Laying it on the Cross

Recently I had a friend say to me in referencing an unresolved issue with another, that they decided to “leave the matter at the cross.”  I was drawn to the language employed as it is rich in theology and metaphorical imagery.  So I wanted to investigate this thought and give some biblical explanation and underpinning to the idea of leaving an offense “at the cross.”  Specifically, when the offender never acknowledges or confesses to wrong doing.  What is the role of biblical forgiveness of the injured person to the wrongdoer?  We as forgiven people, are called to unconditionally forgive each other, regardless of the offender’s lack of efforts to make right the wrong.

First, as we all are sinners and live with sinners it is wholly normal to have complaints against each other.  We will be tempted to think that we can be exempt of loving someone because our complaint is grievous.  No reasonable person should be tasked with love or forgiveness for such a calloused sinner, right?

Second, as believers – if we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit – will forgive one another and we will bear with one another.  This is in contradiction to normal living, thus requires a wholly different strength, that of the Holy Spirit.

Third, the motivation to forgive someone will be the fact that God has chosen us, loved us, and called us holy in contradiction to our own selfish ways.  I am always helped and humbled when I consider how I may have performed the same offence against God.  Therefore the measure of our forgiveness for each other will be that of God’s forgiveness of us. The application of God’s love is the Holy Spirit, who “sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts” (Romans 5:5).

In instruction consider Colossians 3:12-14  Put on then, as  God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13  bearing with one another and,  if one has a complaint against another,  forgiving each other;  as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. ESV (By the way the staff is memorizing this verse so feel free to ask them about this).

I find it challenging that the Colossians passage does not seem to put conditions on the forgiveness such as the offender’s acknowledgment of wrong doing to the offendee.  (Now understand, there is a role for confession from the offender to the offendee, but it is in the step of reconciliation, not confession. This may be discussed in another article) Reconciliation does require confession and repentance, whereas forgiving another believer does not seem to have the same requirement.  So what do we do when matters go unresolved and our sense of justice is not satisfied?

I would commend Romans 3:23-26 for instruction.

Romans 3:23 for  all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24  and are justified  by his grace as a gift,  through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God  put forward as  a propitiation  by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. ESV

When Jesus died on the cross He satisfied God’s wrath of justice over our sin, this is the idea of “propitiation.”  Sometimes we don’t want to forgive, because we believe that the offender will get away with a punishable evil.  It is healing and faith producing when we realize that we are not the judge and “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.”  We take comfort in a Holy God’s vengeance and in an eternal punishment.

What do we do, if that offender finds forgiveness with God through Jesus Christ?  By faith we are to realize that Jesus became the offense on the cross and it was enough to satisfy God’s perfect justice.  I am to trust that that is enough.  I believe in the divine forbearance that passes over the sin of someone else, so I can now bear with them and forgive as the Lord has forgiven.  When we struggle with this action, we are struggling with the belief that God’s justice is perfect and that our justice is better than God’s work.  Remember it is God’s law that was broken and not our law.

2 Sam 12:13-14 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. ESV

Consider how God could pass over the sins of King David, a man after God’s own heart.  Yet he was guilty of lust, coveting, abusing of power, adultery, lying, “despised the word of the Lord,” and “scorned God.” Yet, the Lord “put away (his)sin.” If you were Uriah’s father, how could there be forgiveness for David?  Where did God put the sin when it was “put away”?  These sins were put upon Jesus on the cross, so no wonder Jesus was forsaken.  We would be instructed to project our anger to Jesus, since Jesus became that sin.  But we can’t be angry at Jesus for all that He has done for us.  By faith in Christ, we have to choose to surrender our anger and receive God’s grace.  Pray with me for this grace, to leave offences “at the cross.”

Jarrod Scott

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Shades of Gray

Lately I have been reflecting more and more on a principle that faces us every day. I mentioned it briefly at the end of the second Q&A and yesterday during the Sunday School hour. It is the reality that we live in a world of “shades of gray”.

It is true that the Bible gives the born-again believer, through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:12-14, Acts 6:9-10), wisdom to cope with this world. Of course, this is taught from the pulpit and the Sunday School podium on a regular basis. However, hidden behind this absolute is a reality, evident in our sin cursed world, which is often understated and, at times, ignored.

