Church Leadership: One Man or Plurality of Elders?
by Bola Olu-Jordan 2/01/2013 / Leadership
Eldership is the early church pattern of the New Testament Church leadership, and it was always in plurality, not a one-man show as we see in our churches. Today, a man 'owns' the church and has loyalists he appoints as Elders and Deacons. Together , they 'run' the church through strategy, plans, system, programs and services. But this is not the early church pattern.
But there are two types of Elders:
(1). Elders by Calling: These are those called into the five-fold ministry and labor in spiritual matters: the Word and Doctrine (Eph.4:11; 1Tim.5:17).
(2) Elders by Leadership. These are those who provide leadership for the church and they may or may not labor in the word (1Tim.3:1-7; Titus 1:7). These are also called Bishops or overseers.
While the first Elder is by God's call to a specific office in the five fold, and has nothing to do with physical age (Heb.5:4), the second is by desire and may or may not do with physical age (1Tim.3:1). The two of them function by plurality, everyone functioning in their call and the church recognizing them so.
The other office in the church is the office of the Deacon, which is more of a function as the need arises.
These are the only two offices in the early church and every other fall within this two, e.g. Elders and Deacons.
The First sets of Elders are recognized by their call, e.g. Elder-Pastor, Elder-Teacher, Elder-Evangelist, etc, but are all elders and not to be confused with the other Elders, who perform more of leadership role than spiritual and age (experience) is an advantage (1Tim.3:6), or a Deacon.
Their functions can be described like this:
The Evangelist go all out, spread his net to bring 'all sorts' in the river: crab, fish, worms, dirt, snakes, etc. He brings them home (church), for the Pastor to 'sort', i.e. wash, care, tend and make them presentable. The Teacher gives them specific instructions and duties (doctrines) for their continuous 'survival' in the house. The prophets have the divine insight into the overall operations and function of the house (church) as regards direction. He has the master plan and holler at any deviation. He stand on the watchtower and by reason of his standing, he sees more than all and he can provide instruction as an oracle, because he sees more by virtue of his standing.
I equate Prophet to a ambulance driver who could appear reckless on the wheels; break all the speed limit, traffic lights, etc. You may think he's crazy, but he's not. He sees beyond and has a destination. His mandate is to bring the patient to the hospital and save his life.
New Testament prophets are not seers, mediums, dreamers, diviners, etc, like the Old Testament prophets. The only similarity is that they fore-tell and forth-tell the mind of God to his people, like Agabus to the church in Acts as regards Paul and Barnabas (Acts 11:28).
Apostles on the other hand are ambassadors who go out to plant churches, appoint leaders and elders in those churches and return to their base, ready for another of such.
So, who heads the 'team'? While we have engineers, doctors, architects, accountants, lawyers, etc, who is the head or who is superior? No one, everyone functions in their calling and one cannot do without the other. Just like we have small parts and organs in our body, yet all work together for overall well being. Ultimately, Christ is the head of the church! He is the founder. Man is not the 'pastor-founder' or spiritual head.
Man cannot start a church or join one because the church is not physical and cannot be seen: we are born into it by [spiritual] birth, much like the natural birth into the natural family. Jesus said he will build his church, so there's no effort we need in doing that. Membership is also not by special programs or anointing services, seminars, evangelism, crusade, etc; it is God that adds to His own church by Himself, such as would be saved (Acts 2:47).
Remember, we cannot join the church of Jesus; we can only be born into it. Denominations are not the church of Jesus, neither are our buildings nor our ministries. Most of our effort in working for God is building a religious empire for ourselves which God would rather love to pull down. He is more interested in us and our walk with Him than our work for Him.
Can a Teacher pastor a church? The answer is simple, can a lawyer give injection to a patient or can an architect stand before the judge to defend a suspect? Even though he may want to, but he is not recognized. But people do it. Yes, but that doesn't make it right. Paul warned "Let everyman wherein he is called abide" (1Cor.7:20,27). Angels who did not abide in their estate are delivered into everlasting chains (Jude 1:6). It is important for everyone to make his calling and election sure (2Pet.1:10). God will only score you on what he calls you to, not what man, situation or qualification makes you to be.
How do you know the true church of Jesus Christ today? The five fold ministry must be present and functioning, otherwise, it is the church of man. One must not be dominant on the other and the assembly must function in body ministry, fellowship, not the Constantinian approach of clergy-laity. It's not one man and some others doing all the programs and we are just there to watch and we only participate in offering. We must, however recognize those whom God has called amongst us for the purpose of orderliness, and respect them for their works sake (1Ths.5:12-13) Are they rulers? No. They are brothers among brethren.
A church being led by a one man as the pastor, apostle, bishop, or any other title (they are basically the same thing, anyway) need to go back to the early church pattern and recognize the apostolic practices. God will not approve what man is doing, He gave us Christ, we give him Christianity as a religion. He doesn't want religion, as no religion leads to God, only Christ leads to God and him we must follow, not church.
So, who appoints these elders; is it the pastor-founder, deacons or the bishop to compensate faithfulness and loyalty?do men appoint themselves as we see today? It is God that appoints; the other elders only perceive the calling, just like Eli did Samuel and in the multitude of witnesses simply ordain by laying hands into the office God is calling the person into. You don't act like a pastor because you have been ordained as one, but rather, you are ordained as one because you are manifesting the traits of a pastor, not deliberately, but innocently, because that is what you enjoy doing most.
Must God measure up to our new concept of church leadership and we accept the laid down Apostolic pattern of the early church given and practised by the disciples. The decision is ours.
Bola Olu-Jordan grew up in Africa where much of his spiritual development was birthed. His death experience when he was twelve years old and his 'life' in the spirit world during those periods provoked him to know more about life and his mission on earth. This quest took him to different religions and later formed the root of his strong faith in Christ. He has a deep insight into spirituality and his works often reflect non-religious but divine approach to faith. He is a prophetic teacher with apostolic and early church pattern imprint. When he is not writing, he is busy on a mission trip across the world, especially Africa. Aside from God, his family comes first.