Why Discipleship Works with a Plurality of Elders

Article: Josh Buice (original source here)

In Acts 6:2O, Jesus’ inner circles was known as “the twelve.” They were serving as the pastors for the early church as it was growing rapidly. However, when a problem arose among the church, servants were established to wait on the tables in order to free up these men to give their full attention to the Word of God and prayer.

The pattern of ministry all throughout the New Testament is clearly established upon a plurality of elders leading and a plurality of deacons serving. Although this is not an blemish-free ministry pattern, it does provide for the most healthy scenario for discipleship in the local church.

Deacons, Elders, and Discipleship
When pastors are free to give themselves to the Word of God, the church will benefit drastically. The pastors who put more priority on pragmatics and less priority upon the study of God’s Word cannot expect their church to rise above their leaders. Interestingly enough, in Acts 6, the early church became united through the deacon ministry and this allowed the pastors to immerse themselves in God’s Word. As the Word of God increased, souls were saved in the community. Consider this pattern over against today’s church growth pragmatism that typically downplays doctrine.

Behind every great group of pastors is a great group of deacons. When deacons serve to the glory of God in the local church, the pastors can spend necessary time in prayer for their people. A church that places little emphasis upon prayer is often a direct reflection of their leaders. Such a church marches on in the power of pragmatism rather than the power of the Holy Spirit. No matter how much technology increases and how efficient we become with modern ministry tools—nothing can stand in the place of the power of prayer. Pastors who pray well often lead well. Pastors who spend time praying for disciples and teaching new disciples how to pray will go forward in the power of God. Prayer is essential.

Discipleship as an Intentional Goal of Ministry
Beyond the need for pastors to work in tandem with deacons for the work of discipleship, pastors must likewise plan and work with intentionality to disciple the church. It is the goal and responsibility of pastors to equip the church for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12). Pastors are not entertainers or leaders of ministry events—pastors are shepherds who oversee and equip believers to live the Christian life faithfully.

One single pastor who tries with all of his heart and soul to equip the entire church on his own will fail. If the church is larger than a small group, help is required to faithfully shepherd and equip the saints. This is why God designed the church to be led by a plurality of elders who would share the burden, responsibility, and work together in the effort of equipping the church to stand strong, love passionately, and reach their community with the gospel. Intentionality in the area of teaching, conversations, and being an intentional example to the church is vitally important (1 Pet. 5:3).

The greatest single pastor will not be nearly as strong as the wisdom of a collective body of pastors who put their minds together and serve as a single unit to lead the church. The weaknesses of one pastor is strengthened by the strengths of another pastor who works alongside him in the life of the church. This provides the pastors the ability to make well rounded disciples who become strong and vibrant disciple makers who multiply year after year.

Why does a football team have multiple coaches? Why does a business have multiple layers of team members who work to make the company successful? Although we never build theology on logic alone, such logic stands firm upon the foundation of God’s Word that points out the pattern of a plurality of elders who serve in each local church throughout the Scriptures. A plural group of men investing their time and energy in making disciples will always lead to a more healthy and robust church. Mark Dever writes:

The Bible clearly models a plurality of elders in each local church. Though it never suggests a specific number of elders for a particular congregation, the New Testament refers to “elders” in the plural in local churches (e.g., Acts 14:23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; Titus 1:5; James 5:14). When you read through Acts and the Epistles, there is always more than one elder being talked about. [1]

While a plurality of elders does not serve as a bullet proof defense against all church related errors, it does create a natural culture for disciple making. Be grateful for your pastors. Often a local church has a diverse group of men who lead, and this is a healthy pattern that often compliments the elders and strengthens the entire church. How is your church doing in the area of discipleship? How could you pray for your pastors as they lead in this upcoming year?

Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 215-216.

Appoint Elders in Every Town

You and I were never meant to do Christianity alone. The Church is not only being built by our Lord Jesus but is His provision for each one of His children – a place where each of us can be nurtured, protected and carry out our differing ministries in the body. C. H. Spurgeon called the Local Church “the happiest place on earth.” I agree. At least this is what it should be.