As Christians, we are left with the impression that if we are mature enough in our beliefs we will be able to perfectly discern God’s will in all matters, and ‘know in our hearts’ the right course of action to take in every circumstance. We are told it is not only possible but expected that we humans can find, and remain in the center of God’s will, regardless of the trials and tribulations He may put us through. In that place, we will find peace and comfort, regardless of our decisions and their outcomes. Admitting we don’t have clear, Holy Spirit direction on a matter can make us feel we are immature in our connection with God.

Yesterday we voted as a body on an important matter of church governance. To unpack all the elements of that process and its outcome is far beyond the scope of this blog. I would, however, like to offer a central thought, using the vote as a real-life illustration.

The vote we all took yesterday was an example of being forced to make a ‘black and white’ decision in a world made up of “shades of gray”. Each of us, before an omniscient God, had to decide in his/her heart to either accept or reject Elders based on an overwhelming flow of data. For those who reviewed the Biblical evidence, there was little question that some form of Elder governance (vs. a Church Council) was supported by Scripture. However, were (1) the innuendos and reported past actions of the Elders too indefensible or, (2) the By-Laws too autocratic, such that God was calling us to make a major change?

Prayer… asking questions…. seeking God’s will…. weighing the pros and cons…. inspecting the evidence…. reading God’s Word…. sensing the Holy Spirit in each of our hearts…. trying desperately to separate our sin nature from, “what would Jesus do” were actions being taken by many, as Sunday morning approached. These are all good things, Scriptural things, that God calls us to do as we are to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves”.

Trying to filter through all the “shades of gray” while being forced to make a “black and white” decision that is honoring to God was, for many, not easy. This is the reality of life on this earth. It’s due to our sin nature, Satan’s influence and the interactions of one sinner with another. In the Garden of Eden (before the Fall) and in Heaven to come, the questions we grapple with on this earth don’t exist.

Perhaps I am being too simplistic but I think sometimes God is more concerned with the way we make decisions, more than the decisions we make. It is from that perspective that we all need to pray for soft hearts and a welcoming Spirit to all our brothers and sisters who desire to worship at Green Pines, regardless of how they voted. I would also say that we, as Elders, need to recognize that the “black and white” decision to maintain our existing church governance was, in fact, a “shades of gray” decision for many in the congregation who voted NO, much less to the 33% who voted YES. I know I speak for all the Elders when I say that we need to not only recognize, but respond kindly and quickly, to that reality.

Jeff Hilles

What Elders Might Look Like at Green Pines

Part 5 of a 5 part Series…
Please refer to archived post for previous blogs. This is from a document written by a pastor from 4 years ago.

Who are Elders?
We need to understand that when the Bible teaches about the office of elder, it is not a question of younger people versus older people.  The term of elder is referencing a spiritual maturity and not a biological age.  The word from which “elder” is taken, occurs seventy-five times in the New Testament.  Only nine times does it refer to the chronological advanced years.  Twenty-nine times the word is used to refer to Jewish leaders in the Sanhedrin or the local synagogues.    Twenty times it refers to elders in churches of various towns.  So when we are seeking elders the question is not “are they young or old?” but are they spiritually mature?  Are they seeking Christ-likeness?

So an elder is a spiritually mature man who is knowledgeable in the scriptures and able to teach them.  He has been officially recognized by the local church for the purpose of oversight and shepherding God’s flock.

The definition and criteria of elders given in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 are challenging enough.  We do need not to add criteria concerning a set age of an individual to the list.  However, it would be unusual for an individual to be so trusted and known as a shepherding elder apart from experience.

The “elder” term is interchanged with “pastor” and “overseer.”  In other words, we are talking about one group and not two or three different groups in a local church.  As the pastor of Green Pines, I am also an elder and an overseer.  Acts 20 makes this clear, when Paul meets with the “elders” of the church in Ephesus and tell s them to watch over themselves and the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made them “overseers” and to “be shepherds” of the church of God.  In 1 Peter 5:1-2, Peter writes to the “elders among you,” and tells them to pastor God’s flock and to do so by “serving as overseers.”

Elders in a church may not necessarily be full-time vocational pastors.  In fact, lay elders in a church would provide an important variable in church leadership.  The New Testament seems to include or at least allow lay elders.  Nor does an elder group exclude full-time vocational ministers.    It would be apparent that the lead elder would be paid as he serves as the leader in teaching and vision for the church.  This would be the person recognized as the lead or senior pastor and by definition of his task and qualification be considered an elder.  The Bible has nothing to say about staff positions and associate pastors.  Simple a person is either an elder or deacon or they are not.  There are no hybrid positions with semi-authority.  I would not recommend that current staff positions be assumed that they are elders.  If a staff member is made an elder than they will go through the same process as a lay elder.  Hopefully, if a person presently has the title “pastor” we know they already meet the scriptural guidelines for an elder.   Members in our church should no longer bear the title “pastor” or “elder” unless they are recognized as such by our church.

