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I recently did some study of elders, deacons, and church government. This was a topic I studied while in Seminary,[ref]Special thanks to Dr. Nathan Holsteen of Dallas Theological Seminary. Some of this blog post has been adapted from the notes from his “Ecclesiology” class I took under him.[/ref] and and I wanted to freshen up some of my beliefs about what the Bible says on these topics.
Below is a brief outline of my studies (with guidance Dr. Nathan Holsteen) and various views the different church denominations have.
I. ORGANIZATION OF THE CHURCH
1. Primary Texts are 1 Timothy 3:1-7, 5:17-21; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-5
2. Qualifications of Elders
Elders are required to have certain character (1 Timothy 3:2-3; Titus 1:6-7), specific abilities (1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:9), godly relationships (1 Tim 3:2, 4), experience (1 Tim 3:6), and a specific desire for service (1 Tim 3:1; 1 Peter 5:2-3).
3. Responsibilities of Elders
Elders are supposed to shepherd (1 Peter 5:2) and teach (1 Tim 3:2).
4. Plurality of Elders
There seems to be sufficient data in the New Testament to suggest that a plurality of elders was the custom and should be implemented. See Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2; 20:17, 28; 21:18; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 5:17; Tit 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-2
1. Primary Texts Are 1 Timothy 3:8-16 and Acts 6:1-6.
2. Qualifications of Deacons
A list of qualifications for deacons is given just after the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3:8-13.
3. Responsibilities of Deacons
Acts 6:1-7 is the only location we see deacons doing ministry.
II. GOVERNMENT OF THE CHURCH
A. In the Bible
1. In the Book of Acts
The church in the book of Acts was in a transitional state, but it had an organized structure. A careful reading of Acts reveals that the church had a doctrinal confession (Acts 2:42), practiced baptism (Acts 2:41), had the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42, 46), had some levels of membership (Acts 2:14, 41; 4:4), helped people in need (Acts 2:44-45), and appointed leaders for specific tasks (Acts 6:1-7).
2. In the New Testament Letters
The church in the Pauline and general epistles showed more organization than the church in Acts. Church officers were in place (Titus 1:5) and there was an enforced order within the church (1 Corinthians 14:40).
B. In the Modern Church
Government by a hierarchy of bishops. There are three layers of leaders: bishops, presbyters (or priests), and deacons. Only the bishop can ordain priests and deacons. It has the strongest emphasis on clergy and laity distinction. The local church does not own its property.
Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglican Communion (such as Episcopalian churches), Methodist Church
Governed by “elders” (presbuteros) in the form of church courts. Congregation chooses it’s pastor and elects elders. Places power of local church in a group of elders, not in one minister who derives authority from a bishop. The local church does not own its property.
Presbyterian churches, reformed churches
The local church is an autonomous unit. Christ in the only person above a congregational church. The ultimate authority of the church rests in the members of the church. Can be “elder” led or “deacon” led. Each church calls its own pastor, approves its own budget, purchases property, and has ownership of its own property.
Baptist churches, Bible churches, Plymouth Brethren Churches, Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA), Church of Christ (restoration movement churches)
Sometimes Christians think they have to agree with everyone in their small group. Part of the growth that people experience in a small group is enjoying fellowship with people that believe and act differently than they do. Learning to love those people and get along with them is a sign of spiritual maturity. From time to time, remind your group that it is okay to disagree.
REMIND THE GROUP THAT IT IS OKAY TO DISAGREE
Adjusting to this “digital small group” stuff has been difficult for me. Perhaps you have found it to be a smooth transition. I have not.
Due to those struggles, I called two of my small group leaders at our church and asked them for guidance. They gave me four great tips that I have started using in my weekly Bible study on Zoom
The meetings have been much better!
Here are those four tips I want to share with you.
- Use a laptop computer or desktop computer. This gives you a bigger screen so you can see everyone at once. You can also use a tablet like an iPad. A phone can work too, but the screen is so small it makes the video conference more difficult.
- Try to keep the device you are using stationary. This was something I did poorly when I used a phone for our group because the internet was not working for my laptop. I think I knocked over my phone three times during the meeting. But if you can, try to keep your device in one place.
- Stay on mute until you want to talk. If there are 15 people in your group it can be difficult to hear the person talking if there are other background noises. (One women’s group I talked to said that they could hear the husband’s coffee maker brewing two rooms away.) Ask everyone to keep themselves muted until they want to share something.
- Use the “chat” feature if needed. Most video call software has a “chat” area where people can share a message with the group. Feel free to use that if needed.
Whether your group uses Zoom, Google Hangout, FaceTime, Google Meet, or Facebook Messenger, these are some helpful tips you can use.
Facilitating a small group is more art than science. While there are certain principles small group facilitators need to follow,[ref]Some of these principles are doing the Unifying Question each week, having an apprentice/assistant/co-leader, having an Empty Chair in the group to remind everyone to pray for unsaved people, serving together at church or in the community, talking less than 25 percent of the time, starting and ending the group on time, calling someone who is part of your group and did not show up for group and did not tell anyone he wouldn’t be there, and encouraging everyone to participate in the discussion.[/ref] there are various techniques you can use.
VISIT OTHER GROUPS TO SEE HOW OTHER FACILITATORS FACILITATE
Each facilitator is going to have his own unique style of facilitating a small group. Thus, there are things each facilitator can learn from each other. Which is a principle that Scripture also teaches.
One the goals of your small group is to have everyone actively part of a weekly discussion. You want each person talking about what he is learning, how he is applying it to his life, and how his life is changing as a result. However, once you have nine or more people in your small group meeting, it is hard to get everyone involved in the discussion, therefore you need to subgroup your small group during discussion time.
SUBGROUP WHEN YOU HAVE NINE OR MORE PEOPLE AT YOUR MEETING[ref]“Subgrouping in this way will ensure that the doors of your small group remain open to seekers and other lost souls looking for the love of Christ. Not only does it develop leaders, but it also ensures that your small group atmosphere is conducive to adding friends.” Steve Gladen, Leading Small Groups with Purpose, p. 161[/ref]
Why Subgroup Your Small Group
Pray for the members of your group every day. Pray that the curriculum you will be using will speak to your group and transform their lives to look more like Christ. Also pray that God would prepare you and your heart to facilitate a discussion that helps people grow in their faith in Jesus Christ.
SOAK YOUR GROUP MEMBERS AND CURRICULUM IN PRAYER
T.A.L.K. to God about Your Group
When you pray to God about your group, follow the T.A.L.K. process.
Thank God for Your Group and the People He Has Sent to You
APPLICATION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN COMPLETION
“The crowning part of your task in searching the Scriptures is to discover ways the truth applies to your own life and the lives of others” Chuck Swindoll, God’s Word for You, p. 111
The Goal Is Life Change for your Group Members
One of your goals as a small group facilitator is to get everyone involved in your group as much as possible. On the weekend people go to church and passively listen, but during the week at their small group we want them to actively discuss what they are learning and how they are growing.
Steve Gladen, the Small Groups Pastor at Saddleback Church has stated, “Every person in your group is an important part of the process [of discipleship]—not just the leader. The sooner your group members realize this, the healthier your group will be, and the easier your job will become” (Steve Gladen, Leading Small Groups with Purpose, p. 109). Get everyone as involved as possible in the organization of your group as well as during the discussion time.