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Are there leaders in the church?

“And he [Jesus Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…” writes Paul to the church at Ephesus (Eph. 4:11-13a, ESV).

These verses offer us a wealth of information about the leadership of the church. There are a variety of views on leadership, from questioning to outright denial, and that is only in churches! Take into account secular views of authority and leadership, and the branches span even further. Are there leaders in the church? Or, is there one leader?

Paul gives an affirmative answer. God made the church to be led by faithful and dedicated men. That is, God gave His church leaders.[1] For churches to be healthy, they need biblical leaders. For the sake of this post, I will use the terms pastors and elders interchangeably.

Though far different, think of a crew at McDonald's. You have a manager (or, shift leader), team trainers, and workers. There is a structure involved to provide consistency and cohesiveness. The manager oversees the workers, provides training and feedback, and corrects when necessary. The team trainers help with the task of training (shocker, I know!) while completing the work. The workers fulfill their tasks as they are assigned. If this structure is ignored, chaos reigns. When the structure is followed, there is harmony, and work is accomplished.

What does this have to do with the church? The church differs from McDonald's in more ways than one. However, one similarity remains, that of leadership. Christ “gave…the shepherds and teachers” to the church for several purposes: equip the saints, for the work of ministry, to build up the church.

How does this affect the health of the church? I see several ways in which the church is harmed when biblical leadership is not practiced. First, there is no equipping of the saints. They are not prepared for life. Now, this in no way implies a dependency upon the elders of the church for growth. Or, to put it another way, one can still grow in their faith. However, neither does this negate the role of elders in the spiritual growth of church members.

Another negative result of not practicing biblical leadership is the failure of the work of ministry. What is this work? I find the London Baptist Confession of Faith helpful, when it states, “The work of pastors being constantly to attend the service of Christ, in His churches, in the ministry of the Word and prayer, with watching for their souls, as they that must give an account to Him.”[2] This work of ministry is built upon a faithful and consistent life (see 1 Tim. 3:1-7). Without those God-ordained leaders, the church will not be healthy.

Finally, though this list is not exhaustive, the final one presented by Paul in Ephesians is the building up of the church. The elders, or pastors and teachers, of the church, actually and truly build the church up. They build up their faith, their love, and their exercising of spiritual gifts. Without these leaders, the construction project of the church will not progress.

God has given the church His pastors. The selection and qualifications of those leaders are also provided through the Word of God (see 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and 2 Pet. 1:3-4). The absence of those leaders brings a great cost to the health of the church. It is necessary and vital that a church that seeks to be healthy has biblical leadership.

[1] The questions surrounding apostles, prophets, and evangelists are outside of this post’s perimeters. If you are interested in those questions, I recommend this article by Benjamin Merkle, “The Organization of the Church.” [2] LBCF, 26:10.


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