When Christ, the Good Shepherd, raises up a Church, He also raises up under shepherds. They are His provision for us. While other words (such as “elders”) are frequently used in the New Testament to describe the leaders in a Church, the word ‘pastors’ is only seen once. It occurs in Ephesians 4:11 and the original meaning is really ‘shepherds’ which is the how the ESV renders it.

I often think about my responsibilities as an elder and rightly so. It is a massive privilege and responsibility and one that I will give an account to the Lord for one day. (Heb. 13:17) There is never a day when that thought does not cross my mind.

Along that line, I was thinking about Paul’s words to Titus 1:5, namely, “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—”.

Other translations bring out the original meaning perhaps a little more clearly by saying, “set in order what was unfinished and appoint elders in every town..”, “set in order the things lacking and might appoint elders in every town, as I directed you..”, “put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town…” The message is clear that until elders are in place, something is very lacking in the formation of a local Church. Whenever we see the word “elder” in the New Testament, unless it is speaking of the qualifications for an elder (where we would expect the word to be used in the singular), it is always used in the plural – “elders”, rather than “elder”. Even here, Paul did not write “appoint an elder in every town” but “appoint elders…”

Dr. Michael Kruger writes,

“The New Testament evidence itself seems to favor a plurality of elders as the standard model. The book of Acts tells us that as the apostles planted churches, they appointed “elders” (from the Greek term πρεσβυτέρος) to oversee them (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2; 20:17). Likewise, Titus is told to “appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5).

A very similar word, ἐπι,σκoπος (“bishop” or “overseer”), is used in other contexts to describe what appears to be the same ruling office (Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-7). The overlap between these two terms is evident in Acts 20:28 when Paul, while addressing the Ephesian “elders” (πρεσβυτέρους), declares that “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers (ἐπισκόπους).” Thus, the New Testament writings indicate that the office of elder/bishop is functionally one and the same.”

He continues:

“But, what about the church after the New Testament? Did they maintain the model of multiple elders? Three quick examples suggest they maintained this structure at least for a little while:

1. At one point, the Didache addresses the issue of church government directly, “And so, elect for yourselves bishops (ἐπισκόπους) and deacons who are worthy of the Lord, gentle men who are not fond of money, who are true and approved” (15.1). It is noteworthy that the author mentions plural bishops—not a single ruling bishop—and that he places these bishops alongside the office of deacon, as Paul himself does (e.g., Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-13). Thus, as noted above, it appears that the bishops described here are essentially equivalent to the office of “elder.”

2. A letter known as 1 Clement (c.96) also has much to say about early church governance. This letter is attributed to a “Clement”—whose identity remains uncertain—who represents the church in Rome and writes to the church at Corinth to deal with the fallout of a recent turnover in leadership. The author is writing to convince (not command) the Corinthians to reinstate its bishops (elders) who were wrongly deposed. The letter affirms the testimony of the book of Acts when it tells us that the apostles initially appointed “bishops (ἐπισκόπους) and deacons” in the various churches they visited (42.4). After the time of the apostles, bishops were appointed “by other reputable men with the entire church giving its approval” (44.3). This is an echo of the Didache which indicated that bishops were elected by the church.

3. The Shepherd of Hermas (c.150) provides another confirmation of this governance structure in the second century. After Hermas writes down the angelic vision in a book, he is told, “you will read yours in this city, with the presbyters who lead the church” (Vis. 8.3).Here we are told that the church leadership structure is a plurality of “presbyters” (πρεσβυτέρων) or elders. The author also uses the term “bishop,” but always in the plural and often alongside the office of deacon (Vis. 13.1; Sim. 104.2).

In sum, the NT texts and texts from the early second century indicate that a plurality of elders was the standard structure in the earliest stages. But, as noted above, the idea of a singular bishop began to dominate by the end of the second century.