The primary characteristic for elders would be a shepherding heart for the church.  These individuals are driven by what is best for the church to be under Christ authority.  A shepherding heart will also possess a compassion for the church.

 The purpose of church voting?
As should always be the case in regards to church votes, the chief question is “What is God’s will?”  The church is not lead by the will of the people, as might be a democratic government, but by Christ through his Word and Holy Spirit.  As people filled with God’s Spirit, we are to surrender our desires and actions to the will of the Holy Spirit who indwells our lives as believers.   There is a sense where God’s people can mutually sense God’s direction and it is made evident by the working of God that we see in each other.  Therefore, the church vote is not to vote for someone or something, but to affirm or deny a course of action as God’s will.   The idea of voting for a successful person or a popular person because they are willing to serve on the board does not regard God’s word or His Spirit.

What will Elders do?
It may be helpful to know that there are different models of Elder direction in a church.  One model is called “elder rule”  In this model, the elder body is the final authority under Christ in a church.  This appears not to recognize the role of the Holy Spirit among the church nor practically allows the church to be the final authority.  This model is not consistent with Baptist theology as a congregational church.

The second model is called “Elder leadership.”  This model allows for the church to recognize and set aside their leaders for God-given roles.  The church is the final authority as is consistent with Matthew 18.

The third model, I would advocate is really a variety of “elder leaderhip.”  This is called “shepherding elders.”  The authority roles are the same as “elder leadership,” but there is more emphasis on the type of heart and work of the elder.

The elders work together to provide oversight, teaching for the church and shepherd God’s flock.  It is a picture of feeding God’s word by teaching, exhorting, and refuting when necessary.  These jobs are not necessarily practiced among large groups but can include personal or small group opportunities.  The elders pray for the physically ill (James 5:14) as they do for all the church (Acts 6:4).  They are to disciple younger men and train some to be future leaders (2 Timothy 2:2).  They are to gently exhort and encourage others by giving not only the gospel, but also their own lives (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12).

They are to work together for a spiritually healthy church.  This may include guarding against spiritual or doctrinal error, determining church policies, overseeing church finances, ensuring pastoral care of members, giving guidance to ministry leaders, ascertaining the need for new ministries or to end past ministries, discipling potential leaders and ensuring a discipling culture, overseeing the corporate worship of our body, working to resolve conflicts among members when needed, and making decisions about the needs and direction of the church.  Certain responsibilities such as finances or personal may be assigned to certain elders or committees to oversee and give a report.

The previous mentioned duties would require at least monthly meetings for elders to give a report and discuss each of these issues.  These meetings should also involve group prayer for our church concerning these questions.

The role of the senior pastor among this group of elders is to take responsibility as the primary teacher as well as giving overall vision to the church.  The other elders are to recognize the unique calling of one elder among the group of elders to perform these task.  The senior pastor only has one vote as do all the elders so he is equal with them as brothers under Christ.  The pastor is in a sense subordinate to the elders as they oversee the employee aspects of the church.  In another sense, the senior pastor is the leader among the equals and the first among equals concerning the vision and teaching of the Word.   There is a mutual submission among this group in these different areas.

These responsibilities will involve making decisions for the church that will demand spiritual insight.  These men are not so much looking into the interests of the people as the dominant factor for decisions, but they are considering the interests of God to determine decisions.  God has given the Holy Spirit to guide the church into the truth for decisions.  In consequence, decisions of this group should be of unanimous consensus in most cases to demonstrate the submission to the Holy Spirit.  If there is a differing viewpoint, the dissenter should be able to explain the spiritual reasons for the difference.  The intent of the explanation will be for the other elders to understand, think through, and pray over the reason.

There may be some decisions that the elder group will recognize the need to present matters to the entire church for consideration.  This seems to be understanding in regards to extreme church discipline cases as taught by Jesus in Matthew 18:18-20.  Guiding principles for when this option is taken should be based on the harmony of the church and the particular matter at hand.   For example, the approval of the budget is a matter that should include the entire body as it is a way to approve of a vision and doctrine that is the basis of the church’s identity.

