Church Leadership

There is a great need to understand what God's Word says about church leadership. This study explains why our church has multiple elders. It also explains the biblical qualifications that are needed in order to be appointed as an elder. Finally, this article explains the ministries and responsibilities of elders in the church.

It will be important for us to approach the Bible without presuppositions (which may very well be grounded in traditions and not biblical truth). The purpose of this Bible study is to bring us to a proper understanding of biblical church leadership that functions in accordance with the teachings of the New Testament. This is a fairly long article and you are encouraged to read all of it and ponder all the Bible passages. Rightly dividing the Word of Truth involves comparing Scripture with Scripture and understanding all verses in their context.

Multiple Church Leaders:

Acts 20:17 From Mileutus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. (plurality)

Some try to say that the elders in Acts 20 are from individual churches and that each church only had one elder. If this were so, then the same argument could be used of singular deacons in every church. Yet, no one ever assumes each church only had one deacon, see Philippians 1:1 ("Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons2).

To be consistent, churches that argue for only one elder/pastor should also argue to have only one deacon. The Word of God is quite clear that multiple elders and deacons were present in each assembly once they were fully established.

Consider the following passages:

Ac 14:23, So when they had appointed elders in every church,

Ac 20:17, From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.

Titus was told in Titus 1:15 to "appoint elders in every city as I commanded you,"

Notice the (genetive singular "church") plural elders with the singular church.

Also, pay close attention to Acts 14:23 "So when they had appointed elders (accusative Plural masc.) in every church (accusative singular) , and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed."

This does not describe a regional church, but rather churches in each city are mentioned. And each of those churches had elders (plural).

In Acts 15:2 we find the same situation. Men traveled to the major city of Jerusalem. There they dealt with plural apostles and elders.

Acts 15:2, "Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.

Acts 15:3, So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren.

Acts 15:4, And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them.

Notice who Paul and Banabus reported to: "the apostles and the elders" who were at "the church" in Jerusalem. Once again, the Bible clearly shows us plural leaders in a single church.

The presbuterion (Greek) is an assembly of elders. This is what we find in, 1Ti 4:14, "Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership."

Consider that a single elder conclusion finds no harmony with James 5:14, "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord."

If a singular elder/pastor rule is understood, this would mean that a sick person would call for all the elders in a given area. The sick person would call for elders that he did not know, or were not his elders. This clearly is not what James is describing in James 5:14.

A clear literal understanding of God's word challenges the conclusion of those who hold to singular leadership or one pastor rule leadership. As we continue the teaching of multiple elders becomes very apparent.

1Tim. 5, presents a difficult problem for those who hold to a singular elder/pastor type of leadership.

Paul said in 1Tim. 5:17 "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine."

If one maintains a singular elder/pastor in every church, then this verse would be saying that some of those churches have an elder (just one present) not especially given to preaching and teaching God's word. This makes no sense at all. It does however make clear sense in a multiple elder church to have some elders that help in all the elder responsibilities, yet one or more are consumed in communicating and studying God's Word and they are gifted in this area. This also fits with the gifted pastor/teachers given to the church in Eph. 4.

One should also study the leadership in 3 John, Gaius and Diotrephes, both appear to be in leadership in this one church.

The only thing that commends a singular elder/pastor church, is tradition. God's word does not stand behind that conclusion. God's word clearly puts forth a multiple elder government in each church.

1 Pet. 5:1, To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed.

Phil. 1:1, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

Leadership Responsibilities:  

Overseeing the local church:

Acts 20:28 "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.

1 Pet. 5:2 shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers,

Elders must watch over the affairs of the church body.

Elders are the watchmen for the safety and health of the local assembly.

The 23rd Psalm describes the Shepherd's tools:

"Your rod"

The rod was used as a weapon of defense against animals and thieves that would try and attack and kill the sheep. The elders today must keep a watchful eye because "savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock" Acts 20:29).

The NT has no shortage of warnings for the watchmen!

2 Pet. 2:1, "there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies."

2Cor. 11:13, "false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ."

