Three Leaders

 Our churches today have a multiplicity of those who appear to be in leadership.  When someone walks in the door we have those who greet you, those who take up the offering, leading worship, reading the Scriptures, the announcements, the audio/visual, and many such as these.  It is no wonder one can become confused in trying to figure out who is in leadership.  Who do we look to when asking for spiritual direction or those to help for someone living in sin?  The definition that best describes a leader is one who takes after Christ—self-sacrificing.  That brings out all kinds of images but the definition of “who a leader is” may not even prove to bring in a single image.  That is character.  Character is the one thing that stands out in a person.  It is the “who” of a leader—which should be those things that define Christlikeness.  We have to know who is in leadership if we are to function as a God fearing church.  When looking at church leadership there are only two which are the pastor-teacher and the elder.  With this in mind, the bishop and overseer are not other roles.  Lastly we will show that deaconship is not a leadership role.


The original leadership

Jesus enlisted twelve individuals that would become the first leaders of a newly established church based off His teachings.  Looking at the book of Acts, we see where the apostles separated themselves as leaders from those who were not. In chapter six the issue was the Grecian Jews’ women being “overlooked in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1).  The commission given by Christ to the twelve appointed them to go out into all the world and spread the good news (Matthew 28: 19-20).  The “serving of tables” hindered this commission, and they decided to get qualified men to handle this situation (Acts 6: 2-4).  This separated the Apostles as leaders from those who “served tables”—non-leaders. 

While interviewing Dr. George Rundle, he talked about a layout for leadership in the book of Acts along with looking at the dates of other New Testament books to explain the growth and change in the church.  Untile chapter fifteen we only see Apostles and then there is the addition of the word elders.  We also see the mention of “all the elders” in Jerusalem on Paul’s arrival.  The book of Acts was written in A.D. 63, Ephesians about A.D. 60, 1Timothy around A.D. 64 and 1Peter about A.D. 62. 

These dates explain the growth and change in the church.  As the church grew, the understanding of leadership was being worked out in which the book of Acts transitions from the apostles, to apostles and elders, and then finally to elders only.  Intermingled with this we see the introdution of deacons which will be discussed later.  The uses of bishop (overseer), elder, and pastor are explained by the audience and the date of the book written.  Primarily, it was the elders that were taking over for the apostles as seen from the flow of the book of Acts.  The letter to the Ephesians may have been written before the complete understanding of leadership was fully given in 1Timothy.  So the term pastor-teacher may have been used in context to show the flow of gifting of leadership starting with the apostles. 


The Pastor takes Shape

Taking a look at Ephesians 4:11, we see one of the two leadership roles—pastor-teacher.  Paul has been building upon God taking care of our past, present and future in chapters one through three.  In chapter four Paul is telling us that God continues to take care of us by giving us gifted leaders.  All of them have been given for a specific reason—for equipping, furnishing, or perfecting of those who are saved.  What is a pastor?  The term means shepherd. 

The word description “shepherd,” without doubt, carries with it the deepest meaning. Anderson says, “Without question, the dominant biblical model for spiritual leadership is the shepherd and flock. If we want to understand the biblical model for leadership, we must embrace the concept of shepherd.” The flock follows the leadership of its shepherd because they know and trust him. “This kind of trust and allegiance can be gained only one way, by a shepherd touching his sheep, carrying them, handling them, tending them, feeding them.” (Skelton)

This is what the teaching shepherd does, it feeds them by teaching the Word of God, and it tends and carries them, and touches them by the guiding arm of the Word, by being compassionate, loving and self-sacrificing.  Christ is the one who is the “Chief-Shepherd” or the first one in order (John 10:11).  Christ who called Himself this was also called a “rabbi”.  Kenneth Bailey said that “the title rabbi emerged in the first-century Judaism as a title of respect for a scholar.  Students used it for a teacher, and the community at large used it for the scribes and sages.” (Bailey 25)  From this we see Christ as both a shepherd and a respected teacher—leader.

Christ then was the first pastor-teacher in the Christian church.  He established what the leadership position looked like.  The usage of the word in Ephesians points us to Christ giving the idea of what Paul was saying.  He first starts with apostles and prophets, then evangelists, and lastly pastor-teacher (see Ephesians 2:20; 1Corinthians 3:10-11, cf. Romans 15:20).  The apostles got the commission with the special knowledge from the Holy Spirit.  Next the prophets (may have proclaimed new truth but not necessarily so) verified the apostles teaching.  Then we see the evangelists who proclaimed the good news that the apostles taught. Lastly the pastor-teacher kept the flock going by feeding, tending, caring, protecting, ect.  This is what God has done for us.  He came, trained and enlisted the first leaders, used others to help verify and bring new truth, given those to bring others into the fold and lastly given us those to tend the flock—pastor-teachers. 