What led to this transition? Most scholars argue that it was the heretical battles fought by the church in the second century that led them to turn to key leaders to defend and represent the church.

This transition is described remarkably well by Jerome himself:

The presbyter is the same as the bishop, and before parties had been raised up in religion by the provocations of Satan, the churches were governed by the Senate of the presbyters. But as each one sought to appropriate to himself those whom he had baptized, instead of leading them to Christ, it was appointed that one of the presbyters, elected by his colleagues, should be set over all the others, and have chief supervision over the general well-being of the community. . . Without doubt it is the duty of the presbyters to bear in mind that by the discipline of the Church they are subordinated to him who has been given them as their head, but it is fitting that the bishops, on their side, do not forget that if they are set over the presbyters, it is the result of tradition, and not by the fact of a particular institution by the Lord (Comm. Tit. 1.7).

Jerome’s comments provide a great summary of this debate. While the single-bishop model might have developed for practical reasons, the plurality of elders model seems to go back to the very beginning.”

I don’t believe a Church with merely one elder in place is a scriptural Church.. not yet anyway… and if this is the case, as Paul’s words to Titus here say, something is still left unfinished; something needs to be set in order. Again, as imperfect as they are, elders are Christ’s provision for the sheep He loves so dearly.

I say all this to say that behind the elders seen in a local Church is the Lord Himself (now unseen), who has raised up these men for our mutual edification. The elders are in no way “better” than others – that is for sure – they are simply men ordained by God to fulfill a function in the Body as under-shepherds, under the Chief Shepherd.

A Job Description for Lay Elders

Jeramie Rinne is an author and the senior pastor of South Shore Baptist Church in Hingham, Massachusetts. In an article entitled “A Job Description for Lay Elders” at 9marks ministries he talked to your wife, and got the input of a few trusted church members. With a mixture of trepidation and excitement you accepted the nomination, and a few weeks later you were voted into office.

Now you sit at your first elders’ meeting, waiting for things to start. And a nagging thought arises: “Okay, I am an elder. Now what do I do?”


Lay elders are often godly, well-intentioned men who love the Lord and serve the church faithfully. But they sometimes lack a well-rounded understanding of the biblical job description for elders. Unfortunately, we paid pastors often share in their confusion!

As a result, lay elders sometimes fill the gaps of their understanding with their own life experiences. They assume being an elder is roughly equivalent to serving on a board of trustees for a non-profit organization, or leading a company, or managing a project, or commanding a warship, or supervising sub-contractors. While aspects of those skills and experiences will prove useful, none of them adequately approximates the elder task.

So what is a lay elder’s job description? What are they supposed to do? Attend meetings? Approve budgets? Distribute communion?


Here’s the short answer from the apostle Peter: “I exhort the elders among you: shepherd God’s flock” (1 Pet. 5:2; see also Jn. 21:15-16 and Acts 20:28). Elders serve the Good Shepherd by providing his local flocks with spiritual oversight. Elders feed, lead, protect, and nurture church members like shepherds do with sheep.

Let’s get even more specific. While shepherding is a powerful metaphor for framing an elder’s job description, our new elder needs concrete instructions. He needs an answer to his question, “Now what do I do?” Fortunately, God’s Word lists very specific duties that help elders put the shepherding imagery to work.


Here are four duties that are central to the elder’s job description. While this list is not exhaustive, I believe if lay elders devoted themselves to these four things, they would excel as shepherds.

1. Teach

An elder must be “an able teacher” (1 Tim. 3:2; see 5:17). He must hold “to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and refute those who contradict it” (Tit. 1:9). Jesus’ under-shepherds feed Jesus’ sheep with Jesus’ word.

If you’re an elder, find venues for teaching the Bible regularly. Teach a Sunday school class, lead a home group, give a lesson to the youth group, or study Scripture with a member over coffee. And if you’re offered a chance to preach, take it.

