Are We Creating Elders or Leaders?

Why the Carver Policy Governance Model must be rejected by Christian churches.

A long-running trend among churches of the Restoration Movement (RM), their colleges, seminaries, and publications of the RM, is to speak of, and be concerned with, matters of Leadership. I would venture to guess that for the most part, when speaking of those who organise, govern, lead, control, supervise, do administration, plan, and set goals, the term leader is pre-eminent. When I speak of leadership in this article, I am doing so as understanding a force that is not the same as eldership, not because leadership is a bad term, but it is a term that marks a different trajectory than is marked by eldership.

My question is, when using the language of leadership, if we are not creating a new category, parallel to the one expressed in the New Testament: elder. The language of leadership, in its modern form, can be very confusing: leaders can be autocratic, they can be consensus builders; leaders can work alone, they can work in committee; leaders can push, leaders can pull. Much of the current literature on the subject is concerned with the type or style of leadership appropriate to an organisation. This is, I believe, in part because there are so many philosophies, systems, and models that leadership can take. It’s been probably thirty years ago that I saw an ad for Leadership Journal, saying, “if it was meant only pastors, we’d have named it, ‘pastorship journal.’” This is the shift in terminology, and where it might end, that concerns me.

Some are uncomfortable with the idea of “leadership” rather than “pastorship,” so in the Christian world, it has been suggested that the term “servant” be prefixed to the word “leader,” (servant-leader) so that it is clear that the leader in the church will be like Jesus (“But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”” Matthew 20:25–28, ESV). This needs to be carefully considered when applying it to a ministry, and the question must be raised, “How do I serve, and lead?” A man in leadership must not consider every task as his task. For example, the apostles, who were growing in their understanding of the Gospel, realised that not everything is their place of service. Thus, they choose others to look after the daily distribution of food to the tables (Acts 6:1-7). They served by prayer and preaching.  What must also be noted is that there is no hint that the daily food distribution was considered beneath the apostles; rather, there were two legitimate tasks, and these tasks required two groups of men.

Returning to the parallel category of leader, I suggest that there is a danger in doing so because it creates a class of Christian worker that is outside the understanding of the New Testament church. The New Testament teaches a way by which the church is to be lead, organized, taught, guided, and administered. This task is to be done by the elders of the church, and the ministry, beginning with the eldership, is to be supervised by the eldership.

Within a couple of centuries of the founding of the church, eldership became hierarchical. That is, eldership in individual congregations was supplanted by over-elders, as churches in geographically important places (Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, Rome) began to be seen as having a greater importance and influence. Much of this reflects the thinking of the day, which itself was hierarchical, both from the Roman government and the military.

The early RM rightly opposed the hierarchical government of Protestant denominations. Today, we can still observe the damage as theological liberalism and apostasy reign in denominational headquarters and seminaries and impose false doctrines upon local congregations.

Eldership, as opposed to leadership, is very different:

  1. Eldership is not hierarchical. That is, it does not follow the structure of the government, the military, or corporation. These structures are not in themselves wrong, and they have their place in broader society; but they do not belong in the church of Christ. There should not be a “top-down” leadership structure in the Christian church.
    1. The New Testament uses a military metaphor to describe the Christian life and struggle (cf. Ephesians 6, Matthew 16:18, etc.). Military chain of command is never used to describe how the church functions.
    2. “Gentile leadership” is held up as an example of how leadership ought not to be. (Matthew 20:25-28).
  2. Eldership is not passive. It does not set policy and then hand the working out of that policy to professionals. Eldership must remain involved in keeping with its Biblical mandate (oversight, teaching, defending) in ways that many leadership models will not permit. At this point, a clarification of terms is necessary.
    1. The New Testament office (note: singular!) of elder, overseer, and pastor has been mis-taught for centuries, and that has worked its way into our thinking. What follows is not new from me, but has been restated many times in the history of the church. Culturally, hierarchy is always at the door, and, because it works so well, often invited in. Consider the following:
      1. Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders (πρεσβυτέρους, presbuterous, “presbyters”) of the church to come to him.” (Acts 20:17, ESV). Note the term highlighted. He was calling together the people in charge of the church in Ephesus. These were referred to as elders.
      2. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (ἐπισκόπους, episkopous, “bishops” or “overseers) to care for (ποιμαίνειν, poimainein, “shepherd” “pastor) the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28, ESV). In this verse, Paul is saying that the elders are overseers (bishops). Their task is to shepherd (pastor) the church, who is the flock of God. Please don’t miss this: Paul calls the elders together, and addresses them as overseers (bishops) and commands them to shepherd (pastor) the flock.

