Review: “The Team Concept: Paul’s Church Leadership Patterns or Ours?” by Bruce Stabbert

From time to time, I’m going to post reviews of books related to elders and pastoral leadership. I’ll try to add these books in somewhat chronological order, first reviewing the earliest books. Hopefully these reviews will be helpful to those seeking more knowledge and wisdom on this important topic.

To my knowledge, before Alexander Strauch’s book was published (Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership), this would have been the only full-length treatment of church elders not written from a specifically Presbyterian point of view. Although Stabbert’s book has been eclipsed by Strauch’s, this is still an excellent book on biblical church leadership.

Stabbert devotes the first three chapters primarily to biblical exegesis of the relevant passages showing a plurality of pastoral leaders in the New Testament churches. He then follows with some helpful discussion of various aspects of biblical eldership. Here are some of his points that I especially appreciated:

Chapter 1: What’s in a Name?
In this opening chapter, the author examines each of the words used to describe church leaders, and shows how such terms as elder, overseer, bishop, pastor, etc. refer to the same leaders. He also very quickly and effectively shows that a distinction of one pastor from the rest of the elders is contrary to Scripture.

Chapter 2: One or Many?
This chapter traces the consistent, biblical pattern of plurality among the pastoral leaders of each individual church. Some have speculated that each city included many house churches, and have used this conjecture to challenge the concept of plural pastoral leaders for each church. Stabbert does an excellent job of showing the fallacies of such a challenge.

Chapter 3: A Verdict That Demands an Evidence
He does a good job handling those biblical leaders that some claim are exceptions to a pattern of plural pastoral leaders (Timothy, James, etc.). I wish he had gone into a little more detail regarding James, particularly the amount of baggage placed on one word in the Greek (krino), which can simply mean to offer one’s opinion or perspective.

Chapter 4: If the Shoe Fits
Stabbert lists ten benefits of adopting this biblical model of church leadership. Very helpful insights.

Chapter 5: We’ve Never Done It That Way Before
Ably handles common objections to this leadership model. I particularly appreciated his discussion of pastoral training, seminary education, and the overemphasis of a unique “call” to pastoral ministry.

Chapter 6: How Now?
Good thoughts on how to make sure a process of change in a church is a healthy one.

Chapter 7: The Inside Story
Solid section on the qualifications for elders. Helpful discussion on the desired age of elders. (Can a 24-year old seminary graduate be considered an “elder”?) Excellent description of the “Indigenous Principle,” i.e. raising up and using pastoral leaders from within the congregation rather than routinely hiring from outside.

Chapter 8: Player-Coaches
Insightful description of what the biblical duties of elders really are.

This is still a very helpful book. For anyone serving or preparing to serve as an elder, or for a church considering a transition to leadership by a council of co-equal elders, I think this book would prove to be beneficial and edifying.

9 thoughts on “Review: “The Team Concept: Paul’s Church Leadership Patterns or Ours?” by Bruce Stabbert

  1. Actually, there’s quite a debate going on about just what congregationalism is. Of course, there are the historical Congregational churches that largely came out of the Puritan movement. But the term ‘congregationalism’ is usually used to describe a more wide-spread form of church government. Everyone agrees that congregationalism entails the autonomy of the local congregation. This would differ from many of the older denominations that have some form of institutionalized church hierarchy.

    Some would limit congregationalism to this distinctive characteristic of autonomous self-government, but others insist that this form of church polity also requires the active involvement of the members of the congregation in the decisions of the church. It is often claimed by congregationalists that the highest human authority resides in the entire gathered, local church body. Whether this form of congregationalism could be combined with a leadership by a council of elders/pastors is often debated. We know historically that many early congregational churches, such as Baptists, actually were governed by multiple pastors/elders. But, because of the traditions of the last two hundred years or so, this form of church government seems foreign to many congregationalists today.

    Churches that are led by a team of elders or pastors are almost always congregational in the sense of being autonomous, self-governing local churches. But most do not follow a democratic form of congregationalism, with the members voting on church decisions. In fact, many, if not most, don’t even have a formal membership. So, I guess a short answer to your question is: It all depends on how we define congregationalism!

  2. What are different portfolios leaders should occupy in a normal church environment (this includes the day to day running of the church and the control on funds?

  3. Pingback: Review: “The Team Concept: Paul's Church Leadership Patterns or … « Arminian « Church Leadership

  4. Job, sorry for the late response; I’ve been traveling. I think one of the beauties of the NT pattern for church leadership is that it’s very adaptable to any size church or cultural context. There will almost always be some sort of differentiation of portfolios, whether this is formally acknowledged or not, but the specific tasks and areas of oversight will vary from church to church. I love seeing how the leaderships of other elder-led churches function. We all have organization, but there’s not one cookie-cutter approach that’s right for every church. We have the clear biblical principals to follow, and the freedom to implement these principles in ways that best suit our individual congregations. I think this shows the wisdom of our Shepherd.

  5. I am convinced that one of things Jesus came to do was to remove, or break, the artificial boundaries required for the functioning of domination systems, all of which separate us from God. I see a healthy evolution of human relationships, in the movements from dependence to independence to arriving at interdependence. (Like the priesthood of believers?) Curt, your “church” notions are warming my spirit.

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