Our “questions-about-pregnancy-days” are long behind us but our questions about life and God still remain. This is especially true in matters related to church life. Some of our questions include, "What does God expect His church to look like in the 21st century?", "What part do each of us play in the local church?", "What role does authority and submission have among God's people?", "Can God really use imperfect people to make a difference in a sin stained world?" We are not the only Christians asking; in fact there are many asking. In fact, there are so many questions about the Christian life one might be tempted to write another answer book entitled, What to Expect When you Become a Christian. But wait, that book has already been written-it's called the BibleJ. The Bible has a lot to say about a lot of things but the topic we are most concerned with at MV now has to do with church government.
We began a new sermon series in January on church government, specifically as it relates to the office of overseer-pastor-elder. The feedback has been very positive! Of course, the other pastors and I consider any feedback as positive, even if its negative, because even negative feedback reveals that people are listening. In an effort to clarify what we are saying and why we are saying it, we would like to answer some of the questions being asked of us these days. One of the questions being asked is this:
"Don't we already have a plurality of elders at Mountain View through our existing pastoral staff?"
Though Jeff, Charles and I are more often than not functioning as elders, MVBC is not, biblically speaking, an elder led church. We are a staff led church. In a staff led church, those given primary responsibility for the oversight of its ministries, whether they be missions or music or children or students usually falls upon the vocational pastors who have been trained in colleges and seminaries for such tasks. They are usually compensated for their church work having been nominated by either a pastor search team, personnel committee or other pastoral staff (depending upon the size of church) and elected by the church. In a staff led search, the senior pastor directs the other staff pastors and/or other ministries either personally or through someone he designates. A staff led church is just that, a church led by the paid professionals.
In an elder led church, oversight for the congregation is not limited to a few paid professionals. Rather, oversight is given by a group of qualified men, elected by the church, some of whom from within the church. Where am I getting this? Consider Acts 14:21where Luke relates how Paul and Barnabas helped the churches of Lystra and Iconium with its leadership.
After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples…… When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Paul so much as says the same thing in Titus 1:4, “To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion.
From these passages and others, we see that the office of overseer was held by a plurality of men from within the local church. Now this does not mean churches cannot appoint as its leaders, qualified men from other States such as Alabama, Idaho or Indiana. The church landscape has changed dramatically since the 1st Century and the congregation should do its best to search out qualified men to serve as pastors. But not all elders need to come from beyond the church. The New Testament pattern seems to indicate that local church leadership (its pastors) should include godly men from within their congregation. Aside from being the blueprint of inspired Scripture, we see several benefits to this type of church government:
1) When a church embraces a plurality of elders, the other godly men from within the congregation are given the opportunity to shepherd the congregation alongside its paid staff so that weaknesses and strengths are balanced out among the group. No matter how experienced, mature or knowledgeable paid pastors might be, they all have their weak spots and their blind spots. When a church limits its leadership to paid staff alone, it decreases the potential of having a well-balanced leadership team. And the larger the church, the greater the need for balance and wholeness in its pastoral leadership.
2) Closely associated with this benefit is that elder led churches are not dependent upon their budgets to provide additional pastors when needed. Some churches grow to a point where they desperately need additional pastors to shepherd the congregation but have no funds to acquire such staff. In an elder led church that problem is handled by adding qualified laymen from within the church whose source of income does not originate from the church. In an elder led church, the men who oversee the congregation consist of those paid by the church as well as those who have jobs in the community independent of the church's finances. In this context, as the church grows, the number of elders grow to meet the shepherding demands of the congregation.
3) In an elder led church, the line between sacred and secular is blurred. Clergy and laity are blended into one organic group who serve as the elders. If we are completely honest at this point, we have all sensed the "we" vs. "them" mentality between pulpit and pew. When it comes time to make important decisions including, but not limited to, matters of discipline, the church is sometimes on one side and the pastors on the other. This lack of trust can be minimized in an elder led church where qualified staff and qualified laymen from within the church pray together, study together, discuss together and oversee the church together. In this setting, it's not those guys from Alabama, Idaho or Indiana telling us what we should do; it's the group of men we have chosen, some of whom have lived many years here, leading us through these important and difficult matters.
4) A fourth benefit to having an elder led church is that it steadies a church through seasons of paid staff transition. If God unexpectedly moved the pastors of Mountain View within the next 12 months, the elders of Mountain View (if approved) would still function as its leaders. When a church leadership core includes qualified laymen from within the church, paid staff may come and go without destabilizing existing vision, ministries and infrastructure. In this setting, the vision of the church is not initiated and maintained by one or two paid staff but by a group of men who can continue to lead the church even if one or two or possibly half of the elders are reassigned to other ministries in the country. We see this principle fleshed out among the deacons of MV who at any given time are never without men to serve in this role regardless of military transition, health or family issues.
To summarize, MV is not an elder led church and to become one we would need to seek out qualified men from within the congregation to join existing pastoral staff to serve as our pastors. And that leads to our next most popular question,
"Are you trying to lead us to become an elder led church?" This is another great question addressing our motives for such a lengthy exegesis of just one verse in 1 Timothy. The short answer is: Yes, the other pastors and I believe the best New Testament pattern for church government is congregationally approved elders. And yes, we would like to see Mountain View adopt this form of government. However, please do not misunderstand or misinterpret us when we say that we would like to see Mountain View become elder led. Remember, church leadership doesn't exist without the accountability and authority invested by Christ in the congregation. Because Mountain View has a Congregationalist form of church government, the ultimate decision to become an elder led church rests with you the congregation, not us the pastors. Only Mountain View has the authority to change its form of government-not its pastors. As strongly as we feel about a plurality of elders, we do not have the authority to make that happen, only you do. We will teach-exhort-explain and answer questions as best we can, praying that God will speak to all of us but ultimately, the decision to become an elder led church is in your hands.
There are more questions, many more questions to ask and answer and we will try to address them in the coming weeks and months. But for now, please know we love you Mountain View and look forward to seeing how our Father will lead us in the days ahead.
To Him be the glory!