Church Governance

November 20, 2016
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor
I Timothy 3:1-13

If you’re going to do something successfully, you’ve got to have leadership and it needs to be qualified. You got to have qualified leadership.

I was thinking about that this week, and it reminded me of my uncle Roscoe. Roscoe and his friend Jobob were construction workers. One time they were digging a ditch on a really hot summer day, when Jobob said to the Roscoe, “Hey – how come we’re down in this hole digging a ditch when the foreman gets to stand up there in the shade of that tree?” Roscoe said “I don’t know, I’ll go ask him.”

So he climbed out of the hole and went to his boss and said “How come we’re digging in the hot sun and you’re over here standing in the shade?” His boss said “You’re not qualified to be the leader.” Roscoe said “Well, how do you get qualified to be the leader?” The boss said “Intelligence.” Roscoe said “What do you mean, ‘intelligence’?”

The boss said, “Well, I’ll show you. I’ll put my hand on this tree and I want you to hit it with your fist as hard as you can.” Roscoe took a big swing and tried to hit the boss’ hand. The boss moved his hand and Roscoe hit the tree and hurt his hand. The boss said, “That’s intelligence!”

Roscoe went back to the hole. Jobob asked, “What did he say?” “He said he’s qualified because of his intelligence.” “What’s intelligence?” said the friend. Roscoe said “I’ll show you” – “Take your shovel and hit my hand,” which he put on his face. How many of you have heard that before? Well, my uncle was the guy! Just kidding…

What’s true on the construction site is true in the church: You’ve got to have qualified leadership! If the church is going to accomplish what God made it to accomplish, it’s got to have the right people in the right places. What does that look like? Who leads the church? Is it supposed to be led by a Pope? By a Pastor? Is it lead by a board of Deacons? Or Elders? Or a Bishop? What are the qualifications of those who would lead the church? Different churches would give different answers to those questions, and many of us have come from places with widely differing practices on those issues.

Today we are going to continue our Core Training by talking about the significant but important issue (SBI) of leadership in the church.

This is a huge topic. There are about a dozen passages we could look at, and about 50 issues that we could focus on today! Kelley can tell you that I about blew a gasket this week trying to figure out what to cover and not cover today!

It will be most helpful for us if we stay big picture today and just look at the:

  • Different roles that Scripture calls us to fill in the government of the church
  • Qualifications of those who would fill them

We’re not going to talk today about the details of how many people we are going to have in a particular role in our government – or of our exact selection process – or of gender issues in leadership. We will address those in the future. What we are going to talk about today is the Big Picture of church government – the roles and qualifications.

The passage that discusses that the most clearly is found in the book of 1 Timothy 3:1-13. This is a passage that Paul gives to Timothy to help him as he places leadership in some of the churches that he and Paul planted. We’re going to look at this passage in some detail today. Here’s my prayer as we look at this and talk about church government – it’s just that God would:

  • Begin today to move us toward the leaders that he wants us to have.
  • Move us as a church to desire the kind of leaders that He desires for this church.
  • Begin to move in the hearts of our future leaders and call them to the role that he has for them here at Perry Creek Church.

This is really important. It affects our church in a big way!


Paul says this:

Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths/mysteries of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.
In the same way, their wives (deaconesses/women) are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.
– I Timothy 3:1-13

Today we are going to take a basic look at church government – and my first thing I want to do is just tell you the roles that God has set out for the governance of the church.

There are two main offices in the New Testament Church: Elder and Deacon

There are two main offices – or titles – or leadership roles – that God has laid out in the New Testament – and they are the role of Elder – and the role of Deacon. We see both of these offices in the passage we just read in 1 Timothy 3. Paul talks about the overseer – who I am going to argue is the same thing as an Elder – and then he also talks about Deacons.

The Bible lays out these two roles for church leadership. If you grew up listening to church talk or if you have a lot of friends in church, it may sound strange to hear me say that there are just these two. Because there are a whole passel of other church offices that people fill. Some churches have Bishops, and Archbishops, and Cardinals, and Priests. You’ve got the Pope.

When I was growing up, our church had Trustees. Churches have Vicars – and Reverends – and Right Reverends – and Very Right Reverends (that’s my favorite – because I feel like I’m very right). Actually I don’t even know what that means! We’ve got all these offices! I haven’t even mentioned the most common office of all – that most churches have – and what is that? Pastor.

So how on earth can I say that there are only two main offices in the New Testament Church? The answer is that most of these titles – like Vicar and Cardinal and Reverend – are not in the Bible. That doesn’t make it wrong to have them in your church. They just aren’t in the Bible. They just aren’t roles that the Bible has laid down.