Further, tune in to the church’s overall teaching ministry. Keep a finger on the pulse of what’s being taught through congregational singing or in the Sunday school curriculum. Listen closely when members talk about what they’re reading and be alert for rotten food in their spiritual diet.

Finally, remember that teaching includes training others to perpetuate the church’s teaching ministry. As Paul said to Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). So bring along an apprentice teacher whenever you can.

2. Lead

Just as shepherds lead their flocks, so elders lead local congregations. The biblical writers also call elders “overseers,” a title that highlights their role as leaders (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:1; Tit. 1:5, 7). Hebrews instructs Christians to “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account” (Heb. 13:17).

Elders, be brave and lead your church. Don’t hide among the baggage like King Saul. When you see challenges in your church, face them proactively and plot a course forward.

Courageous leadership might involve reaching out to a frustrated member who’s stopped attending, or confronting an unrepentant member through church discipline. Or it could mean wrestling through staffing strategies, budget challenges, or important policies that affect the spiritual identity of the congregation.

As you lead, don’t lose sight of the destination. The goal isn’t to lead a church to become an efficient organization, as important as that may be. Rather, elders should lead church members toward maturity in Christ. Jesus gave teaching shepherds to the church “to build up the body of Christ until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Eph. 4:12-13).

Elders bring the flock to green pastures and still waters when they help members know Jesus more and increasingly reflect his glory together.

3. Model

Most importantly, elders lead by example. Shepherd the church “not [by] lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3). Not surprisingly, the New Testament lists of elder qualifications focus predominantly on character (1 Tim. 3:1-7, Tit. 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). An elder’s most basic job is to say “Imitate me as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

The mandate to model maturity carries two critical implications. First, modeling means you must guard your godliness: “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching” (1 Tim. 4:16). Continue to live close to the Lord, nurture your wife and children well, resist sin, and love people. Open your life to the loving accountability of the other elders. Modeling maturity is a team project.

That leads to a second implication: modeling requires elders to be among the people. It only works if people see you up close. So open your life to church members. Invite them into your home, your hobbies, and your ministry. People need a firsthand experience of how you handle stress, relate to your wife, respond to difficult people, and humbly admit when you blow it.

4. Pray

Finally, elders should take up the apostolic shepherding mantle and say, “we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry” (Acts 6:4). Ultimately elders are powerless in themselves to mature anyone in Christ; only the Holy Spirit can do that through God’s Word. The sooner an elder realizes this, the sooner he will hit his knees and plead for a continual work of grace among church members, as well as in his own life.

So if you’re a lay elder (or a paid elder!), strive to be a man of prayer. Build regular prayer into your daily rhythms. Pray over your church’s membership rolls during the commute or while you’re walking the dog. Carve out time as an elder board for concerted prayer. And when you’re talking to a church member, be sure to stop and pray for her right then and there.


Maybe we could sum up an elder’s job description this way: shepherd the church members like Jesus shepherds his disciples.

Like Jesus, make teaching central to your ministry, and make Jesus and the gospel the primary content of your teaching. In every decision, lead your people toward knowing and trusting Jesus. Let them see the character of Jesus exemplified in your life. And just as Jesus often turned aside to pray, so you as an elder should join Jesus in interceding for his people.

The under-shepherds of Jesus are at their best when they reflect Jesus, the Chief Shepherd.

Five Ugly Qualities of the Anti-Elder

fiveArticle: 5 Ugly Qualities of the Anti-Elder by Tim Challies (original source many people in positions of church leadership who should not be in positions of church leadership. There are many pastors who should not be pastors, many elders who have no business being elders.

This is not a new problem. In the pages of the New Testament both Paul and Peter labor to describe the man who is qualified to the office of elder. It is noteworthy that almost all of these qualifications are related to character. Where we are drawn to outward skill, God cares far more for inward character. There are millions of men who are great teachers and great leaders and great C.E.O.’s, but still completely unsuited to leadership in the church. God’s standards are very, very different.

