Sunday, July 18, 2010


The issue of female elders is one that really gets Christians stirred up. To resolve this issue, we really need to set aside our modern experiences with elders and have a totally fresh look at New Testament teaching on eldership. The things that I write about eldership in my book Being Church Where We Live do not make sense, if they are applied to eldership as it operates in most churches today.

The problem is that in the modern church, eldership has become a “power” role. Becoming an elder gets you onto the committee that controls the church. Elders decide how the money is spent, who will be employed, who will get to preach, what programs will be run, and a whole lot of other stuff. In some churches, the elders even get to sack the CEO (woops Pastor).

This is totally wrong. Jesus was adamant that in his kingdom, leaders would not control people but would serve them (Mark 10:42-45).

In New Testament, eldership is not a power ministry. First, elders as a group do not have many decisions to make. Every couple of years, they may need to decide who to send out as apostles. If someone really loses the plot, they may decide to cut them loose, but that should be rare. If the church is following the leading of the Holy Spirit, there will be very few decisions for elders to make. Most of the situations that need committee decisions in our modern churches simply will not occur.

The main task of the elders is to ensure that every Christian grows to maturity, and to ensure that Christians build relationships with each other in a way that will allow the body to function effectively (Eph 4:7-16). This task is simply not done in the modern church, because it is assumed that these things will happen automatically if the people hear a good sermon each week. The great irony is that in place where it is being done, this role is mostly being undertaken by women, because the male elders are too busy at their committee meetings.

In the New Testament, eldership is mostly discipling less mature members of the church. NT elders have no power or control over those they are discipling. What happens is that a new Christian will submit to an elder and accept correction and guidance from them and give them authority to pray in agreement on their behalf. This is a voluntary relationship. The person who has submitted can walk away at any time. The elder earns the privilege of speaking into their disciples’’ lives by their love and service. This is the way it was with Jesus. The disciples submitted to him, because they loved him, not because someone had appointed him as an elder. Judas (probably permanently) and Peter (temporarily) were free to withdraw their submission to Jesus when they chose. Jesus never once said to his disciples, “You must submit to me, because I am you elder”.

There is a place for appointing elders, but this is just recognition by the other elders and the church of what the person will already doing. An apostle would be unwise to appoint a person as elder, who does not have new Christian asking for their guidance and correction. The elders cannot make people submit to a person they appoint as elder.

In the New Testament, eldership is primarily a relationship ministry. That means that it must be based on healthy relationships.

Once we understand that eldership is relationship ministry, the sex, age issues disappear. A young man of 25 would be unlikely to submit to a man of 90. He would want to submit to someone younger, who understood the issues he faces in life. A 40 year old male elder should not want a 25 year old single woman submitting to him. He would be better to encourage her to submit to a more mature woman.

Jesus was modelling the discipling of new followers by living and working together. He did not have any women among the twelve disciples. This was not because women cannot be disciples, but because it was not appropriate given the intimate relationship he had with his those he was discpling (Dan Brown could really go to town).


David said...

Awesome. And your book is excellent.

Blessed Economist said...

Thanks David