How will Elders relate with the congregation?
Shepherding Elder model recognizes that the operating authority was given to them by Christ through the work of the Spirit in the congregation.  All of the duties the elders possess are given by the congregation.  An elder is installed and removed by the congregation.  The congregational model is not perfect for we are in this fallen world and will be as good as the congregation submits to the Holy Spirit.  Yet, the word of God in Hebrews 13:17 commands the church to obey their leaders.  This command does not imply that leaders will be perfect and always lead right and wise.  However, elders will give an account to God.

Once elders are recognized and chosen by the church, the congregation is to obey those leaders as an extension of obeying Christ.  When a person has problems with authority they are also having problems with God’s authority.  The mandate and enforcement of obedience is done by the Spirit of God and not the leader.  Ultimately, the elders can lead only by teaching and persuading the congregation.

How will Elders relate to the staff?
There are varieties of relationships between the elders and staff among elder-led churches.  However, in a model where the elder group is consistent of paid pastors and lay elders, the staff serves to follow the directives given by the elder group.  The title “staff” is not coincidental for it relates to the shepherd function of elders.  This paid group serves the shepherds in the overseeing task for the church.    This paid group serves as the “shepherd’s staff” as the elders are ministering to the church by leading.  The elder group may assign the overseeing responsibility over the staff to the senior pastor or to another elder at their decision.

How will Elders relate to the deacons?
Presently, our deacon body serves as a hybrid model of both a plural, non-staff elder leadership and as a group of leading servants working to preserve the unity of the church.  Though this model has been a help to me the last few years it still has problems.  For one, we need two groups dedicated to two different purposes.  The deacons are a group of leading servants who are working at the practical needs of our body to ensure the unity of our church.  These needs include building needs, shut-in ministry, technical needs of our body, pulling the budget together, preparing for baptisms and communion, benevolence, and a multitude of other needs.  In many ways, the deacons are helping to communicate needs of unity to the elders and the elders communicating to the deacons.  Deacons care for the physical and fiscal needs of the church, help create unity in the body, and support the work of the pastors and elders.  In general, the deacons serve as helpers to the elders.

The elders are servant leaders who serve our church by humbly leading and overseeing our church.  One of our church members gave the illustration of a restaurant manager and a waiter.  Could a person be both a manager and a waiter?  Yes, but they would tend toward only one of the functions.  Chances are that a person doing both would not be great at both.    So could a person be a deacon and elder at the same time?  If they are qualified, yes, but both areas will suffer and that person will burn out faster.    It is most likely that future elders will come from the present pool of deacons since they have already been recognized for their spiritual maturity.  However, once a deacon is recognized as an elder they will depend on other deacons to perform serving tasks as their new responsibilities demands their time.

Another important detail is that the scriptural qualification is different concerning elders.  The primary difference is found in the familiarity with scripture and the ability to communicate God’s word. Scripture knowledgeable brothers are the ones we should most naturally acknowledge and trust as leaders in the church.  So as we are now operating, we are surviving, but it comes at a cost of deacons not giving full attention to serving.  Another cost comes in the form of deacons being asked to oversee and lead, while not qualified for the task.

Conclusion:
These are details for our consideration, discussion, and prayer.  This document should not replace your own search in scripture for these questions, but to aid you.   Deciding in favor of shepherding elders will not change our denomination, or make us more conservative.  It does provide a helpful level of accountability and counsel for the church leadership.  It does not answer all the problems that exist or may come in our church. Yet, it does establish clear authority for our church.  It will not guarantee Holy Spirit leadership in our church.  However, it goes in the right step of faithfulness and obedience to God’s word and a more likely model of Holy Spirit leadership.

Green Pines, I love you (even through my frailty and sinfulness).  Thank you for your love as we pursue Christ together.  May we be as holy as saved sinners can be.

Jarrod Scott

What Past Leadership has Looked Like at Green Pines

Part 4 of a 5 part Series…
Please refer to archived post for previous blogs. This is from a document written by a pastor from 4 years ago. 

Up until now the church has been governed constitutionally by a Council of Deacons and a single pastor who may serve ex officio on all boards and committees.

It may help to know some history of our church, Green Pines Baptist Church. Our church has been in existence for 43 years, beginning in 1970.  We have a constitution that is much the same today as it was when it was first voted by the church, with some exceptions.  Basically, it sets up a government of the church which is managed primarily by committees.  In the very beginning of our church’s history, decisions were made with the committees and a lot of it was done by church business meetings.  As time went on, deacons developed a board mentality or council of deacons.  From the very outset, they would handle many decisions by church business in the business meeting.  Around  15 to 20  years ago, the church decision process seemed to go through some changes.  These changes were not official or constitutional, but was influenced by the teaching of a mixture of 2-3 pastors. The deacon group moved away from a “board of deacons” or a council of deacons mentality to a body or fellowship of deacons.  As well, decisions brought to the church business meeting were reduced for the sake of unity.  These evolutions brought more authority for the decisions to the committees and the pastor.