The Elders Defined

In the flow of Acts the elders are taking over, so where then does the pastor-teacher fit in and how is elder related?  There are those who say that the elder is the same as a pastor-teacher.  I would agree and disagree.  If we are to consider the elder on the same level as a pastor-teacher there should be some clue as to it being the same. 

Let’s take for granted that the assumption of pastor-teacher was written so that the Ephesians understood the layout for leadership.  Matthew McGee wrote that Paul’s writing of Ephesians was during his imprisonment in Rome and then later after Acts was completed he wrote 1Timothy. (McGee)  The imagery of pastor-teacher with the later writing of Timothy using the word elder gives an understanding of leadership.  To understand this we look to W.N. Stearns.

W.N. Stearns notes that the elder became known for being the leader or one in authority in which age was necessary.  The writer lists several Old Testament passages. Passages like Exodus 3:16 where God is commanding Moses to gather the elders together and communicate a message to them so that they could go to the king of Egypt.  Another passage is shown in Exodus 12:21.  “Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb.’”  Here we see Moses calling to the elders who were in authority over the smaller groups.  Lastly we see “the elders served as local magistrates, in bringing murderers to trial (Dt 19:12; 21:1 ff; Josh 20:4), punishing a disobedient son (Dt 21:19), inflicting penalty for slander (Dt 22:15), for noncompliance with the Levirate marriage law (Dt 25:7 ff), enforcing the Law (Dt 27:1), conducting the service in expiation of unwitting violation of the Law (Lev 4:13 ff).” (W.N. Stearns) 

 In the New Testament God was now starting a “new way” and that is where we can see why there had to be certain qualifications (1Timothy and Titus) and why in 1Peter 5:1-2 that they were to act as shepherds.  So in looking at this evidence, there would be some type of separation between a “head” leader and the elders. 


The Division of the Elders

To see this separation let’s turn to 1Timothy 5:17 which says: “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching”.  Again, I refer to Dr. Rundle who said that this may give us a separation of “groups of elders”—a plurality of eldership.  What I am saying is that there are two groups of elders—one group who “rule” and those who “labor in the word and doctrine” (KJV).  This is telling us that there are those who are leaders (rulers) and those who are leaders that are operating as the “chief shepherd” (pastor-teacher but not in the sense of God/Christ).  This shows that there is a distinction of pastor and elder.  That is why the elder must be able to teach (1Timothy 3).  The primary gift usage of what God would have them focus on may not be “teaching and preaching” but this appears to be a requirement. 

So far we talked about the elder in the Old Testament and the pastor-teacher listed in the New.  We should be able to see that the Apostles were the ones given the Word of God first.  As that church grew, there were issues that needed resolved and God was stepping up to have those gaps filled.  God took the foundation they were meant to lay down and expanded that using pastors (the one group of elders) who would teach and help lead the flock to a godly life in Christ.  Those elders then who “rule” were then being used to help fill the other aspects such as noted above from W.N. Stearns. These two then are the only leadership roles.


Defining Bishop

It is on the “ruling” part of 1Timothy 5:17 that we can address the issue of bishop (overseer).  In the Gentile mind when this word was used, what came to mind was one who “rules” over others.  “The overseer is one who watches over, looks after, or takes oversight of someone.” (Skelton)  The words bishop and elder were used interchangeably to create the image in both the Jewish mind (elder) and also the Gentile mind (bishop). 

In his first book, Peter writes “to God’s elect…scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” giving the clue that there is a Jewish audience and a Gentile audience (1Peter 1:1).  Later in the book, Peter addresses the elders and gives them the imagery of both a shepherd and an overseer (1Peter 5:1-2).  This book was written around 62-64 A.D., following the path noted above about the progression of leadership.  Take special note also that Paul wrote to Timothy who was in Ephesus (1Timothy).  You can see that things were changing giving the impression that there were times when Paul wrote to address their immediate need and help them understand their current situation.  Along this same path of thought, we see in Philippians 1:1 where the address is to the “overseers and deacons.”  Paul was not addressing in any one group so the designation could be to both groups.


Our Deacons, Are they Leaders?

