Ecclesiology Theology

Primary Texts and Modern Examples of Church Organization and Government

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. 


A.        Elders

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

B.         Deacons

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.


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

1.         Episcopalianism

a.         Description

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.

b.         Examples

Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglican Communion (such as Episcopalian churches), Methodist Church

2.         Presbyterianism

a.         Description

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.

b.         Examples

Presbyterian churches, reformed churches

3.         Congregationalism

a.         Description

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.

b.         Examples

Baptist churches, Bible churches, Plymouth Brethren Churches, Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA), Church of Christ (restoration movement churches)


How to Develop Potential Leaders Leadership

Why We Must Have Leadership Development in Nonprofits and Churches

Nonprofit organizations and churches are often understaffed and underfunded, resulting in over-worked mid-level managers. Most nonprofit managers and church pastors face the challenge of running a program, managing staff, providing monthly board reports, helping with various fundraising responsibilities, and last but not least, developing leaders within their staff. Sadly, all of the challenges nonprofit leaders face often prevent leadership development from occurring.

Why We Must Have Leadership Development in Nonprofits and Churches

Photo Credit: Robert Sullivan

While developing leaders can yield the highest outcomes for employee productivity and improvement in the community, this area often gets put aside amongst other pressures because it does not provide immediate results. Investing in leadership development, whether financially or timely, “can feel like a luxury compared with investing in needs at the heart of a nonprofit charitable purpose, but failure to invest in leadership, as well as services, puts the entire mission at risk.”[ref]Kirk Kramer and Preeta Nayak, “A 5-Point Plan for Grooming Future Leaders,” Chronicle of Philanthropy 24, no. 14, June 28, 2012. Accessed May 14, 2015.[/ref] Investments in leadership development for nonprofit and church staff must be made.


Bible Revelation

The Letter to the Church in Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29)


A. Summary of Previous Lessons

B. Text of Rev 2:18-29

“18Write this letter to the angel of the church in Thyatira. This is the message from the Son of God, whose eyes are like flames of fire, whose feet are like polished bronze:
19I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things.
20But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman—that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet—to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols. 21I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality.

22Therefore, I will throw her on a bed of suffering, and those who commit adultery with her will suffer greatly unless they repent and turn away from her evil deeds. 23I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve.

24But I also have a message for the rest of you in Thyatira who have not followed this false teaching (‘deeper truths,’ as they call them—depths of Satan, actually). I will ask nothing more of you 25except that you hold tightly to what you have until I come. 26To all who are victorious, who obey me to the very end, To them I will give authority over all the nations. 27They will rule the nations with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots. 28They will have the same authority I received from my Father, and I will also give them the morning star!

29Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” (Revelation 2:18–29, NLT)

The Letter to the Church in Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29)

“The City of Thyatira” by Robert Walsh (1772-1852) and Thomas Allom (1804-1972)

C. History and Background of the City of Thyatira

Thyatira was a small thriving agricultural town. It was known for its purple dye. No one knows exactly how the church began in Thyatira. However, in Acts 16 Paul shares the gospel with a woman named Lydia who was a merchant of “expensive purple cloth” and was from Thyatira (Acts 16:14). Lydia was in Philippi when she met Paul, and she might have returned to Thyatira and helped to start the church there (Walvoord, Revelation, 69-70).

N.T. Wright provides some helpful background information on the city of Thyatira. The trade unions were known for smelting copper and bronze (maybe where the description of Jesus is chosen in Rev 2:18). More importantly, the local patron deity of the area and of the bronze trade was “Apollo Tyrimnaeus” who appeared on local coins together with the “son of God”, who was the Roman emperor.

The local trade unions (woolworkers, linen workers, makers of outer garments, dyers, leatherworkers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave dealers, and bronze smiths) regularly held meetings and ceremonies that included idol worship as a way to invoke divine favor onto the trade work. This put Christians in a difficult place if they expected to find work (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 25; Metzger, Breaking the Code, 36).