As we read in the Scriptures, there are two offices in the church: elders and deacons.  From the teaching of the Bible, the deacons understood they should be a ministering and serving group.  So when I came in 2005, this was a topic of conversation among the pastoral search committee.  In the search committee, we talked about who are the elders of the church.  We cannot deny that in the Bible there are such things as elders as included in Titus chapter 1, verse three.  In the discussion about the identity of the elders of the church, the question was asked of me, “who do you believe the elders are?” at that day and time I said, “those who are pastors in the church are elders.”   So what does that looks like in a church like Green Pines?  They could very well be the pastor and any pastoral staff the church might add into the fellowship.   This group of pastoral staff were to be the group of elders and that was my thinking at the time.

So here’s what I’ve come to discern after eight years.   There is a portion of our church that agrees that the pastors (including the pastoral staff) are the elders.  However, there is another group that is not in agreement with that model.  This leaves our church in a state of confusion regarding authority.  One group rest the authority on committees with the pastors as an ex officio member of the committees.  Then there’s some so who believe authority rest with the deacons.  Another segment places the authority with the pastors.  While others in our assembly believe people who are of influence should have the say, though they are not deacons or on committees.   There is not one predominant model, but a mixture of authority models.

The valuable quality of this varied approach will be a good supply of input and contribution.  When churches are in their “honeymoon” periods with staff members and people join the church then we feel good and do not need to deal with our views of authority.  However, when things get difficult and there is confusion in the ministry of the church then we will have problems.  The years 2011 and 2012 were marked with tension and difficulty in our church body and the authority question was pronounced.  I have had many sleepless nights and times of broken heartedness during these years. I confess that there were actions and decisions I could have and should have done differently.  I have asked forgiveness and am depending on God’s Spirit in repentance.   My desire as a pastor is to make Green Pines better and faithful to Christ.  We must be able to deal with problems outside of having leaders and members leave the church.  When asked about the benefit of the plurality of elder leadership, one benefit is that there is a clear understanding of authority in our church.  It is an understanding that conforms to the biblical teaching, appreciates congregationalism, and gives support and counsel to imperfect humans acting as God’s stewards in church.  Understand, there will always be problems within a church, it does not deter problems.  However, it provides for a wise and God-honoring leadership to address church problems.

Why this concept was not brought up earlier in Green Pines history?

I cannot fully answer that question, but I could make some observations that might explain this timing.  The church’s formative years was influenced by the church climate of our region and denomination.  In those years, there was not much attention given by SBC leaders about elders, the “Inerrancy controversy” was gaining much attention and there just were not as many resources available to those involve in our church formation.

The second observation would be that there were not many pastors who stayed long enough to observe the church’s dealing and make suggestions.  I acknowledge that my pastoring here for almost nine years is for no other reasons but God’s grace and the gracefulness and patience of Green Pines.  For that, I am grateful to the Lord and to you.   Prior to our time together there had never been a pastor who exceeded five years at Green Pines.   This is hardly enough time to know a church and contribute to the leadership questions.

This would lead me to my third observation and that is God working within my own heart and mind.  I have stated that my perspective at coming to Green Pines have changed concerning elders.  Plurality of elders is a concept I acknowledged while at seminary, but have seen the wisdom of the involvement of lay elders while pastoring in the last three to four years. In the last two years, I have had read dissertations of dear friends in Christ as they have also researched this subject.  Jerry White’s presence among us last October was an immense encouragement to me as he was able to share first-hand experience in leading in an elder led Baptist Church.

Jarrod Scott

The Congregational Leaders of the Early Church were Elders

Part 3 of a 5 part Series…
Please refer to archived post for previous blog. This is from a document written by a pastor from 4 years ago. Truths 1-4 were in the previous blog post.

5. The leaders in the congregations of the early church were elders.

The eldership was not one alternative leadership form among many in the early church. It was wide-spread as far as we know, and it seems there  were always more than one in each church. Consider these texts that show how widespread was the practice of having elders in each church.

