Follow-up to “Why do so few churches today have a truly biblical eldership?”

This post has generated some interesting discussions. One person asked me if churches that have a genuine, biblical eldership ever drift back into a senior pastor structure and, if they do, why? The answer to the first question is unfortunately, yes, they sometimes do return to a senior pastor model.

I recently added a page to the blog with links to elder-led churches. This isn’t a comprehensive list, just churches I’ve run across from time to time. When I happen upon a church that’s elder-led, I add it to a folder of bookmarks for elder-led churches. But I occasionally have to move a church out of my “elder-led churches” folder because I find they’ve designated one elder as a senior or lead pastor. Why?

I think we need to recognize that this kind of biblical team leadership isn’t natural to us. It goes against our instincts. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it doesn’t work—that is, it doesn’t work unless the Holy Spirit is actively working in the hearts and minds of the elders. Now, I have to clarify, I’m not saying the Holy Spirit isn’t at work in those who are senior pastors! What I am saying is that, just as water follows the path of least resistance, so we naturally tend to slip back into one-man leadership. It’s not as foreign. It’s what we’re accustomed to. And it’s just easier to get things done much of the time with a primary 3078761_f248leader. The problem is that it’s not biblical. And when we follow what’s comfortable to us rather than the model God has given us in his Word, there will always be unforeseen consequences.

It can be a real struggle at times to maintain a truly biblical leadership structure, and we need to acknowledge that. It can only be done through dependence on the Spirit of God and diligence on our part. It’s vitally important that those of us who serve as elders never forget this. If we coast, we will always coast away from plural leadership. We need to be very intentional about continually pursuing a consistently biblical church leadership model.

4 thoughts on “Follow-up to “Why do so few churches today have a truly biblical eldership?”

  1. Curt,

    Love your articles! For 20 years I was the “Senior” Pastor of Emmanuel Church of Etna in Ohio. About two years ago the Lord dealt with my heart that the traditional pyramid model was unbiblical. We have been slowly making the change ever since! We still have a ways to go but I believe we will fully get there!

    In your article on “Why we don’t have a Senior Pastor.” you made mention about some research you are doing on the early first church. How that our home model view of just a few people gathering in homes may not be correct. That they often gathered outdoors and even in the cemeteries. This is fascinating to me. I was wonder if you could send me some links or references where you were getting your information!

    Roger Legg

  2. Thanks, Roger. I’m glad these posts have been a help to you! The transition you’re in the midst of isn’t an easy one, but I believe it’s a vital one. I’ll be praying for you and for Emmanuel Church.

    The article you mentioned is actually Challenge 1: Wasn’t each house church led by one elder?. One of the best places to seek more background information is the book I reference there: Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Church Life before Constantine by Graydon Snyder. He tells of early churches meeting in cemeteries and also describes how they would dedicate houses to be used exclusively for Christian meeting places and even open up the inner walls in order to accommodate more people. I seem to recall a few articles in BAR also, but I’d have to locate those references. The idea that the early churches routinely met as multiple, small house churches with one elder per house church is not found in Scripture or in early church history. Authors such as Benjamin Merkle, Bruce Stabbert and even James Leo Garrett Jr (responding to Daniel Akin in Perspectives on Church Government: Five Views of Church Polity) have addressed this (and I took a stab at it in the post I linked to above).

    Hope that’s helpful,

  3. If you’re interested, Benjamin Merkle discusses this in Question 21 of 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons, (which I reviewed here), and Bruce Stabbert addresses this idea in chapter 2 of The Team Concept: Paul’s Church Leadership Patterns or Ours? (which I reviewed here).

  4. Alex Strauch also discusses this on pp. 142-144 of Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership (reviewed here), and Gene Getz briefly mentions this on p. 211 of his book Elders and Leaders: God’s Plan for Leading the Church. (I explain here why I can’t generally recommend Getz’s book.)

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