Elderships in New Testament Churches

Christians everywhere agree that there is only one Church and that all believers must walk together in unity, but the reality is that in the majority of locations, there is either no unity, it is superficial, or not complete. It doesn’t help when believers regard others as not belonging to Christ, and this is a great resistor to true “unity of the heart.” In a typical location there will be a variety of denominational congregations, one or two non-denominational congregations, a few house churches and a bunch of non affiliated believers. In each congregation will be a set of elderships (or group of deacons) and they will generally have little or no relationship with other sets of elders, from other congregations, in the same city. Also these ‘elders’ in these congregations are often ‘lay people’ not called to the ministry, but simple ‘good people’ committed to Christian life.

The contrast with the above is evident in the Scriptures, for example. “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” Titus 1:5-6.

Elderships were appointed in the Bible on a town by town, or city by city basis. In the book of Revelation Christ wrote letters to churches… the Church of Ephesus, the Church of Philadelphia and so on. In the mind of Christ, there is only one Church in each location.

Because so many believers today think it’s normal for the church to be fragmented they may have never considered that the elderships and the leadership structures we have may not be Biblical. With only one church in each location (according to the Bible), then there should also only be one eldership (local church leadership) in each location too.

Once we move from the point of having many sets of elders to only one set in a given location, we then start to reconsider the type of people who are appointed as elders. This is where the list of qualifications for eldership given by Paul to Timothy becomes important. It becomes obvious that we would not just pick ‘good people’ committed to Christian life, but people with a genuine call to Christ, to serve, teach and preach.

The Scriptures are full of references to ” the apostles and the elders”. In Acts 15, we see this phrase a number of times. Biblically the elders are the leaders of the Church in a given location. In a city there might be many ministries (local congregations) and many other works of Christ but there will only be a handful of elders, and these will be selected from amongst the five-fold ministers already in the city. Elders are chosen from existing ministers in a city.

Understanding this concept, reveals much about how we perceive eldership in the New Testament times. We are not talking about a few slightly more spiritual men and women in a local congregation who volunteer their time for leadership, and who may rotate every 3 years, or serve in this role because of a vote. We are talking about men called by Christ to lifelong ministry, selected because of their dedication and qualifications (according to Timothy), appointed by apostles and called to walk in love with the other elders to lead the whole Church in their city. We are talking about something different to anything we have seen or experienced in our lifetimes.

This is something we haven’t witnessed yet, but as apostles are restored, we will see change in the Body of Christ, including the restoration of true biblical eldership. As God changes the Body of Christ from being institutional (denominational/organisational) to being relational, the years ahead are going to prove exciting.

There is a call to prayer – prayer for right relationship between leaders, prayer for the restoration of apostles, prayer for the unity of the Body of Christ in your city, and prayer for the restoration of city wide elderships. Will you answer the call to prayer?