Thursday, September 8, 2011

Making too much of Elders?

It is wonderful to be back home here in LA. I was saying to the Father this morning that I was so thankful to spend the last 3 months seeing what he was doing around the world... I return to LA with such encouragement but wanting to see so much more happen here in our "Jerusalem". Here, we are still way too impressed with book sellers, conference speakers and leaders of large churches. It is so difficult to break from the celebrity minded church world to truly celebrate the stories of the great warriors of the kingdom, who will never get those accolades down here but will have great rewards in heaven.

A thought. The evangelicals has fought so long and hard to establish the true and wondrous biblical integrity of elder led churches. I will always be so grateful for those who labor with little reward, to return the church to her textual integrity. Being a bible lover, both in theological content as well as in ecclesiological shape, I do tend to get a little tender when we dismiss clear biblical shape for modern architecture - it will not last, at best being a one generational story of effect.

A thought developed. Have we now stopped our humble conversation around this matter and forgotten to keep learning? In many elder led churches around the world, I see them getting exhausted which is matched by the congregation getting frustrated for all that can happen has to be through the elders exclusively - very difficult if the E team have become the narrow part of the hour glass...

A thought expanded. Going back to the early church as seen in the book of Acts, what do we do with some of these case studies -

  • Acts 6 - the matter of the Hellenist and Hebrew widow conflict was resolved by the new layer of leaders we believe to have been 'deacons' - this valid role was not one the elders were to give themselves to - the result - the word of God continued to increase...
  • Acts 13 - the role of prophets and teachers was weighty and specific. There was no evidence that they were elders, yet they were task specific, empowered to fulfill this mandate as they worshipped, fasted and prayed, they sent Paul and Barnabas on assignment - no elders were seemingly involved...
  • Acts 15 - is the great theological debate. The apostles bring the key voices to the Jerusalem base for resolution. Those involved were "the apostles and the elders and the whole church" [vs 22]. The picture presented here is a most inspiring one of collaboration of apostles [the E4 gifts], the elders [the E team] and the whole church [the priesthood], not just the elders behind closed doors...
  • Acts 18 - keeps ever before us the role of marketplace voices, in this case folks who never seemingly hold a specific position of leadership in the church but are pivotal in the entrepreneurial conversation - here helping start the Corinthian church. Their eyes, ears and voices are so key to keeping the church sharp and moving forward...
Busy pastors simply become professional managers - managing moments, money, manpower and methods. This rends to deplete them and slowly grind the church to a desperate stumble. Can it be that we have to rethink this role and rethink who we bring into which conversations in our evolving church growth. Where and how in our churches, are our prophets celebrated? Where are those with the gifts of leadership and administration empowered? Where are those with marketplace lenses heard and legitimized? We simply must get the right people in the room for the right conversations or the elders will be over valued and over extended.

Just thinking...


  1. Thanks Chris
    Always thought provoking.

    Appreciate you open minded conversations. You willingness to weigh where we are with where we are going to be and pose questions that might expose us as a little less than we think we are.


  2. what about the textual instances where churches without elders are inferred, instances where Paul greets the church but no mention (as in other letters) is made of elders.

    Writing to the church whilst ignoring the elders would have been quite a snub, surely one of the greatest?, the only other deduction can be that there were no elders in these churches (I'm certainly not saying there never were, possibly in the early days of the church).

    I don't believe the scriptures make too much of elders, indeed, the scriptures make just the right amount of everything, surely. I think our modern western culture makes far too much of elders / leadership / management, it all becomes a blur and possibly therein lies some of the problem?

    When the priesthood can only operate properly through the bottleneck of the E team then surely there is a problem

    just thinking...

  3. Hey Chris, couldn’t agree with you more - interesting THOUGHT you have there. I think it’s amazing how a thought forms, in particular, look at your closing paragraph, it seems disjointed in specific context to both the opening and body, but at the same time has complete relevance to both - please don’t take this as critique, in fact I like it, like it allot… it has that crazy flow that can only come from a human… and one that thinks and doesn’t take the road of conformity.

    Getting back to your thought – I think part of the issue is that the church body or congregations often do not want to overstep the mark when it comes to running or “helping” to run the church. No matter how much a pastor or lead elder will tell the church that “we are all on the same level” before God, it always amazes me how much politic is still involved in the church. I suppose this is more prevalent in churches or institutions that you so eloquently term as best seller or celebrity minded churches along with their elders. I suppose in more traditional churches, that would be tantamount to the aunties that bring the cakes and jams to the annual church sale – you know what I mean.

    However as you say in the more evangelical structures, that do not have the traditional church country HQ to settle their corporate affairs, there is massive scope of daily work that must be carried out by the elder teams – that is the same or more often larger than it would be running a business. Everyone wants to run their own business, that is until they find out how much work is involved…
    The church covers so many meeting: prayer meetings, leadership team meetings, youth groups, home groups, meeting other churches – etc, to name a few, most of them carried out at night - so no wonder that when we get to Sunday worship, THEY, the elders are not running at full capacity. It would be cool if the E – teams could focus on SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP more than the actual operation of the church



  4. We need to understand he role of every believer gathering is to live in the freedom of being Royal priests. To hear from God for themselves and for there to be a love expression of what Jesus is doing in and through their lives.

    Being part of church since 1979 I have seen the greater body of Christ moving from a Christ centred focus to leadership centred focus. Sadly people are steered towards leadership( Deacon team or Eldership teams) within a local church setting as the only expression or avenue in which our ministries can be launched.

    Eldership in the local church needs to move from a positional status to a functional, serving status.Elders , deacons and saints honouring each other in their gifts and celebrating what God is doing in and through them.

    I think if we break down the hierarchy of Elders been elevated to positions that are not biblical, we will have a wonderful freedom within local churches to be able to share and be open with leaders in the church,as opposed to fear of been managed and pleasing man rather than God.

    I think the church could be a really special place when church gives opportunity for believers to share in the local church despite theological differences within the same church.Now that would be truly freedom.

    Blessing Mark Wilkinson

  5. Thanks Chris.
    Fully with you on this struggle As you would expect.
    It is an important one - not only for the sake of the church structure but more for the sheep.

  6. Chris,

    The enouraging thing is this topic and your interpretation seems to be worldwide. God is surely bringing a shift in the balance of this teaching that we have sat under for so many years.

    Thanks for posting your thoughts online.