The Biblical model of church leadership is to have multiple elders working together as a team to shepherd the church, lead the church, and teach the members of the church. However, in many churches the pastor is more or less in charge and does most, if not all, of the shepherding. The elder board simply functions as the board that hires and fires the pastor and provides some checks and balances on what the pastor wants to do. That is not biblical church leadership.
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Thanks for visiting Bible Mountain. This is the 18th lesson in a series of lessons on the book of Titus. In this lesson I’m going to look at the fifth verse and talk about elders, and whether our churches have true elders or elders in name only.
Let’s start by reading Titus chapter one, verse five. Paul wrote this to Titus.
Titus 1:5 For this reason I left you in Crete, in order that you might set in order the things that are lacking and appoint elders in each city as I commanded you.
Paul told Titus to appoint elders because that was something that was lacking. The word elders is a translation of the Greek word presbuteros. The word presbuteros was used a couple different ways in the New Testament.
Sometimes, presbuteros referred to someone who is older than someone else. We see that in Luke 15. Luke 15 contains the parable of the prodigal son. A man had two sons. The younger son took his inheritance, left home, and wasted his inheritance. Eventually, the younger son ran out of money and went back home. The father threw a party for him. Then we see the following in verse 25.
Luke 15:25 “Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.
The word older is a translation of the Greek word presbuteros. In this case presbuteros simply meant the one son was older than the other. It didn’t mean the older son was old. It just meant the one was older than the other.
Sometimes presbuteros referred to ancestors. We see this in Mark 7. The Pharisees and scribes gathered around Jesus because they saw the disciples were eating with unwashed hands. Then we read the following in verse 3.
Mark 7:3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders;
The word elders is a translation of presbuteros. In this case, elders referred to their ancestors.
Sometimes presbuteros referred to leaders. We see this in Mark. 11. Mark 11 tells us about some events that took place between Palm Sunday and Easter. During that week, Jesus spent the nights outside of Jerusalem. During the day, he would go into Jerusalem. Let’s read verse 27.
Mark 11:27 They came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to Him,
These leaders started questioning Jesus about his authority. The word elders is a translation of the Greek word presbuteros. In this case it referred to Jewish leaders.
In the book of Acts and the various epistles in the New Testament, the word presbuteros often referred to the leaders of the church. Let’s look at one example. Let’s go to Acts 14.
Acts 14 tells us about Paul’s first missionary journey. Paul and Barnabas traveled around to various cities and preached the gospel. Towards the end of their journey they revisited some of the cities in which they had preached the gospel. Let’s read verse 23.
Acts 14:23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Notice the word elders is plural. Each church had multiple leaders. What we see here is the biblical design for church leadership is that each church should have a group of leaders, not a single leader.
With that as some background, let’s go to Titus 1 and read verse 5 again. Paul wrote this to Titus.
Titus 1:5 For this reason I left you in Crete, in order that you might set in order the things that are lacking and appoint elders in each city as I commanded you,
In previous lessons we learned from this verse that Paul had been in Crete. When he left Crete, he left Titus behind. Then Paul wrote this letter to Titus giving Titus instructions on what he was supposed to do while he was in Crete. We see the phrase “as I commanded you”. Apparently, Paul had given Titus verbal instructions, but now Paul was putting those instructions in writing. One of the things Titus was supposed to do was appoint elders in each city. The word elders is a translation of the Greek word presbuteros. Notice that elders is plural. Each church was supposed to have multiple elders.
I think most evangelical leaders today would say they agree with the concept that each church is supposed to have multiple elders. The problem we’re having in our churches today is that a lot of churches have elders in name only.
As you know, a typical structure of church leadership in a lot of churches today is to have a pastor who is either a full-time paid minister or maybe a part-time paid minister. Then they have an elder board that is made up of unpaid members of the church. Sometimes the pastor is considered a member of the elder board. Sometimes he is not. These churches claim to be following the Biblical model of having multiple elders.
The problem is that the reality in a lot of those churches is that the pastor is more or less in charge and he does most, if not all, of the shepherding. The elder board simply functions as the board that hires and fires the pastor and provides some checks and balances on what the pastor wants to do. That is not the Biblical model of church leadership.
The Biblical model of church leadership is to have multiple elders working together as a team to shepherd the church, lead the church, and teach the members of the Church. Each elder should be contributing time, ideas, and effort in leading the church, not just serving as an up or down vote in an elder meeting.
We see a similar distortion or false implementation of elders in large mega-churches that have large church staffs and then a separate elder board. Again, what often happens in mega-churches is the staff does the ministry and the elders simply function as the board that hires and fires the senior pastor and provides some checks and balances on what the staff wants to do. That’s not biblical because the biblical model is the elders are the leaders. They’re the ones who should have the ideas about how to do ministry, how to lead, how to teach, and how to shepherd. They should be doing that as a team. Each elder should have input into generating ideas and leading.
Having said all that, there is not necessarily anything wrong with paying some of the elders. The Bible makes reference to paying elders who serve well. The distinction I’m making between biblical leadership and unbiblical leadership is subtle. It’s not a matter of whether or not you’re paying somebody. It’s a matter of whether or not all the elders are truly participating in leading and shepherding, or if they simply function as a board that hires and fires the senior pastor.
Think about your church and ask if you have true elders or elders in name only. Are the elders in your church participating in shepherding, teaching, leading, and generating ideas for shepherding the people of your church? Or is there one person or a staff that’s doing all the shepherding and the elders simply function as a board of directors?
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