This would be a whole lot easier if we would simply use Biblical Terms with Biblical Definitions!!!!

I remember this spirited comment, born out of frustration was made by an administrator as we were in the process of rehearsing some of our common beliefs and values God had revealed over the years to a family of churches who worked across many nations.  Anyone who has ever attempted something like this when you have different varieties of cultures and traditions in each nation can appreciate my friends’ frustrations. 

There is a truth however to what he was saying.  We have cultural traditions in the church world which can reflect a wonderful variety in God’s multicultural family.  Yet when it comes to leadership and government in local churches, as we are attempting to build with Jesus by His Biblical truth, essential things like leadership among His family should have a close connection to Biblical truths.  After all, Jesus is the builder of His church, and His design for how it is led is to be our first consideration.  

Restoration through the History of God’s People

Most of the moves of God in the Biblical history of His people, as well as the history of His church, had an element in them of restoring things that had been forgotten, neglected, or compromised.  In some cases, God’s people adopted practices and ideas about leadership seen in the culture around them.  The problem with some of these is that the cultural tradition was contradictory to the word of God.  Again, where it helps us apply things in a culturally relevant way, it can be helpful, but where the cultural ideas work against God’s design they need to be reformed and established based on Biblical truth.

One of the contemporary challenges that work against God’s design for government is the “Pastor” model.  God’s design for leadership, beginning at creation, was for leadership to be a team dynamic in a family context (not a business context).  After all the Godhead (Three who are One) moved to create the first leaders by saying, “Let Us make mankind in Our image and Our likeness, and let them rule” (Genesis 2:26-28).  A plural, family leadership team in heaven creates a family team on earth, Adam and Eve, to carry out Their image, likeness, and rule.” 

In the one-man pastoral model, there is little family team.  There may be some sort of “board” but not a team of leaders working and leading together.  One problem we have seen is that some believe in Biblical Eldership but when it comes to the actual practice, they drift back to singular leadership models.  They give intellectual assent to Eldership but walk in a one-man model.

Elders in a governing role together are first mentioned in the Bible when God appears to Moses at the burning bush, “Go gather the Elders of Israel together and say to them…”  (Exodus 3:16-22).  The phrase “Elders of Israel/Judah” is used about 38 times in the Old Testament. 

Some of the early governing function of Elders is clearly seen as Moses foolishly attempting to lead and care for God’s people as a lone leader.  Moses receives God’s instruction through his father-in-law to select leaders from the Elders based on their capacity to govern and “judge” the people (Exodus 18:12-17).  This design for leadership formed the backdrop for leadership among God’s people throughout the history of the Old Testament.  

The New Testament Design 

When Jesus birthed His church, in the New Testament we see the government among them in the design of elders.  We use the phrase “Biblical Eldership” about the model of church governance that is based on the biblical teaching of the role of elders in the early Christian church. This overall Biblical model is grounded in the principle of servant leadership and is intended to provide spiritual guidance, care, and government for his family (seen also in the Biblical analogy of shepherds and sheep).  

Over the years this Biblical design has been neglected and moved away from in favor of other forms of governance for a variety of reasons.  It is important to remember that it is still God’s design based on His unchanging word and as Jesus declared, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).  Peter later echoed the same idea as he quotes from Isaiah.


The New Testament contains several references to Eldership, which provide insight into the role and function of elders in the early church. In Acts 14:23, we read that Paul and Barnabas near the end of their first missional journey appointed elders in the churches they helped establish.  Paul later gave a detailed explanation of the function of Elders as he met with the Elders of the church in Ephesus while on his way to Rome.  He used the analogy of shepherds and sheep as he called them to guard, guide, govern, and oversee the flock that God appointed them to lead because of the constant threat of false teachers (wolves) who will try to lead them astray (Acts 20:17-38). 

In 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, Paul provides qualifications for elders, including their character, behavior, and spiritual maturity. In James 5:14-15, we see the role of elders in the healing ministry of the church.  Peter also lists a thorough example of how elders are to lead and care for God’s people (1 Peter 5:1-11). In every place in the New Testament where it speaks of elders leading churches, it is always in a plural/family/team form.  

From these and other passages, we can discern several key principles of biblical Eldership. First, elders are appointed by God to provide spiritual leadership, feeding, and care for the members of the congregation. Second, elders are held to a high standard of personal and spiritual maturity and are expected to model Christ-like character in their lives. Third, elders are accountable to God and to one another for their actions and decisions. Fourth, elders are called to serve the church as they lead and care for God’s people.  Fifth, elders always are called to lead together with other elders God appoints and confirms through other Ephesians4 11-16 leaders (Acts 14:23, 15:4-23, 16:4, 20:17, 1 Timothy 5:1, 17-24, Titus 1:5-11, James 5:14, 1 Peter 5:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14, Hebrews 13:17, 24, Ephesians 4). 

There is always a need to see the design of God for Biblical Eldership restored in His church.  Here is an important thing to remember about any expansion of the church while neglecting His design for it, 

If churches increase numbers but are not being built on God’s Biblical design, it only multiplies Unbiblical Christianity.  This is never God’s best.

Here is a link to a study that goes into detail about local church government (Elders, Deacons, and the Fivefold Gifts of Ephesians 4) and God’s design to see it established.