Looking at the second group in Philippians—deacons—were they leaders?  In my interview with Dr. Rundle, I asked the question if he viewed the deacon as part of leadership.  He noted both a true and false answer.  The reason he cited this was because while they were not “preaching and teaching” or “ruling”, they were working with the apostles (see Acts 6) and from Philippians they were working with the overseers.  So in one sense they are leaders but not in “leadership” per se.  This matches what one writer says about leadership. 

“What is leadership?  If by leader we mean one who holds a position of authority and responsibility, then every Christian is not a leader.  But if by leader we mean a person who enters into a relationship…to influence behavior, values, or attitudes…then all Christians should be leaders.”  (Wright 8)

David Nolte notes the difference between an elder and a deacon: “Simply stated, the Deacons usually do service related to material things while the Elders take care of the spiritual / shepherding things pertaining to the congregation. The Deacons are assigned specific duties and the Elders oversee the entire operation.” (Nolte)  So we see in one sense they are leaders, but in another they are not in leadership.  We also see the definition as “one who executes the commands of a master; a servant; minister; the servant of a king; one who, by virtue of the office assigned to him by the church.” (Nolte)


The Showering of Gifts related

Lastly I want to cover gifting.  If we take a quick look at the book of Romans we see that what are listed are three main gifting areas: service, leadership, and teaching.  While each of these is listed separately, these gifts could encompass one man.  In 1Peter 2:25 the reference to Christ being the “Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” is made.  Christ is able to do both, and I am suggesting the same for God’s chosen.  In 1Timothy the question was raised that if man cannot take care of his family, “how can he take care of God’s church” (1Timothy3:5).  Combine that with 1Timothy 5:17 and you may be able to combine one leadership position for one man.  If a church is small enough that two persons are not needed one man with the proper qualifications and the right gifting could fulfill both roles—pastor and “ruling” elder.


Our Crisis Today

Whatever your position we can always agree that there is leadership inside our churches.  In the book, The Quest for Character, John MacArthur talks about the crisis in today’s society with character.  It seems that everywhere we look we see sin being touted and applauded.  “Honest character is now seen as totally optional—or worse, hopelessly unfashionable.” (MacArthur 10) What is going out of fashion in the world seems to be seeping into our churches.  We bring those who seem to have a gift from God to teach, preach and lead and rarely do our church look at where they are spiritually and if their character is one that reflects God’s light.  “Virtue and infamy have traded places”, John notes. (MacArthur 12) 

In particular as we look at our leaders, Paul outlines the characteristics that we need to look for when looking at our elders and our deacons (1Timothy 3).  Not only here are the qualifications, but all throughout Scripture it tells us who the person is to be.  For example, we can look at Galatians and we see the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  Love is listed first for a reason which seems to bind the rest together.  Notice one thing: “fruit” not “fruits”.  Each is interconnected and goes right along with the other—love being the binder. This here would be valuable to have when we look at good leaders.  In direct comparison is what John MacArthur was saying about character. 

Tim Shockley writes concerning the theology of pastoral care noting three main areas and states that a good shepherd is able to “discern…[the] realm a person is living” and “he is able to see how human nature has an impact on us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He sees things from God’s perspective.” (Shockley)  We must take this view when looking for leaders that are pastors—those elders who “preach and teach” or the ones who “rule” over us.  Any way we look at leaders, the character and qualifications need met.  When we see those who are not able to teach or rule, but have a special gift to help those in leadership these are actually deacons.


Works Cited

Bailey, Kenneth E. Jacob and the Prodigal. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003. Print.

MacArthur, John. The Quest for Character. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006. Print.

McGee, Matthew. “Chronology of Apostle Paul’s Journeys and Epistles” Wielding the Sword of the Spirit. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2012. <>.

Nolte, David. “So, You Want To Be A Deacon?” N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2012. <>.

Rundle, George Dr. Personal interview. 7 June 2012.

Shockley, Tim. “Theology of Pastoral Care.” N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2012. <>.

Skelton, Mitchell. “Eldership Jurisdiction: Local Congregation or City Wide? .” N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2012. <>.

Stearns, W.N. “Elder in the Old Testament.” N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2012. <>.

Wright, Walter C. Relational Leadership: A Biblical Model for Influence and Service. Colorado Springs: Paternoster, 2009. Print.



About Ernest Grogg

First and foremost I am married to Olesya and looking forward to the rest of our lives together. Marriage is a journey and it is interesting and fun. Saved at the age of 25 and while salvation has been a challenge, God has always been faithful.

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