In the book of Titus, Paul writes to a young man and charges him to appoint elders in every church in Crete. He tells him what kind of man to look for and as he does this he gives a glimpse of the anti-elder, the kind of man who may seek the office but who is absolutely unsuited to it. Paul offers 5 anti-qualifications, 5 things an elder must not be. He may not display all of these traits, but he will display at least some of them.

Here are the 5 qualities of the anti-elder:

The anti-elder is a dictator. Paul says, “He must not be arrogant.” The anti-elder is marked by arrogance and aggression, and therefore he makes decisions that are to his own advantage rather than to the advantage of the people in his care. He has a kind of unrestrained ambition that causes him to run over people rather than care for them. Instead of listening carefully and leading gently, he cuts people off and demands that he have his own way. The anti-elder is a dictator over his own little dominion.

The anti-elder is short-fused. “He must not be … quick-tempered.” The anti-elder has a hot temper and a quick temper. He lives by his passions, and refuses to exhibit any kind of mastery over his anger. Instead of leading in love, he leads through fear and when people get in his way, he explodes at them. All the while he justifies his anger by his ambition or his sense of calling, convincing himself that anyone who hinders him is actually hindering the Lord.

The anti-elder is an addict. “He must not be … a drunkard.” The anti-elder is addicted to alcohol or other addicting substances. He has surrendered control of his life to some kind of substance, over-using it, and eventually becoming dependent upon it. But as an arrogant and quick-tempered man, he will not allow others to speak to his sin or curb him from his sin. He is addicted, but still considers himself suited to ministry.

The anti-elder is a bully. “He must not be … violent.” The anti-elder bullies and abuses other people in order to get his way. He is a brawler, a man who is itching for a fight, willing to use force to get his own way. He will bully people with his words or even his fists. He will use force of personality or the strength of his position to coerce people to do his will, and to be domineering over them. Rather than using the Word to gently lead and guide people, he uses the Bible to bully them and to force them to do his bidding. He is an abuser.

The anti-elder is greedy. “He must not be … greedy for gain.” The anti-elder is greedy for financial gain. For this man pastoral ministry is not a calling and not a means through which he can serve God by serving God’s people; rather, ministry is a means to personal enrichment. He demands an exorbitant salary, and hops from church-to-church to climb the financial ladder. He does not regard his congregation as people God has entrusted to his care, but as marks through which he can enrich himself. The anti-elder loves his paycheck more than his people.

Alongside this anti-elder Paul holds up the elder, the real elder, the called and qualified elder who is different in every way. He is a man who is above reproach, who loves to extend generous hospitality, who loves what is good, who exhibits self-control, who is upright, and holy, and disciplined, and who holds fast to the truth revealed to us by God. He is a man who subjects his entire life to God and who serves him humbly and faithfully.

Thank God for godly elders.

Women Elders?

stormsArticle: Dr. Sam Storms (original source I disagree. I believe the NT portrays for us a virtually air-tight case for governance by a plurality of Elders. However, it is important to realize that even if this is not the case we can still determine whether or not women should be appointed to positions of senior governmental authority.

When seeking to determine whether women should be elevated to a certain office in the local church, one should be less concerned with the title (whether “Elder” or “Bishop” or “Deacon” or “Pastor”) and more with the actual functional authority that each church/denomination invests in that position (which isn’t to say that being careful in our use of biblical terms is unimportant).

So today we will examine 10 things you should know about whether or not women should be Elders in the local church.

(1) We should first take note of the consistent portrayal in the NT of local churches being governed or led by Elders. Among these many texts we would include Acts 11:29-30; Acts 14:23; Acts 15:1-6; Acts 15:22-23; Acts 16:4; Acts 20:17; Acts 21:17-18; 1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Timothy 5:19; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1; and 1 Peter 5:5. I don’t find any indication that a local church was to be governed by a single elder or pastor. The consistent NT witness is that each church was under the oversight of a plurality of elders/bishops.

