One of the things that has always confused me is why Baptists have organized their churches as they have. I have served in and been a part of several churches in my life, and asked multiple pastors over the years why the church is structured as it is, and instead of getting the answer “Because we have studied the Bible and this is what we believe it teaches,” I’ve heard things like: “Well, it’s not perfect, but it is what it is,” or “I’d love to make changes, but our church is too entrenched in its current system to change,” and even “I’m not sure why we are governed like we are.” None of these answers are acceptable to me. As a pastor, when asked why we do what we do, I always want to be able to genuinely say, “Because we have studied the Word of God, and this is what we believe it teaches.”
The Scripture is clear, there are two offices in the church: elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). In nearly every instance where elders are mentioned in the Scripture, it’s always in the plural. From the Old Testament through the New Testament, the Scripture seems to be clear that shared leadership is God’s design. Yes, there always appears to be a leader emerge among equals as the spokesman (e.g. Moses, Peter, Timothy, Titus), but when it comes to burden and responsibilities of shepherding, there is equality in calling, qualifications, authority, and responsibility.
For nearly two years, I have studied the subject of church leadership/government with twenty men in our church. We studied the Scripture, read multiple books/articles, looked at Baptist history, interviewed pastors and church leaders, prayed, and sought the Lord. The result of our work led to the creation of a twenty-six page booklet that we have called, Rediscovering Church Leadership: A Biblical and Historical Overview. What we discovered is that a plurality of pastoral leadership is biblical, Baptist, and ultimately best for the church. A definition we have grown to love and embrace is that:
A biblical, New Testament church is ruled by Jesus Christ, governed by the congregation, led by a plurality of elders, and served by a plurality of deacons.
Lord willing, we are seeking to make this transition at FBC Newcastle. Fortunately I serve a church that has a high view of Scripture and truly cares about doing what God has said…so, thus far, our people have responded with great maturity and wisdom (you know Baptists don’t like change :-)). We are going very slow in this transition process though and will walk through this unified, and the result, I pray, is one that will bring great glory to God and allow us to better shepherd all the people God brings to us.
Below is a link to our booklet and a sermon I recently preached. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Click to access FBCN_Elder_Book.pdf