In actuality, there are only four titles or church offices mentioned in the New Testament:

  • Deacon
  • Elder
  • Bishop
  • Pastor

You see those last three Elder, Bishop, and Deacon? I’m going to argue that those three all refer to the same office – the same role. So that we really have two main offices in the church: Deacon and Elder.

I’m going to get a little technical as we go through these four, because I think some of you may have experience with these titles or questions about them. Then we’re going to talk about why this matters.

Now if we look at these four. First, there are the Deacons. They are kind of their own thing. The word means “servant.” We’ll look at them in a minute. Secondly, the most commonly mentioned office by far is Elder.

The Greek word for Elder is presbuteros. That’s where the Presbyterian Denomination gets its name, because it’s ruled by presbyters or elders. There are 15 passages in the New Testament that talk about elders. Whenever the word Elder is used to describe church leader, it’s always in the plural. You never see just one elder in a church. These elders are mentioned as soon as the church comes into being in Acts. Then they show up a lot in the New Testament. They are in Acts – they are in Paul’s letters – Peter mentions them – James mentions them – John mentions them – they are in Revelation. Elders are the most common.

There is also this character called the Bishop or Overseer. These guys are mentioned four in the New Testament. The Greek word is episkopos – it means to watch over or oversee. This is where the Episcopalian church gets its name. By Episcopal, they mean “rule by Bishops” – kind of like the Catholic church or the Anglican church. These are all ruled by Bishops. These churches see the Bishop and Elder as two different offices. They would see the Elder within the church and the Bishop as someone who has authority over several churches at once.

Perry Creek Church doesn’t have that. We don’t have a Bishop or a Session or a Synod that sits above our Church and rules over it, because we believe that Bishops and Elders are the same thing and that they work inside the church. The reason we believe that is that out of the four passages that Bishops are mentioned in the New Testament in two of those passages the same people identified as Bishops are also called Elders in the same passage.

There’s passage in Acts where Luke tells us that Paul spoke to the Elders of the church at Ephesus. While he’s talking to them, Paul calls them Bishops or Overseers. In the New Testament book of Titus, Paul writes a passage almost identical to this one where he lays out requirements for these guys. He calls them both elders and bishops in the same passage. So we would say that a Bishop is the same thing as an Elder.

Now the last term on the list here is Pastor. When we look around, this is by far the most common office in churches today. Almost every Protestant Church has a Pastor. So we would expect the term “Pastor” to be a very common term in the New Testament – at least as common as the other terms. How many times do you suppose it is mentioned in the New Testament? It’s mentioned one time – only once in the whole Bible! In Ephesians 4:11, Paul says “He gave some to be Pastor-Teachers.” That’s it! Being a Pastor, I was so disappointed to see that! I thought I was a much bigger deal!

Is Pastor even supposed to be a thing? Yes it is. The title Pastor comes from the Greek word poimen which means “to play the role of a Shepherd.” There are times when the leaders of a church are called to shepherd the church. That’s why we call the church the flock. Paul tells the leaders of the Church at Ephesus to shepherd the flock of God and protect it from the false teachers that he calls “wolves.” Peter tells the church leaders “shepherd the flock of God – guide them where they need to be – because the Devil walks about like a roaring lion – seeking someone to devour.” So these leaders are to play the role of Pastor or Shepherd, but here’s the thing: The leaders that these things are said to are specifically called Elders. An Elder is a Pastor.

So we often use the term “Pastor” to describe people who shepherd the flock as a full time job. In Biblical terms – and this is important – a Pastor, is an Elder, is a Bishop. They are the same thing. So when we look at what the New Testament says about Church offices, there are really only two and they are both mentioned in this passage:

  • The Deacon
  • The Elder/Overseer/Pastor

I’ve got 17 single-spaced pages of research that I would be happy to email anyone who wanted to read more about that.

Let me ask you a really important question about all this – who cares? Who cares what we call our leaders or how we structure our church? Does it really matter? We’re starting this from scratch. Can’t we just organize it however we want? Maybe some of even have wounds with some of these terms or maybe they seem strange to us. Maybe you’ve seen Elders as hidden and controlling – or maybe Deacons sound too Baptisty – or maybe you’ve seen a Pastor who was kind of a dictator. Who cares whether we are following the Biblical pattern in our names or our structure?

Well – I do – because I did 17 pages of research and, by golly, we’re going to use it! No, I’m just kidding. We should! We should care. Remember our value of Bible? We believe that the Bible is true, that it fits together, and that it’s good for us. Because of that, we want to make the Bible the most important factor for the decisions we make as a church. Well, this is one of those times when that value of Bible serves us well.

One of the things that makes the church truly unique – one of the reasons it exists and has thrived over centuries and all around the world – is that it was not invented by people – even by Christian people. The church is not the same thing as a secular corporation. It’s not the same thing as a social club. It’s not even the same thing as a Christian ministry like Young Life or Bible Study Fellowship.