The Book of Revelation

The Letter to the Church in Smyrna (Rev 2:8-11)


A. Summary of Past Lessons

B. Text of Rev 2:8-11

“8Write to the angel of the church in Smyrna: This is the message from the one who is the first and the last, who was dead but now lives. 9I know about your oppression and poverty, but you are rich. I also know about the people who claim to be Jews but are not, instead they are part of the synagogue of Satan. 10Do not fear the things you are about to suffer. Look! The Devil is about to throw some of you into prison in order to tempt you and you will experience oppression for ten days. Have faith until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11The one who has an ear must listen to what the Spirit says to the churches: ‘The one who overcomes will not be harmed by the second death.” (Rev 2:8-11)[ref]Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own[/ref]

John Writes to the Churches in Ephesus and Smyrna

Bamberg Apocalypse Bible: “The Letter to the Church in Ephesus and Smyrna” (AD 1,000)

C. History and Background of the City of Smyrna

Among the seven cities that John sent letters to, Smyrna is the only city that still exists today (now called Izmir which is Turkey’s third largest city with seven hundred thousand [Walvoord, Revelation, 59-60]). The city of Smyrna was about thirty-five miles north of Ephesus. Besides Ephesus, Smyrna was the wealthiest city in the area because of its seaport. It was also known for its science and learning.

Walvoord points out that the word “Smyrna” comes from the word “myrrh” which was a sweet perfume used in embalming dead bodies (Pss 45:8). It was also a holy anointing oil used in tabernacle worship in the Old Testament (Exod 30:23). It is mentioned by the bridegroom in the Song of Solomon (Song of Sol 3:6) and the heavenly bridegroom in the Psalms (Pss 45:8). The “protecting deity of Smyrna was a local adaptation of Cybele, which was known as the Sybeline Mother. Greeks identified her with Nemesis which was the Greek goddess of retributive justice. The city also created a temple to the goddess Roma (195 BC) (Osborne, Revelation, 127).

In addition to that deity worship, worship of the Roman Emperor was also very common. In AD 26 Smyrna beat out ten other cities for the honor of building a temple to honor the emperor Tiberias (Osborne, Revelation, 127). Under Domitian (AD 81-96), every year each citizen had to burn incense on Caesar’s altar in order to receive a certificate. Failure to receive a certificate meant death if someone found out. About sixty years after Domitian, the famous bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp (the disciple of John), was burned alive for refusing to call Caesar “Lord” (Osborne, Revelation, 127). Who and how the church started in Smyrna is a mystery. It could be from Paul’s three-year stay in Ephesus, which was nearby (Walvoord, Revelation, 60; Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 158-160).


“Write to the angel of the church in Smyrna: This is the message from the one who is the first and the last, who was dead but now lives.” (Rev 2:8)[ref]Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own[/ref]

This brief verse emphasis two aspects of Christ’s deity: eternality and resurrection.

A. Christ’s Eternality and Sovereignty

Ecclesiology Theology

An Effective Church

Churches need to play a significant role in our community in order to save lost souls.

Photo Credit: YWAM

To serve lost souls churches must be effective, but what makes up an effective church? There are a few things that I believe the church should be and do in order to play a key role in saving souls and helping people authentically live as Christ followers. From my own personal experience of what God has done in my life, from reading the Bible, and from observing my own church, I believe there are three core elements that allow a church to be effective.

I believe a church needs to be led well, it should have solid Bible-based teaching, and it should show love to the community. These three elements of an effective church in a community can be deduced from a small passage in the book of Acts that shows us how the early church performed ministry in an effective way. Let us start by taking a look into the early Christian church in chapter six of Acts.


In the book of Acts there is a lot happening. Jesus has died, risen from the dead, been taken up into heaven, the day of Pentecost comes and with it comes the Holy Spirit, and the apostle Peter delivers an amazing sermon that saves 3,000 souls. Then, the early apostles begin to experience some opposition from religious leaders. (Please note that when I use the word “apostles,” I am using it in the context of the 12 disciples [minus Judas] that are now the current leaders of the early church.

The result is that the religious leaders release the apostles, and we can now read what they do after being released starting in Acts 5:42:[ref]The passage of scripture we are studying is Acts 5:42 through Acts 6:7. However, for simplicity sake, throughout this paper I will refer to the passage as “chapter six of Acts.”[/ref]