At Grace Bible Church, we are committed to seven absolutely non-negotiable pillars of ministry. We have committed to a high view of God, a high view of Scripture, a biblical view of the gospel, a biblical view of mankind, a biblical view of the church, and a biblical view of worship. To implement these pillars of ministry, we must finally be committed to a biblical view of church leadership. This is absolutely vital to the life of the church. Although many fine books have been written on the subject of biblical church leadership, we will outline in brief what we feel to be the biblical view of church leadership. This will cover the areas of qualification, organization, obligation, variation, and delegation.
There has traditionally been a non-biblical approach to the selection of leaders in the church. Often, leadership is given to the most out-going, or the most successful, or the most willing to serve. While all of these are wonderful qualities given by God, one does not become a leader in the church in the same way one secures a corporate executive position. Instead, the Bible gives the qualifications for leadership in the church as found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. These qualifications are character qualities such as faithfulness in marriage, gentleness, and patience. Leaders are to be skilled in the practice of teaching the Scriptures (1 Tim 3:2) as those who will shepherd the flock of God. These passages and others such as 2 Timothy 2:2 clearly teach that this leadership is specifically male leadership as decreed by God. Women, as fellow equal heirs of Christ in the church, have a unique and honored role that is different from men.
Getting more specific, there are three major words used in the New Testament for these leaders: Overseer (episkopos), Elder (presbūteros), and Pastor/Shepherd (NAS and ESV translations)(poimein). It is key to note that these terms are used interchangeably in reference to church leadership; these terms refer to one and same person (See, for example Titus 1:5, 7). The New Testament teaches a plurality of elders in each local church (Titus 1:5; Acts 20:28) and there is no New Testament basis for an upper tier of church management, such as a bishop; local churches are autonomously led by local elders. The elders functions as equals, deferring to the Scriptures as authoritative and to Christ as the Head of the church, having expressed Himself in the Scriptures.
The elders are first to be exhibiting and modeling the character of Christ as examples to the flock (1 Thess. 2:4 –12; Eph. 5:1–2). They are to equip the people through the preaching and teaching of Scripture to do the work of the ministry (Eph 4:12). They are to reproduce themselves in the lives of other men (2 Tim 2:2). In all things that they do, they are to shepherd the church willingly, lovingly, and gently. This includes feeding the flock the truth of Scripture and protecting the flock from the lies of false doctrine (Jude 12; Heb 13:17). They are to work hard at being elders (1 Thess. 5:11). They are to always have the goal of duplicating their own ministry in the lives of others, not in becoming all-sufficient professional service-providers.
Scripture is clear that all elders function in the same capacity, that of equipping, ruling, shepherding, teaching, and administration. Scripturally, there is no such thing as a “lay elder” and a “pastor” as two different offices, although we often use that terminology out of convenience. All elders are pastors in the local church. There is a distinction made, however, between elders who support themselves financially and elders who “labor at preaching and teaching.” These are to be financially supported to devote their time to this endeavor. This is most often the main preaching and teaching elder, often called the pastor or senior pastor. He often functions as a leader among equals, leading the way in casting the vision for the local church and working with the other elders to carry out that vision. He is accountable to the elders as a whole, as each of them are in turn accountable to the elders as a whole.
The New Testament provides one other office, that of deacon. The qualifications for deacons are listed in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 and are essentially the same as those of elder, with the exception of being skilled at teaching. Deacons function as the official servants in the church, those who carry out the wishes of the elders. In this way, elders and deacons can work together by the elders providing oversight and training and the deacons taking care of many of the tasks in the ministry with diligence and care. 1 Timothy 3:11 also allows for women deacons, sometimes called “deaconesses,” to serve in this capacity of assistance, but not exercising spiritual oversight (1 Tim 2:12). In conclusion, I should say that having a biblical form of church leadership does not guarantee success in ministry. A proper structure does not ensure that those filling these offices are men of character or even men who are Christians. Therefore, it is imperative that the qualifications for these offices be carefully looked at and that the church not be hasty about ordaining new leadership (1 Tim 5:22). But simply ignoring Scripture’s mandates regarding church leadership is a disaster in the making. It sends a message to God that says, “We don’t care what You say—we’re going to do things our way.” No church with this sinful attitude can be blessed by God until they repent and turn toward the Head of the Church once again in obedience. At Grace Bible Church, we have a process in place by which those desiring to serve the Lord in leadership may “aspire to the office” (1 Tim 3:1). This process involves being a church member in good standing, extensive training in systematic theology, biblical theology, applied theology, biblical church and family leadership, Bible preaching and teaching, and the testimony of family and fellow church members as to the candidate’s qualifications.