(2) The English word “elder” is the translation of the Greek presbuteros, from which we get “Presbyter” and “Presbyterian”. Our English word “bishop” comes from the Greek episkopos, from which we get the word “Episcopal” and “Episcopalian”. “Elder” and “Bishop” are interchangeable in the New Testament. What I mean is that they are two different words that describe the same office or authoritative function. “Elder” focuses on the dignity and gravity of the person who serves while “Bishop” focuses on the practical function of the office (literally, one who exercises oversight).

Why do I believe they are interchangeable? First, according to Acts 20:17 Paul called for the elders of the church to come to him. But later in v. 28, in referring to these same elders, he says that God has made them overseers (ESV) or bishops in the church. Second, Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint elders in every town (Titus 1:5). When Paul then turns to list the qualifications for this office he says, “For an overseer (i.e., bishop or episkopon) . . . must be above approach,” etc. Clearly these two terms refer to the same office.

Third, “in 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul says, ‘If any one aspires to the office of bishop/overseer, he desires a noble task.’ Then he gives the qualifications for the overseer/bishop in verses 2-7. Unlike the deacons, the overseer must be ‘able to teach’ (v. 2), and in v. 5 he is said to be one whose management of his own household fits him to care for God’s church. These two functions are ascribed to elders in the fifth chapter of this same book (1 Timothy 5:17) – teaching and governing. So it is very likely that in Paul’s mind the bishops/overseers of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 are the same as the elders of 5:17” (John Piper).

Fourth, 1 Timothy 3:1-13 clearly indicates that there are two primary offices in the NT: Elder and Deacon. Yet in Philippians 1:1 Paul directs his epistle “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers (episkopoi) and deacons.” Since Paul’s practice was to appoint elders in every church (Acts 14:23) it seems reasonable that the overseers/bishops in Philippians 1:1 is a reference to the elders in that city.

The Greek word (poimen) translated “pastor” is used only once in the NT in Ephesians 4:11. The related verb form (poimaino) has the meaning “to shepherd” or “to feed” with the idea of nurturing and sustaining the flock of God. When I put together Ephesians 4:11, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:9, Acts 20:28, and 1 Peter 5:1-2, it would appear reasonable to conclude that all elders exercised pastoral responsibilities.

My conclusion is that the local church is to be governed by a plurality of individuals who are described in the New Testament as elders, insofar as they hold an office of great dignity and importance (perhaps even with an allusion to age or at least spiritual maturity), or bishops, insofar as they exercise oversight of the body of Christ, or pastors, insofar as they spiritually feed, care for, and exercise guardianship over the flock of God.

(3) There are several reasons why I believe that this ruling or governmental office is restricted to men. First, I appeal to the NT two-fold description of the function of elders. (a) They are those who govern or rule the church (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 5:17; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2; 1 Thess. 5:12; Heb. 13:17). (b) They are those who are primarily responsible for teaching the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11 [assuming the words “pastor” and “teacher” refer to one function or office of “pastor-teacher”; the best grammatical analysis would indicate this is true]; 1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:9). Since I believe that Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 restricted teaching and exercising authority to men, it follows that the office of Elder or Bishop is restricted to men.

(4) A second reason looks to the qualifications for the office of Elder that are found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. An Elder must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2 and Titus 1:6; need I say more?). Note also that an elder “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:4-5).

(5) There is no reference anywhere in the New Testament to a female elder. You may wish to object by pointing out that this is an argument from silence. Yes, it is. But it is a deafening silence, especially when taken in conjunction with the two previous points. The bottom line is that we simply have no biblical precedent for female elders nor anything in the text that describes their nature, function, and qualifications that would lead us to believe that this could ever be a possibility.