Eph. 4:14, "we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting"

Col. 2:8, " Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ."

1Tim. 4:1, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons."

Titus 1:11, "whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain."

The 23rd Psalm also says of the shepherd "Your staff, they comfort me."

This speaks of the guidance that the shepherd gives to the sheep.

All elders must shepherd/pastor, but they all may not have the Eph. 4, gift of pastor. It's important to make this distinction. The Bible clearly makes this distinction.

Please follow carefully as we discuss the distinction between the term Elder and the Gift of Pastor.

Eph. 4 v.7 deals with spiritual gifts.

4:11 "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ."

Notice that God gives pastors to His Church and men appoint qualified elders in God's Church. These truths must be understood in order to fully comprehend biblical leadership. Consider the following: It is possible for a young Christian man to have the gift of pastor, spoken of in Ehp. 4, but he may not hold the office of elder. In time, that same young man will grow spiritually and mature into his gift of pastor and finally be called to a elder position in a church. Another possible scenario is for a mature Christian man, with the gift of administration and knowledge, to be appointed to an elder position, yet he does not have the gift of pastor. Obviously, those with the gift of pastor will have strong leadership and nurturing ability.

For equipping the saints

For the work of the ministry

Please note: No where in Scripture are men, with the spiritual gift of Pastor, elevated above the other elders. The NT sees elders as the same in authority.

The only distinction that is made, is in regard to material or financial assistance given to the teaching and preaching elder(s):

1Ti 5:17 "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine."

Elders are feeding the sheep/flock through the teaching of God's Word.

Elders are guiding the flock by explaining and guiding them in the application of God's Word.

All pastors (elders with the gift of pastor) and elders (with other leadership gifts) should look to the "Chief Shepherd" as their example:

John 10:2 "But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. (Christ our Lord)

10:11 The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.


10:12 The hireling will abandon the sheep


10:14 I know my sheep and they know me


Also, the good church leader watches so close to the point of caring for the very soul of the sheep.

1 Pet.2:25 For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Heb. 13:17, "for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account"

NOTE: Pasturing or Shepherding is an activity that is one of the responsibilities of the Elders, but it is also a spiritual gift. So, it seems that one may be and elder and help in shepherding a flock/ congregation and he may or may not have the gift of pastor, but still has the responsibility to shepherd. Also, a man may have the gift of pastor and not hold an office in a church. This is seen in the fact that spiritual gifts are given at salvation yet the gift (in this case pastor) is gradually manifested with spiritual maturity over a period of time. So it is possible to have a lay-person or deacon who has the gift of pastor and not hold the office of Elder.

Qualifications - A Study of 1Tim. 3 & Titus 1

1 Tim. 3, The Elders' "must be" list of prerequisites for leadership.

The verb form that translates to "must be" is a state of being verb. It describes not what the potential leader can and should be, but what he actually is. The potential elder must ALREADY have the qualities listed in 1Tim. 3 and Titus 1. To often, churches will allow men to be placed in leadership, hoping that the men selected will grow in spiritual maturity while in the position. However, the N.T. does not describe the previous method as an acceptable process. Any man that is to be considered for an elder or deacon leadership position must ALREADY manifest ALL the biblical qualifications listed in 1Tim. 3 and Titus 1.

"A bishop must then be blameless"

What this word blameless cannot mean! It does not mean he is perfect / flawless from birth! If it did then Paul, Peter and Moses would never have been chosen by God to be His leaders.

Still, "blameless" in general must mean that God is having control of your life.

That in your heart and mind you desire to please God and obey his will.

And the general conduct and character of your life gives evidence that you're yielded to the Lord.

The Greek word for Blameless/ above reproach means "cannot be laid hold of"

(ie:) like laying hold of a common criminal in your town or city...

Before a man is put into leadership, the church should ask "could the community lay hold of the leader with some legitimate fault?

Even though the man is completely forgiven by a Merciful and Gracious God, an unbelieving community may struggle with a man's ministry if they find great fault with his previous sins.

