Take Heed to the Flock

Let me start out by stating that this article is not an indictment of any particular congregation and elders, but there seems to be a lot of controversy and confusion that revolves around the work and the authority of the elders within our Lord's church today. There are even false teachers that deny the authority and even the legitimacy of the office of the elder. This confusion and error results in friction between the congregation and their elders and/or between the elders and the preacher. In at least a couple of congregations, this friction has escalated to the point that the congregation has taken their elders to court or vice versa. This is a great shame and a reproach on our Lord's church (I Corinthians 6:1-5). Let's look at some of the confusion and error that we find and then go to God's Word for the ultimate authority on the work and authority of the elders.

Have you ever been asked, "who's the pastor at your church?" How do you answer that question? To be scriptural, you would answer the question, "Well we have several pastors, but we usually refer to them as elders. Our preacher is (insert name here)." Now they're confused, because they were referring to the preacher. Now take some time to consider the elder/preacher situation at your local congregation. Can you answer honestly with the scriptural answer? Let's look at the situation of the elder/preacher roles that exists in many congregations of the Lord's church.

Most congregations of Christ's church have a body of men (two or more) that are called elders. They generally are a decision making body that determines how the congregation's treasury is to be spent, the time, and to some extent, the order (like, whether the Lord's Supper comes before or after the lesson) of the worship service and bible studies, and how many elders and deacons the congregation should have. They choose men to be elders or deacons when they feel that there is a need for additional positions in those works or a replacement is needed. They hire (and fire if necessary) the preacher. They meet regularly to make these decisions, and the men of the congregation are welcomed to sit in on these meetings, although not necessarily openly invited to do so. One of the elders serves as the treasurer and he issues a monthly or quarterly financial statement. They also meet on some kind of regular basis with the deacons to hear a report on their individual areas of work and any issues they might have. The men of the congregation are welcomed to sit in on this also, though again, not necessarily openly invited to do so. Most congregations have a man who was chosen by the elders to be the pulpit preacher for the congregation. The preacher is usually expected to have a bachelors degree (or in some congregations, a masters) in Bible from a respected "church" college. The preacher may work at a secular job "for a living" and the congregation compensate him for his expenses in his work. More likely he is dedicated full time to the work and the congregation supports him with a salary and a house. He is expected to present a lesson at the Sunday A.M. and P.M. worship service, teach a Sunday morning and Wednesday night Bible class, maybe a midweek Ladies Bible Class also, research and expose all false teaching in the brotherhood, write an article every week for the bulletin, choose a speaker for the gospel meeting (in some cases), visit the sick and shut-in, visit "erring members", counsel those who have problems, comfort the bereaved, work with the young people, and since he is at the building most of the time anyway, mow the yard.

Does this sound a lot like the congregation that you are affiliated with? Now, regardless of what is scriptural, considering the situation just stated, honestly answer, "Who is the pastor?" Are you afraid to give an honest answer because you know it would not be scriptural? The above situation is very much like what you find in denominations except they would call their preacher "pastor" and the managerial body "deacons." As I stated before, this situation exists in many congregations of the Lord's church. We have created a pastor/deacon/laity system in congregations of the Christ's church. The extent to which this is true varies depending on the individual congregation. In some congregations this may not be the case at all, while in others the situation may even be worse than I described. In some cases, the role of the pastor may be filled by several "ministers". There are probably a lot of seemingly logical reasons why this situation exists. It is sometimes rationalized as expediency. The elders turn their work over to a hired preacher and sometimes a staff of "ministers" because they feel that it is more "expedient." Is expediency the real reason, or do they hide behind this excuse? The real reason may be that the elders, though probably good and faithful men, are not skilled enough in the "rightly dividing the word of truth" to feel in adequate in the role in elders. Therefore, they turn to a "professional preacher" to provide spiritual food for the flock. It may also be possible, God forbid, that the men appointed to the work of elders actually do not want the work and are willing to turn it over to a surrogate pastor (or staff of pastors) being content in just controlling the purse strings of the congregation. Often times, I think the burden of managing the "facilities" distracts elders. Churches today have so much expense and management involved in the "facilities" that the elders are too busy to "tend the flock", so they have to delegate their spiritual responsibilities to the preacher or staff. Sometimes (very often) the fault lies more with the men of the congregation than with the elders. The elders feel embattled and hide behind closed doors and operate through the pulpit preacher and other "staff".  Criticism of the elders is more prevalent than support. Open meetings with all the men of the congregation are not possible because some of the men want to dominate the meetings, pushing their own agendas. This confounds the elders, the other men in the meeting, and the whole purpose of the meeting. So the general men's meetings cease. This problem involves pride and selfishness. The problem of pride and self plagued the Corinthian church. Paul gave them the solution to their problem in I Corinthians, Chapter 13, LOVE.

