Three Pillars and a Pile of Stones
The Short Take
The Bible’s content is determined by our Sovereign God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16-17) All too often His people nefariously determine that the content is inadequate. One such area of discontent is about church governance. Lacking a clear prescriptive instruction on church governance some would read a little of their own thoughts into the scripture in order to assemble a “pile of stones” and tout the result as if it were a Pillar of Scripture.
The Whole Nine Yards
I recently attended services at a rapidly growing Baptist church in Edmond, OK, with several other guys. The young associate pastor gave a good account of himself teaching from Mark 12 and 13. As you might expect there was a bit of rabbit chasing as the text was examined. One such diversion was when the young man spoke about church leadership. Clearly Mark 12:6f proclaims one of the pillars of the faith, namely that Jesus Christ is the head of the church, the cornerstone upon which all else stands. Chasing the “rabbit” of proper church leadership the young man moved on to the foundational and historic role of the apostles which, having known Jesus on earth, were selected and inspired to write the scriptures of the New Testament and were the great missionaries of the early church, the role of scripture and the primacy of the apostles being another pillar of the faith. The young pastor’s final “pillar of the faith” addressing church governance was the individual accountability of the believer. The young pastor rightly challenged the church to accept the responsibility of having a personal doctrine, a personal intimacy with the scriptures so they can fill the role of protector of the faith whenever leadership might go astray. Clearly any church denying the role of Christ as the Head, the primacy of Scripture or the individual accountability of the saints would be deemed heretical.
However, inserted among these foundational principles the young man added a “pile of stones”, the necessity of the office of Elders in the church. I call this a pile of stones not out of derision but rather comparatively. There is clear evidence of the office of elders being used in the early church. There also are references to churches operating with one Pastor, with one pastor and deacons, etc . Even strong proponents of the Elder Model of church leadership would hardly call a church using a Pastor-deacon model heretical. In fact the staunchest proponents seem to agree that the primary reason for the elder model is pragmatic. Statistically it is claimed churches using the elder model have fewer church division than other models such as pastor-deacon with the pastor being the CEO or benevolent king. Nevertheless many churches across the land use the strong pastor-deacon model very successfully in expanding the Kingdom.
My Take: Any effort to transition a church from one leadership model to another should first recognize that there is no definitive scriptural basis for one leadership model or another. Lacking such, one must not rely on issues of right and wrong, (e.g. scriptural and non-scriptural) and focus on the pragmatic side. It all starts with what kind of pastor do you want. If you want or have a CEO then the introduction of elders will defeat the purpose and likely cause conflict and factionalism. On the other hand if you want a pastor-teacher-shepherd style of lead pastor then the lack of elders (or some other administrative hierarchy) will likely lead to a degree of administrative stagnation thus causing conflict and factionalism. Whatever course is chosen should be suitable to the particular church and discovered through prayer, patience and peacemaking.
Jim Suttle – 2017