I agree that women can serve as deacons (1 Tim. 3:8-13; Rom. 16:1-2; although this is disputed by others), that they can assist and support, as “co-workers”, someone such as the apostle Paul (Phil. 4:2-3), that they can evangelize, and that they can possess and exercise in biblically appropriate ways every spiritual gift (except that of “apostle,” although I’m not persuaded “apostleship” is a spiritual gift). I believe that women can serve and minister in virtually every capacity aside from what I have called “senior governmental authority”.

(6) Some egalitarians have argued that since Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3) were “co-workers” with Paul, women were in positions of leadership and should thus be considered as viable candidates for the office of Elder. But the Greek word sunergos (“co-worker” or “fellow-worker”) is used of numerous individuals (e.g., Rom. 16:9; Phil. 2:25; Col. 4:10-11; Philemon 24; etc.), as well as anyone who supports traveling missionaries (3 John 8). But this in no way implies that such people exercised ruling authority in the local church. Whereas all Elders would certainly qualify as “co-workers,” not all “co-workers” would qualify as Elders. Their “work” in support of the gospel, whether as those who provide financial aid, or those who evangelize, or those who intercede in prayer, or those who serve in any number of capacities, does not in and of itself indicate they were invested with governmental authority or were even qualified to serve in such a capacity (cf. Rom. 16:1-2). Continue reading

Above Reproach and Well Thought of By Outsiders

verse 7 says “he must be well thought of by outsiders.” What do these two requirements mean?

Not This

Let’s start with what the requirements cannot mean. Surely, Paul is not saying that a man who would serve as an elder or pastor must be without any enemies or any accusations, for elsewhere in his correspondence to Timothy, Paul intimates that many have opposed him, deserted him, and been ashamed of him (2 Tim. 1:8, 15, 16; 4:10, 14-16). Moreover, we know from Paul’s other letters he was accused of being everything from fickle and foolish, to overly weak and overly harsh (2 Cor. 1:12-23; 10:1-10). Likewise, in Acts, Paul is often derided as a rabble-rouser, a violator of the Torah, and an enemy of the law of Moses (e.g., Acts 21:27-36). Paul was certainly not above reproach in the eyes of his opponents, neither did he have a good reputation with all outsiders.

We see this same dynamic even more plainly with Jesus. If anyone could be labeled “controversial” or “embattled” or “haunted by serious allegation” or “surrounded by scandal,” it was Christ. He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard (Luke 7:34), a false prophet (Luke 7:39), a Sabbath breaker (Luke 6:2, 7), a friend of sinners (Luke 7:34), insane (Mark 3:21), demon-possessed (John 10:19-20, 31-33), and a blasphemer (Matt. 26:57-67). He died as a convicted criminal with hardly a public friend in the world. He was, as Rich Mullins put it, “a man of no reputation.”

So unless we want to exclude Paul and Jesus from serving as an overseer in the church, we must conclude that being above reproach and being well thought of by outsiders must mean something other than, “everyone likes this guy; he has no enemies and no accusations against him.” Not only is this standard untenable for almost anyone who has a public profile in today’s social media world, it’s not biblically consistent. The qualifications in 1 Timothy and Titus must mean something else. Continue reading

Does an Unbelieving Child Disqualify an Elder?

JustinTaylor02Does the New Testament teach that an unbelieving child disqualifies an elder?

Justin Taylor, father of three, elder at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois, and vice president of book publishing at Crossway writes:

There can be few things in life more painful than an unbelieving child. And when the child is the son or daughter of an elder, the questions take on a public dimension in the life of the church. Doesn’t the apostle Paul say something about elders needing to have children who are believers? The verses under consideration are 1 Timothy 3:4-5 and Titus 1:6. We’ll look at them in more detail below, but at this point it’s helpful to look at the two different conclusions that faithful interpreters have reached. Douglas Wilson holds to the first option: “If a man’s children fall away from the faith (either doctrinally or morally), he is at that point disqualified from formal ministry in the church” (Douglas Wilson, “The Pastor’s Kid” in Credenda/Agenda, vol. 2, no. 3). Alexander Strauch holds to the second view: “The contrast is made not between believing and unbelieving children, but between obedient, respectful children and lawless, uncontrolled children.” In other words, Paul is talking about “the children’s behavior, not their eternal state” (Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, 229). Which one is right? To answer that, we have to take a careful look at the key texts.

