“Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
— Acts 20: 28
Leadership. Always an interesting matter for discussion in the church. I know it’s a meaty subject but let me see if I can unpack it for us. There are many models used today—mostly man-made and inherited from the precious group, but all purporting to be the right one. Unfortunately many of them are in error! The first place to look, of course, is to the Scriptures because God has a lot to say about leadership.
There are several biblical designations for leaders. There’s apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:6). Elders and overseers are also in the mix and many times those two words are interchangeable. The literal term for elder is the Greek word episkopos, made up of two words, epi (upon) and skopos (to watch). Thus, an elder is a “watchman.” In early times, he was one who took a shift on the city wall and alerted the people of any impending danger. What a wonderful picture of those who are charged in the local church to exercise watchful care over the body of Christ. The term overseer(s) refers to a council of elders in a given area. It was also used in the early church to give dignity and veneration to the age of the older leaders (see Proverbs 20:29). They are also called shepherds.*
Normally every church has some kind of leadership group. But unfortunately today, many have allowed the corporate business model of leadership to creep into the church and the leadership group has become known as “the Board,” which, of course, requires a “Chairman of the Board.” There is no NT biblical precedent for that model. Elders and shepherds, whatever their gifts, are equal in authority. Each is ordained by God to perform his gift in the church as directed by the Lord, in cooperation with the other overseers.
There’s an interesting but sad story regarding the mother of James and John who apparently saw, in cooperation with her sons, an opportunity to elevate them over the other apostles. It’s found in Matthew 20:17-28. Right after Jesus announced His death, burial and resurrection, their mother and her sons requested that they be made first in His Kingdom over the others. Jesus replied, “Whoever wants to be first among you, let him be your servant.” I would suggest that is the church model for leadership. Let’s remember that Jesus is always the “Chairman of the Board” in every circumstance. There is no other.
As a final reminder, the Apostle Peter, as a fellow elder, had some powerful instructions to the elders of the corporate church that was scattered throughout the Roman empire in exile and so importantly needed to exercise leadership:
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
— 1 Peter 5:1-4 — Maranatha!
* Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament. p.635, 1210.