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07 May '14

Continuing the conversation on whether staff should serve on the elder board

Posted by T.J. Addington in church boards, church leadership, staff
Recently I reposted a blog on whether staff should serve on the elder board of a church. You can see that blog here. My answer was that as a practice it is a bad idea apart from the senior pastor and in a large church the regular attendance (but not a voting member) of the executive pastor. 

This generated some comment from those who believe that all pastors are "elders" and therefor should be on the board. I will not repeat what I said in the earlier blog but would like to point out some fallacies of trying to "prove" everything we do in church governance from Scripture.

First, Scripture gives some overall guidance on what leadership in the church should look like but it does not give specific guidance on this. What we do know is that there were overseers or elders and deacons and deaconess. And their qualifications are spelled out in the text. We also know that the church was flexible and responded to the needs it had as in the book of Acts when the Apostles appointed a team to look after the widows.

Because Scripture is not overly specific on these issues is why you can "prove" various ecclesiastical models from the same text! 

Second, God designed the church to be the most flexible, missional and effective organism on the face of the earth so that it can flourish in any political, economic or social system. That very flexibility will demand different models for how we do church governance. A house church in rural China is very different from the typical church in the United States. Context and size make a difference in how one can govern and lead well. You do not lead a church of 100 like you do a church of 1,000 or more. For that matter, the early church was more likely to be a house church than what has become the norm in the west. 

Third, God tells us to use wisdom in all that we do. In other words, while Scripture gives us very broad principles in the area of church leadership and expects us to use wisdom in how we apply them to our situation. What is clear is that leaders are responsible for the spiritual climate of the church, that the congregation is taught, protected, cared for, released into ministry and led well. How that happens is not spelled out and of course will depend on the size and context of the church. We must figure out how to accomplish these Biblical mandates in our own situation.

This leads to the final thought. Governance and management of the day to day activities of ministry are not the same thing. We know that the early church made a distinction between teaching elders and non-teaching elders so why would we not make distinctions as well. Taken to the extreme, a large church with 30 pastors could have 30 pastors on the board as they are qualified as "elders." We all know that you cannot lead a large church with a huge group. Just because one is qualified to be an elder does not mean that they serve on the governance or leadership board of a church. For that matter there are many people in a larger congregation who are Biblically qualified as elders who do not serve in that role.

My point is that you cannot "proof text" the details of good church leadership but need to use wisdom and best practices to accomplish it. Be smart in how you lead not because the church is a "business" but because God designed it to be missional, effective and flexible and we must figure out how to do that in our context.

(Posted from Oakdale, MN)