Faithful Leadership in the Church and Home

In 1 Timothy 3:4, Paul says that an elder “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive.” In the next verse he explains why: “for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” The obvious answer to the rhetorical question is that he can’t. In other words, if you can’t manage your household at home, you won’t be able to care for the household of God. If you regular lose control of your kids, why should you be trusted to lead and protect a flock? John Stott gets the biblical logic right: “The married pastor is called to leadership in two families, his and God’s, and the former is to be the training ground of the latter” (John Stott, Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus, 98). None of this is particularly controversial. It’s when we get to Titus 1:6 that the harder question arises.

Must an Elder’s Children Be Believers?

Paul says that an elder’s “children [must be] believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.” On first glance, the answer looks obvious. Paul says that an elder’s kids must be believers. But note the footnote in the ESV: believers can also be translated faithful. (It’s important to pay attention to footnotes in the translations of biblical texts, as they alert us when there are other equally valid translation options.) The Greek word here is pistas, which can mean either “believing” or “faithful” in the pastoral epistles. (For example, see “believing masters” in 1 Timothy 6:2 and “faithful men” in 2 Timothy 2:2). Word studies alone can’t solve this—it depends on the context.

But let’s be clear on the two big options: Paul either meant that (1) an elder’s children have to be believers, or (2) an elder’s children must at least be faithful, submissive, and obedient.

How do we decide? The Reformers rightly insisted that we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. Here we have one author (Paul) writing separately to two young church planters (Timothy and Titus) talking about the same subject (elder qualifications). How do the two passages about family life compare? When we look at the Greek, we see how similar the language is between 1 Timothy 3:4 and Titus 1:6. You can see the similarities even if you don’t know Greek:


The most natural assumption is that Paul is saying the same thing in slightly different ways. (As Andreas Köstenberger points out, it would be unusual if Paul gave Timothy a more lenient standard about elder’s children and Titus a more stringent one.) If they mean the same thing, then to have children who are pista means to have children who are hypotag?. And what does it mean to have children who are hypotag?? Paul explains it in the next clause: “not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” (see note below*).

Four More Reasons

With that in mind, here are four further reasons that incline me to believe that Paul is referring to the submission and obedience of an elder’s children, and not to their salvation. Continue reading

1 Timothy 2:12

DanielWallace1 Timothy 2:12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. (KJV)

Transcript (excerpt) of a lecture by Dr. Dan Wallace, “From the KJV to the RV”:

“In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul gives his instructions to Timothy, and in the King James he says essentially, ‘I do not permit a woman to usurp authority over a man.’ Now usurp means to take that authority on for oneself illegitimately or to steal it if you will.

Every once in a while we have some women preachers who come to the Seminary – its a rare opportunity, but when they come in they get behind a pulpit and they say, ‘I am not usurping anyone’s authority here today to speak to you. This authority has been granted to me by the Chaplain.’

Well, when they say that, their view is based on the wording of the King James Version of 1 Timothy 2:12, but its not based on the meaning of the Greek text.

Now the King James translators got that from Erasmus’ Latin text because the Greek word that is used there is used very rarely in all of Greek literature. And so, they did not know exactly what it meant. So they consulted Erasmus’ Latin text. You recall all of Erasmus’ Greek editions had Latin on one side and Greek on the other, and he had changed Jerome’s Latin Vulgate here incorrectly. The Latin word he used was ‘usurpare’ and consequently, the King James translators, put in ‘usurp.’

Almost all modern translations render it correctly as “exercise authority.'”

**1 Timothy 2:12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve… (ESV)

**1 Timothy 2:12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve… (NASB)