  • Jerusalem: Acts 15:22, “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church to choose men and to send them to Antioch.”
  • Ephesus: Acts 20:17, “And from Miletus [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.”
  • All the towns of Crete: Titus 1:5, “This is why I [Paul] left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.”
  • All the churches James wrote to when he said, “To the twelve tribes of the dispersion” James 5:14, “Is any among you sick? Let him call the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (assuming that there are elders in every church).
  • All the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia that Peter wrote to:1 Peter 5:1, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed.”
  • Finally, all the churches Paul founded on the first missionary journey (and presumably the other journeys as well): Acts 14:23, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed.”

The universal extent of elders in the early church becomes even more obvious when you realize that the term “elder” is the same person designated by “bishop” or “overseer” (cf.Titus 1:5,7 and Acts 20:17,28) or “pastor” (Eph. 4:11; cf. Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-2where elders are given a shepherding function). It is hard to escape the conclusion that God’s will for the local church is that it have a group of elders as its primary leaders.

As we consider the early church model of leadership, it might be helpful to compare and contrast this with current trends in church leadership.  Nathan Finn has helpfully categorized the popular models of church leadership common today in his blog “Between the times” on January 13, 2013.

Option 1 is pure democracy. In this polity, the whole congregation votes on nearly every decision. The pastors and church staff are often treated as mere employees of the church who direct various ministries, but who have no real authority in the church. All of the authority rests in the whole congregation assembled in a church conference or members meeting (often called a “business meeting”).

Option 2 is committee-led congregationalism. In this polity, the church uses democratic processes to make key decisions, but the real authority rests with certain key committees or similar small groups that are comprised of influential church members. In many Southern Baptist churches, the committee that runs the church is the so-called church council. In others, it might be the personnel committee, since these are the folks who keep tabs on the staff. A very common variation of this polity is deacon-led congregationalism, where the deacons function as the chief committee in the church’s hierarchy.

Option 3 is single-pastor-ruled benevolent autocracy. In this polity, the solo or senior pastor is called by the church, but after that, he wields most of the authority. In a larger church, he typically hires and fires all ministry staff, including other pastors. The lead pastor is as much a CEO as he is a shepherd. Members meetings are kept to a minimum; in some churches, only once a year. The pastor is the leader and the people follow his lead.

Option 4 is plural-elder-ruled benevolent oligarchy. In this polity, which is not as common as the others, a plurality of elders rules the church in much the same way as the single-pastor-ruled option. The difference is that the authority is vested in a small group rather than a single individual. In many ways, this polity could be called “poor man’s Presbyterianism.” The church is ruled by her elders, but there is no presbytery or classis beyond the local congregation. This polity also frequently makes a Presbyterian-like distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders; only the former are considered pastors.

No doubt these are simplistic summaries of the various polities found in our circles, but I doubt they are overly simplistic. I’m personally acquainted with many (sometimes tons) of SBC churches that hold to each of these polities pretty much exactly as I’ve described them. Options 1 and 2 are very common among traditional-minded, small and medium-sized churches in small towns and rural areas. Options 3 and 4 are more common in contemporary-minded, larger churches in suburban areas, as well as newer church plants.

Plural-elder-led congregationalism differs from each of these polities in various ways. Unlike Options 1–3, there is a plurality of pastors. Unlike option 4, all of the pastors are elders, and vice versa; the terms are synonymous. All may be paid staff, or some may be paid and some may be voluntary. Unlike Option 1, the elders/pastors have the freedom to exercise biblical pastoral authority over the congregation in matters of teaching and shepherding. Unlike Option 2, no committees or deacon “boards” are elevated to an unbiblical level of authority in the church. Unlike Option 3, all pastors are equals, even if, based upon prudence and giftedness, different pastors have different roles within the leadership team. Unlike Option 4, the final earthly authority still rests with the whole congregation as it corporately seeks God’s will under the lordship of Christ as it is revealed in the Scriptures.

  1. The function of the elders was to feed and lead.

Or to say it another way, the elders are responsible for teaching and governing the congregation. As leaders they give guidance and direction to the church. As teachers they oversee the life of the church to preserve its biblical faithfulness. They are wardens of the Word of God.

Titus 1:9 says that the elder “must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.” The elders are the trustees of the truth in the life of the church.

And they are the governing overseers. 1 Timothy 5:17 says, “Let the elders who rule well (govern, or oversee, or manage well) be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” So it is clear that there is a diversity of function among the elders. All must be able to handle the Word of God and be able to recognize false doctrine and correct error; but some “labor especially in preaching and teaching.”

Jarrod Scott