The Church was invented by God. It is his Bride – His Body – His household. He calls it the Pillar and Ground of his truth. God has promised the success of the church. Jesus said he would build his church and the gates of hell won’t prevail against it. He didn’t say that about any other institution on this earth. God has given special instructions to the church as to what it’s supposed to do, how it’s supposed to behave, who should lead it, what the leaders are called and, most importantly, what kind of character and qualifications these leaders should have.

We believe those instructions are really what’s good for us, even if they sound a little confusing at times. I’m not saying that God doesn’t bless churches that use other titles or are structured differently. But we’re going to us the Biblical titles with biblical understanding. Because when we call our leaders by their biblical titles (Elder – Deacon), then we automatically understand that they have a role that is defined in Scripture – and that Scripture defines their qualifications. So as best we understand it – there are two main offices in the New Testament Church: Elder and Deacon.

So those are the two offices. Now let’s talk about the qualifications and tasks of these two offices. Let’s start with Elders:

Elders are Spiritual Shepherds

If I had to sum up their job in two words, those would be the words – Spiritual Shepherds. I’ve already mentioned that Elders are the same thing as Pastors – and that Pastors are Shepherds – now let’s talk about who these Elders are and what they do.

Look at the passage again. Paul describes the elders:

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
– I Timothy 3:2-7

When you see that list, what do you think of? If you’re like a lot of people, you read this and you think “Oh – be perfect – that’s all you’ve got to do if you want to be an elder! Just be perfect!” When you look at this list, there are 14 sort of requirements that Paul lays down there – everything from being above reproach – to being able to teach – to having obedient kids! So it can kind of seem like an overwhelming list and that has caused some churches to basically ignore it.

We don’t want to do that. This list is our friend. It really does describe the kind of people that should lead the church. This list is not meant to be fulfilled in perfection. I’ve never known anybody that fulfilled it in perfection. It should describe the basic direction of an elder’s life. Let’s look at it in more detail.

First, notice what is not on the list of qualifications and this is important. Notice there is nothing in there about worldly power. Did you notice that? There’s nothing in there about wealth. Nothing about social standing. Nothing about being influential in the community. Nothing about having a successful business. Even though they are leaders, there is nothing about having above average intelligence or about having lots of talent. It’s not in there. There is nothing about worldly power. There’s nothing in here about worldly power or even great leadership. What is in this list are 14 requirements that I think you could boil down to three things:


1. An Elder’s family life has to be in check.

Not perfect – not flawless – but the elder needs to have a family life that is guided by faith – and is under control, because that’s the first place your leadership shows up. He needs to have children who live like they have been brought up in a Christian home. Paul says here that he needs to be “the husband of but one wife.” When we read that, some have wondered “Is that only one wife ever or does that mean only one at a time?” We may laugh, but in some cultures that’s a serious question! There are guys who started whole denominations because they want to be the husband of “more than one wife at a time!” So which of those is it? Well, the Greek just says “He needs to be a one-woman-man.” I think the point is actually less about marital status than it is about marital fidelity. In other words, the main point is that the Elder needs to be someone who has been known over time to be a faithful spouse. He needs to be a loving, devoted, committed husband. So his family life needs to be in check.


2. The Elder needs to have godly character

 

10 of the 14 of the characteristics that Paul mentions here relate to character. Paul lists 5 positive character aspects:

  • Temperate
  • Self-controlled
  • Respectable
  • Hospitable
  • Having a good reputation with unbelievers.

And 5 negative characteristics:

  • Not an alcoholic
  • Not violent, but gentle
  • Not quarrelsome
  • Not a lover of money
  • Not a recent convert

So, 10 characteristics. To me the thing that kind of sticks out the most is that the Elder absolutely cannot be argumentative or controlling. Did you catch that? At least 4 of the 10 characteristics – temperate – self-controlled – not violent but gentle – not quarrelsome – relate to that. Elders have to have the right character. They cannot be people who bring personal agendas into the Elder room and create conflict. Because their job is not to think of their agenda, it’s to think of the welfare of the flock. They have to have their family life in check, and they have to have godly character. Now there’s one more characteristic that relates specifically to elders:


3. Elders have to be Able to Handle God’s Word

Here Paul just says they have to be apt to teach. In the parallel passage in Titus, Paul explains a little more about what he means. It’s not so much that an Elder has to be a really great public speaker. Rather, it is that an Elder has to be able to the basic truths of God’s word, and that he has to be able to defend the truths of God’s word from those who would lead the church astray.

