What are elders and why are they a necessary element of the local body of believers within the framework of a local church? Should elders be given the responsibility of leadership or is that the role of the senior pastor? Why do some denominations utilize elders in their church government while others do not? These are issues that often face churches as they discuss the topic of elders. Phil Newton and Matt Schmucker, in their helpful book in the 9Marks series called Elders in the Life of the Church: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership, examine elder leadership, noting along the way the example set in the early church as well as what the New Testament authors say on this issue.
I attend a church that uses the elder leadership model; however, I have also attended churches that used other leadership frameworks. As noted by Newton and Schmucker, “The drive to increase growth and expand ministry has complicated the structure of churches.” As a result, how to establish a leadership framework that addresses the needs of the flock while allowing the pastors the ability to focus on their role within the church, namely that of instruction and feeding the local body can be tricky at times. This is nothing new within the history of the church as noted by the authors. Paul recognized this issue as he planted churches and ensured that godly elders were appointed in those churches to provide the necessary level of leadership for that body. In fact, Newton and Schmucker rightly note “The balance of the book of Acts demonstrates that elders were part of the early churches’ leadership structure.”
After establishing the New Testament’s approach to the need for elders, Newton and Schmucker then outline why elders are need in churches today with a great deal of focus on the qualifications provided in Scripture for elders. Since elders bear a great responsibility for leading the local body, they must meet a variety of specific qualifications provided in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Newton and Schmucker do an excellent job of addressing these character qualifications driving home not just the need for elders to have these specific qualifications, but also perhaps more importantly, for the elders to be able to work together in unity as “The elders’ character, or lack thereof, will surface during times of testing and adversity. Nothing is any sweeter than seeing Christian brothers walk through such times in unity.” When hard decisions need to be made, godly character in the life of the elder will indeed shine through.
Part two of this excellent book examines four important biblical texts regarding elders. These passages are exegeted in great detail by Newton and Schmucker for the important purpose of taking a look at issues the early church faced and how elders were vital in tackling those issues. Even though the modern church is 2,000 years removed from the early church, we still face similar issues. Having a biblical framework to review, specifically in terms of why elders are vital to the operation of a local body of believers and how certain situations that arise within that local body should be handled is of extreme importance. Elders are to be under shepherds, men who “exercise their duties in dependence on the same Spirit who set them apart, recognizing that their hands cannot do all that needs to be done in the lives of God’s people. They must trust the Holy Spirit to work in the secret places of people’s minds and hearts to accomplish the divine task before them.” Elders who are in it for popularity or prestige or power are not the men for the job.
Newton and Schmucker also take time to address how the elder leadership model can be implemented in churches where such a model is not currently in place. This is the practical aspect of this book and it is the portion where the authors provided some very salient advice for those churches desiring to make this important transition. This transition should not be done hastily or without much prayer and conversation within the local body. Seeking out men of godly character who have been called by God for that role in the church will take time. Newton and Schmucker provide a three phased process to include the Evaluation Phase, Presentation Phase, and Implementation Phase. Each phase is discussed practically and purposefully, enabling a church considering this transition the ability to have a way forward in that process that is cogent, thorough, and focused on the needs of that local body.
I highly recommend this book for pastors and church leaders, especially those in congregations considering a move towards the elder leadership model or even for those churches who currently operate in such a framework that may need to make some necessary changes. Newton and Schmucker provide salient biblically rooted advice on the subject of elders, ensuring that the biblical model is the example that must be considered at all times. This will be a helpful guide for many years to come on the subject of elders in the local body, why they are vital, and what comprises sound godly elders who are focused on being that needed level of under shepherd in the local body of Christ.
This book is available for purchase from Kregel by clicking here.
I received this book for free from Kregel Ministry for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”