(ie:) Let's say that while he was saved a man fell into adultery or stealing money from the church. God truly will forgive him of those sins, but his poor testimony in the past may be a hindrance to ministering to community of believers and unbelievers.

Some may object and cry out that God is a God of Grace. One must be reminded of David's and Moses' consequence for being a poor example. David's sin with Bathsheba and the murder of Urriah resulted in a serious consequence from the Lord. Moses was one of the greatest leaders ever, but he was a poor example to God's people when he struck the rock after he was told to only speak to the rock. Moses, after all the wonderful things he had done was disqualified from leading God's people into the promised land. It is faulty logic and inconsistent biblically to say that once a man is forgiven he's back on track with all of God's privileges for ministry and service.

A potential leader must also have a good standing before the saints. Would the church members find him characteristically a man of great faults in his home and on the job site? If so, he's not fit for church leadership.

The first 4 areas in 1Tim. 3, really deal with the inner character of the man. Understanding that inner character always comes to the service at some point. What kind of man is this potential leader like at home, when no other church members are around except his own family? Paul has much to say about the potential leaders family life!

1Tim. 3 "the husband of one wife," (we teach, not having been divorced)

A man that divorced his wife may have some real inner issues to deal with. Some of these issues will be covered as we go through 1Tim. 3. Perhaps the divorced man has asked forgiveness and has grown in the Lord in his previously weak areas, but as we've already seen, that does not mean that God desires this man in leadership or teaching ministries.

We realize that there's great debate over this passage and what it means. Divorce is not the unpardonable sin, but it certainly makes it difficult in some situations for a man to rule his household well. For instance, if he's divorced, where are his children from his first marriage? Where is his first wife? Is he fully reconciled with all that were involved in his first family? A divorced man ends up having a household of which he cannot rule over at all, because his former wife may be remarried (having caused her to become an adulteress - another issue to deal with) and his children may not even be living with him. You can see how this mushrooms with great difficulty. Just because a man moves away from those that would find fault in him does not remove the issue. Each church will have to deal with these issues with godly wisdom. When leaders are being considered the saints must rely completely on the truth found in Proverbs 3:5 & 6 "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths."

In the early 1900, divorce was certainly something that a community would take issue with, even with the un-churched. It would be unheard of in those days to have a divorced pastor. In our modern times many have found supposed loopholes in God's word allowing for men of more than one wife to be in leadership and in teaching positions. I personally think, this is Theology of Covienance. Can a divorced person have a ministry, Yes! But there may be limitations.

How are we to understand Paul's words in 1Cor. 9:27 "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." What is Paul saying? After he's been preaching and preaching (aorist act. participle), if he should loose control of his body he would be disqualified, no longer approved. He's not just talking about just leadership in the context. Paul is clearly including being disqualified as a preacher. Now God is a God of Grace and Mercy. Certainly Paul before salvation could claim "although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief" (1Tim. 1:13). Yet, Paul knew that if he lost control of his body and gave into fleshly lust as a Christian leader, that he could be side lined or benched from leadership and teaching.

Preachers and Leaders today must remember that we serve an exacting God. 1Chron. 13:10 & 11 reminds us of how exacting the Lord is: "Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzza, and He struck him because he put his hand to the ark; and he died there before God. And David became angry because of the LORD'S outbreak against Uzza; therefore that place is called Perez Uzza to this day." God's servants must always serve God's way. Sometimes the consequences for disobedience may seem extremely harsh, but never fail to remember that we serve a HOLY God who gives Righteous instructions to His church.


Sound mind, Safe mind, Self Controlled mind: We teach that this temperance also includes abstaining from the drinking of alcoholic beverages. In 1Tim. 5:23 Paul reveals something about the godly concern of Timothy, "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities." What do we see here? Timothy was so concerned about his testimony as a church leader that he avoided the use of alcohol even for medicinal purposes. This is why Paul had to encourage Timothy to use just a small amount of alcohol for medicinal purposes. We should also not that Paul said "No longer drink only water". Wine was believed to purify water in ancient times. The drinking of water mixed with small portions of wine was a common practice, but the alcoholic content was extremely diluted.

