jungles, and elders sitting there, not responding because, after all, ‘we hired him to set our spiritual pathway…’ After all, he has a Ph.D., D.Minn, M. Div. or at least a BA! So surely, they know more about the Bible than we do…

    Don’t get me wrong, I support education! But sometimes, and lately, more and more, education is getting in the way. Am reading a book by David Young, where he deals with the attacks on Scripture and inspiration by the ‘progressives.” It is an enlightening book, and I suggest you read it (A Grand Illusion: How Progressive Christianity Undermines Biblical Faith:).

    I heard the arguments made by a recent graduate from one of “our” schools,that the Creation account is nothing more than a Jewish retelling of the Babylonian story; that the ten commandments was a Jewish adaptation of the Hammurabi Code.

    And so we go, with our leadership, as well. We have invented 16 different types of minister (Professional clergy, anyone?). We now refer to our ‘ministers,’ ‘preachers’ as Pastor. Which, in case you wonder, has an interesting definition: The guy in charge of the church, setting the theological direction etc. And, runs the church board – which term we also seem to start using.

    So our thoughts on leadership are changing, indeed. One cannot help but wonder if the change is in the right direction…

  2. I recently led a conversation on 1 Peter 5.1-13. It seems clear that Peter is referencing (or at least would be strongly aware of) the rebuke of Israel’s shepherds in Ezekiel 34:

    “You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.”

    Later in the same chapter Jesus says how he will shepherd Israel:

    “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…I will shepherd the flock with justice.”

    Of course, metaphors are not perfect–they all break down. Church folk are not mindless, stupid sheep. And the elders, themselves, are sheep who need shepherding, too.

    Perhaps the greatest problem is how we have viewed the role of shepherd. If you see elders as a board of directors or a governing board, then you are missing the biblical model. If you view Timothy and Titus as “qualifications” for an office then you miss that these are not legislative qualifications for an elected official (like a senator or a president) but qualities for an older-wiser-more-experienced disciple who comes along side of to assist others to walk in the same journey.

    Are elders there to tell people what to do and to make folks “get with the program” or “get in line”? Or are they there to care for, love on, and gently point to the One who loves us enough to die for us?

  3. The cofC model maybe works In a small country church. In large settings the model suffers in many ways. First, the ministers are highly educated at seminary and are professionals like someone with MBA. They have to run churches much like you would any large secular organisation. Yet they are under the thumb of elders who control the sermons, cannot be removed, represent factions, and are beholden to the unofficial power structure. Next, the elders function more like trustees instead of pastors. Yet, they only want the minister to preach on Sunday and visit the sick. The congregants expect someone usually the clergy to pastor in their place and yet it seems that no one does. This is not even mentioning the lack of congregational meetings, Q&A sessions, actual policies on voting, and opportunities to serve.