Can we help? with PASTOR & MRS BANDA
Dear Raphael and Namukolo,
I AM a church-goer who is confused by the many titles that church leaders in different churches hold. For example, some churches are led by pastors, bishops, reverends, priests, fathers, apostles, deacons, prophets, popes and more recently papas! What does the Bible really teach about church leadership? CG.
Your confusion over this ecclesiastical jargon is truly understandable. Yet when we go to the Bible, we discover that the picture is amazingly straightforward. So allow us to give you a brief overview of the development of church leadership structures in the Bible.
The Bible teaches us that Christ is the head and owner of the Church. When He came to this earth, He chose 12 apostles to whom He imparted His teaching. He commanded them to pass on this teaching to all His disciples thereafter. Christ did not plant any local church but He gave this task to His apostles.
The very first Christian assembly ever was the church at Jerusalem. Who were the leaders at the church at Jerusalem? It was the 12 apostles. However, this leadership structure was a transitory one, as we soon see the apostles sharing the church leadership with new office-bearers called elders whom the apostles appointed. This comes out very clearly in Acts 15: ‘Notice how the leadership of the church is now referred to as ‘the apostles and elders’ in verses 2, 4, 6, 22 and 23. The elders were appointed to be the permanent resident leaders of all Christian local churches which were to be planted. This can be established from scriptures like; Titus 1:5: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.” 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 had believed.”
The apostles went about planting churches and appointing elders to be in charge of those local congregations. They did not appoint apostles to be in charge of local churches.
So, far this is fairly straightforward. The confusion begins to creep in when we fail to see that the office of church elder was referred to by a number of different names in the New Testament. They are also referred to as overseers or bishops; shepherds or pastors. All these are one and the same office of elder and they are used to highlight the different roles played by the elders.
That the elders are to be the leaders of the church can also be established from the qualifications given to the churches to use to appoint them. The qualifications for elders are clearly outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7: “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. (2) Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self- controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (3) not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. (4) He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (5) (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) (6) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. (7) He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”
There is another church office that we find in the New Testament and this is the office of deacon. Deacons were introduced in Acts 6 when the church was growing at a very fast rate and the work became too much for the apostles to handle alone. It is therefore not a leadership office but rather a serving one, introduced to relieve the apostles of the duties of service so that they could concentrate on their core duty of prayer and preaching God’s word. Acts 6:2-4 So the 12 gathered all the disciples together and said,
‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. (3) Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them (4) and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word,”
Elders, assisted by deacons, is the church structure we clearly see in the New Testament.
Learn to think soberly about yourself. Romans 12:3.
Can we help? with PASTOR & MRS BANDA