There are false teachers today that contend that no authority is delegated to elders by the scriptures. They even deny that the office of the elder even exists in the scriptures. According to them, elders are only to set a good example for the congregation to follow and that is the extent the elders' influence over the congregation. Why would they teach this? I can think of two reasons. One is that in some cases, elders have abused their office, "lording over" the congregation, and for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. Another reason, and more probable, is the false teachers want to undermine the authority of the elders because the eldership is an obstacle to the apostasy that they want to introduce to the congregation.
Now, what does the scriptures say about the responsibilities, work, and authority of the elders? First of all, we know that Paul ordained elders (plural) in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (Acts 14:21-23). He instructed Titus to ordain elders on the Isle of Crete (Titus 1:5). He gave Timothy a list of qualifications of the office of elder in I Timothy 3:1-7. He gave Titus this list also in Titus 1:5-9. Why would Paul ordain men for an work that did not exist? Why would The Holy Spirit, through Paul, give qualifications for an office that did not exist? Elders are referred to as pastors (poimen or shepherd) only in Ephesians 4:11, and governments (kubernesis or director) only in I Corinthians 12:28. They are called elders (presbuteros or senior) in Acts 11:30; 14:23, Acts Chapter 15, Acts 16:4; 20:17; 21:18, I Timothy 5:17, Titus 1:5, James 5:14, and I Peter Chapter 5. They are referred to as overseers and bishops (episkopos or superintendent) in Acts 20:28, Philippians 1:1, I Timothy 3:2, and Titus Chapter 1. The work or office is called bishop (episkope or supervision) in I Timothy 3:1.
What do the scriptures say is the responsibilities of the elders? We find the work and responsibilities of the elders summed up in this admonition, "tend the flock of God which is among you" (I Peter 5:2). The Lord is described so many times in the scriptures as a shepherd, and now The Holy Spirit, through Peter, uses the same analogy to describe the responsibilities of those that have the oversight of the church. The elders have the responsibility of providing all the care that the congregation, "the flock", needs. Let me say here that "the flock" includes the preacher, unless it so happens that he has been appointed an elder of that congregation. So let's look at our Lord's shepherding techniques and to see what is expected of shepherds in His church.
What does the scripture tell us about preachers' role in the local congregation? That's what the scriptures say is to be expected of the preacher in his work.

Now, how about the congregation or "the flock". Do we find, in the scriptures, an elder/laity system within the church? Are you defining laity, as most of the sectarian world, where the laity takes all their instruction from the clergy because they are told they cannot understand the scriptures? Are you talking about a laity where the only way they receive the scriptures is having it regurgitated to them by a Sunday School Teacher, pulpit preacher, or some book written by a respected "christian" author? If that's what you mean by laity, then absolutely not. The laity or flock that we read about in the Bible were not perfect, but this we know, they were instructed to grow in faith, in knowledge of God's Word, and to incorporate all the fruits of the spirit into their lives, especially love (Acts 2:42-47, I Corinthians 13, Galatians 5:22,23, II Peter 1:5-9). All of us must take down our Bibles and study. Not just read, but study. For starters don't take my word for any of this. Study the scriptures that I have cited. Dig even deeper into the scriptures to learn more about the responsibilities of the elders in the Lord's church, and our responsibilities to the elders.

In conclusion, you can see there is quite a difference between what the scriptures say are the roles and responsibilities of the elders, preacher, and the rest of us, and what is practiced in many congregations of the Lord's church today. We have abandoned the "old paths", usually in the name of expediency, and now find ourselves in the midst of wolves. It's not too late to "ask for the old paths, where is the good way" (Jeremiah 6:16). If we get rid of this pastor/deacon/laity system we have created, our preachers, not having to be a surrogate elder, will be more effective in preaching the gospel. If we get rid of this pastor/deacon/laity system we have created, the congregation will have more love, trust, appreciation, and respect for their elders just like I Thessalonians 5:12, 13 says it should. And if we get rid of this pastor/deacon/laity system we have created, false teaching will have a much harder time getting into a congregation.

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