So those are the requirements for an elder in the church: Family, Character and Bible. They make perfect sense when we think about what elders do:

Elders are shepherds. They aren’t CEO’s who need to have worldly power. They aren’t representatives who pull for their particular constituency in the congregation, so they don’t need to come with an agenda. They aren’t just whoever is willing to do the job. They are shepherds. They have the heart and ability to feed the flock with the word. They have the heart to lead the flock to healthy places. They have the heart to nurture it when it is hurting. They have the heart to protect it from false teaching and division.

Now one last thing: They do not have to be perfect. I’ve never known a good Elder that wasn’t troubled – by their shortcomings and sins – and even by the things on this list. That’s normal and it’s healthy, because we have to live out the humility and forgiveness of the gospel. Elders are called to shepherd imperfect – broken – often willful sheep: People that are in need of healing. The very best way that an elder can be relevant to those sheep is to know their own brokenness. So they don’t have to be perfect.

But this is no place for a novice. This is not for someone that is young in their faith or immature in their faith. The very first qualification for an Elder is in the name. It suggests that they’ve been there – that they have been faithful over time. That they are not going to get rattled or distracted or frustrated when trouble comes.

So Elders are shepherds. And we will have Elders. Don’t know how many yet. Certainly more than one – and as your Pastor – I will be one of them.

So we are to have Elders and Deacons, Elders are spiritual shepherds, and now lastly:

Deacons are Spiritual Servants

As opposed to the Elder – who is a Shepherd leader – the Deacon is a Servant leader. I’ve heard it said that Elders serve by leading and Deacons lead by serving. Go home and think about that. It’s like they say – 5 out of 3 people struggle with fractions. “Too clever by half.” What does the mean?

Biblically as you can see from our passage, Deacons are supposed to be in the church – and as we will see – they are supposed to be servants. How many of you had people that were called “Deacons” in a previous church? Most Baptist churches have Deacons. The Catholic church has them. Some Presbyterian, Bible Churches and Community churches tend to have them.

Every church should have them, because Deacons are Spiritual Servants. The word Deacon is from the Greek word diakoneó, which means “servant.” There were about a dozen different Greek words for servant. But the diakoneó was someone who was a willing servant – that waited on tables. It’s the word Jesus used, when he said “whoever would be great among you must become your servant.”

So Deacons are Spiritual Servants. We can see from our passage that there were requirements for Deacons as well. Look at what Paul says:

Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths/mysteries of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

In the same way, their wives (deaconesses – ”women”) are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus
– I Timothy 3:8-13

Now overall we can see that the requirements for Deacons are a little less stringent than the requirement for Elders. Elders had 14 requirements. Deacons have 7 or 8. The requirements fall into the same 3 general categories of Family, Character, and Scripture, but in some areas the bar is a little lower. Their family life has to be in check – that’s basically the same as an elder. Their character is less distinct – not nearly so much about not being quarrelsome – because they are leading less and serving more.

Probably the main difference between Elders and Deacons is that a Deacon does NOT have to be apt to teach. Paul says they have to “hold the mystery of the faith” – which if you read Paul – really means the gospel basics – it’s not really about the deep truths – like the New International Version seems to suggest. They have to hold on to the gospel basics with a clear conscience, and they do not need to be able to teach.

So we know they have slightly less demanding requirements. We know the word means servant. Now in practical terms – what should Deacons do in a church? What is their job? To tell you the truth, there’s not a lot of information in Scripture. They are only mentioned four times by name in the New Testament. We do probably see them delivering letters from the Apostles and serving as emissaries of churches –

Probably the place they got their name and their most basic function is from Act chapter 6. There, as the church is beginning and has grown to a few thousand, there is a disagreement between two ethnic groups in the church as to how food should be distributed to the widows of the church. They bring the dispute to the Apostles. Here’s what the Apostles says – Luke tells us:

So the Twelve 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. 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 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
– Acts 6:2-4

These guys were originally chosen to lead some of the more direct ministries and physical needs of the church, so that the Apostles were freed up to shepherd through the teaching of the word and prayer. We would say that the Deacons take care of some of the more physical needs of the church and of some of the ministries of the church, so that the Elder can focus on the bigger picture of leading the church as a whole – and feeding the church as a whole – and shepherding the people.

We will be working on our by-laws. The Deacons will very likely head up some ministries and will coordinate together and with the Elders in their service to the church.

Those are the basics of the leadership roles we want to have in our church and the types of people we believe God would call to fill those roles:

  • Elders are Spiritual Shepherds
  • Deacons are Spiritual Servants

So what do we do with this? Well, eventually within several months we want godly Elders and Deacons in place, serving in this church! But for now – we can do a couple of things:

  • All of us can pray for that God will call the right leaders to the right places in our church – this is so important.
  • Maybe God is going to call some of us to serve as Elders or Deacons.