"sober minded"

Safe mind, Self Controlled mind: This is a man that does not just watch what happens on his outside, but he carefully guards his thought life. Proverbs 23:7 says "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he." Philippians 4:8 says "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things." The sober minded man is spiritually aware of dealing sin at the mind level. He is the watchman of his own mind and he carefully guards all that comes through the doors of his eyes and ears.

"of good behavior"

ordered behavior... not disorderly: When a man has control of his mind he will also have control of his behavior. Others will see in this kind of man the type of behavior that is not unlearning. His behavior would never cause you to wonder of his spiritual condition and welfare.


Loves strangers and seeks opportunity to minister to them: The picture here is not some kind of social butterfly who simply enjoys having get togethers at his home. Rather the man who is hospitable (according to the Greek word) cares about the needs of strangers. In modern times this would be a man that obviously cares about his neighbors. His neighbors and folks in town know that this man really cares about others.

"able to teach"

An elder must have the ability to communicate God's Word. Titus 1:9 tells us that an elder is one that is "holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict." He's been taught or discipled. He clings to sound doctrine. He knows sound doctrine well enough to confront the false teachers of the day. Obviously, to be able to do this, one must have a thorough grounding in Solid Doctrine and be able to communicate those truths to others. It must be understood that within an elder group God will gift some with the gift of pastor teacher. Note what Paul said in 1Tim. 5:17 "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine." All must be "able" to teach, yet some will be especially gifted to communicate God's word.

"not given to wine" (we teach complete abstinence as already mentioned)

Prov. 20:1 "Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, And whoever is led astray by it is not wise."

Is. 28:7 "But they also have erred through wine, And through intoxicating drink are out of the way; The priest and the prophet have erred through intoxicating drink, They are swallowed up by wine, They are out of the way through intoxicating drink; They err in vision, they stumble in judgment. 8, For all tables are full of vomit and filth; No place is clean."

God does not sugar coat the problems of alcohol in His word. Man attempts to sugar coat the problems in order to give himself license to be involved in drinking this substance. But let's be honest and compare the ammount of Righteous acts that are done by a man with a bottle in his hand compared to the horrible sins that are always found close to drinking.

So, a leader must not be beside Wine, alcohol... it will be a hindrance to his leadership and I believe in direct disobedience to God's Word.

"not violent"

Not a Striker...the original word has the sense of "to Flatten out"

"You've heard the expression "I'll flatten him!" The intent of the angry person is quite clear. That person aims to physically harm or take to fighting someone! A man that is known for this kind of activity is not fit for church leadership at all.

"not greedy for money"

"but gentle"

"not quarrelsome"

"not covetous"

"one who rules his own house well"

"having his children in submission with all reverence."

"For if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?"

"Not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil."

"Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil."


All the passages in God's word CLEARLY reveal a male leadership in the Church body. More is said of this under "Deacons".

Titus 1:7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not
self-willed, not quick tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober minded, just, holy selfcontrolled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.

Elder Responsibilities

The book of Acts


Acts 11:30 The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Elders Selecting church leaders

Acts 14:23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church  (they committed them to the Lord) (although this passage deals with apostles choosing, note the following passage)

Acts 15:22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas, called Barsabus, and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers.

Elders Administrate and Organize

Titus 1:5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.

Acts 15, Elders Deal with Doctrinal issues

15:2 Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.

15:6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. (of Gentile circumcision)

The Elders oversee Missions/ Church planting

15:4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

Elders and Instruction

15:23 The apostles and the elders sent a letter of instruction to the church at Antioch.16:4 As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and the elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.

Elders and Prayer

James 5:14 Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church: and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (elders plural and Church is singular)

Elders and Oversight of the congregation

Acts 20:28 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.

Elders Protecting the flock

Acts 20:28, "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. 29, "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.

Elders Recognizing spiritual gifts

1 Tim. 4:14 Neglect not the gift that is in you, which was given you by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the elders/presbytery KJV.

As you can see, elders in plurality in each church is clearly the biblical precedent that is set for us in the church today!
Back to contents