Today, a pastor is usually a full-time church leader, who usually preaches on Sundays. A bishop oversees server churches in an area. An elder serves on a church board, and may or may not be involved in teaching ministry.

The New Testament knows nothing of this kind of distinction.

But today, if an elder were to use the term “bishop” to describe himself, it might sound odd, as though he were usurping a role to himself that he did not deserve. If five elders were to say they were pastors, one might think the church had a large staff! But this is hierarchical thinking that is engrained in our thinking today. Consider the terms again:

  1. Elder: a male who is older and more mature in the faith. This term is primarily descriptive of the person.
  2. Overseer: one who supervises the work of the church. This term is descriptive of the role, or function, which is oversight.
  3. Pastor: one who looks after sheep, one who feeds, defends, and leads. This term is descriptive of the task, which is the ministry of the Word and prayer.

Modern thought has separated these so that they describe men in different roles, as though the roles are themselves different.  I do not believe that this can be reconciled with the New Testament model of church governance.

1 Timothy 3:1-7 describes the requirements for an overseer (bishop, episkopos). If an overseer is an elder, and an elder is a pastor, these requirements are describing the expectations for the same man.

  1. In Acts 20:28, overseeing and pastoring are linked. In 1 Timothy 3:2, the overseer must be “able to teach.” Teaching is an integral role for the elder/overseer/pastor.
  2. Titus 1:5-9 again links the terms “elder” (vs 5) with “overseer” in verse 7. Furthermore, the teaching (pastoral feeding) and rebuking error (pastoral protecting) are requirements in verse 9.
  1. Eldership, then, is the following
    1. An office that is held by a man who has experience in the faith, taught, and able to teach. An elder is a man who is old enough to have lived his faith.
    2. Oversight of the congregation, and delegation of tasks to deacons.
    3. Feeding the flock by preaching and teaching.
    4. Defending the flock by rebuking error, both moral and theological.
  2. Therefore, Eldership is not:
    1. Passive, and uninvolved in the teaching and defending ministry of the church.
    2. Hyphenated: the New Testament does not speak of Youth Pastors, Family Life Pastors, Visitation Pastors, Worship Pastors, Music Pastors, Creative Arts Pastors, Sports Pastors, or Senior Pastors (for the elderly). There are roles and tasks in the church that do focus on specific people and needs, but the term pastor should be reserved for men who are in fact, elders.
    3. The New Testament does not speak of “Elder Emeritus,” i.e., too old to be useful but still treated with the honour of having served. It should be kept in mind that age itself is an honour in the Bible, and something to be respected. Elders are removed from office for sin, false teaching, and death. Physical and mental aging may also cause an elder to recuse himself from his office. Biblically, age is equated with wisdom, and so the term for the office implies experience.
  1. Leadership is not necessarily eldership, but eldership necessarily leads.
  1. By removing Biblical terminology, we run the risk of removing the Biblical office and replacing it with something foreign to the New Testament.
    1. Elders teach. Who teaches in your congregation?
    2. Elders direct. Who directs in your congregation?”?
    3. Are people doing the work of an elder, but under a different name? I.e., do you find saying, “Meet Henrietta Finkelstein, our Youth Pastor,” un-troubling when it would be very troubling to say, “Meet Elder Henrietta Finkelstein”? Dear Henrietta may indeed “work with youth” in some capacity, but if she’s a pastor, she’s an elder, and that’s a problem (1 Timothy 2:12).
  1. With the adaption of “Carver Policy Governance Model” (name for its founder, John Carver) by many church boards, church hierarchy returns in full force. The following quotes are from an article supporting the Carver model. The full article may be found here.

“One of the key principles embedded in Policy Governance is that the board holds one person accountable for achieving the institutional ends — the Chief Executive Officer. . . .

 In the Carver model of Policy Governance the board focuses upon developing policy consistent with mission, values, and ends of the organization. Once these are defined, it empowers the CEO, within specific limitations, to ensure that the organizational resources are focused upon accomplishing the desired ends. In the context of a local church, the board (which most often includes the lead pastor) would establish the policies, including the key ends they want the church to achieve. It then hands off to the lead pastor the responsibility to employ all of the resources of the local church to accomplish these outcomes. This model creates significant clarity for the lead pastor and the board as to their respective responsibilities. So long as the lead pastor is guiding the local church to achieve the outcomes within the limitations specified, the board supports the lead pastor in his role. Reporting lines are clear. The accountability of all other paid staff is to the lead pastor, not the board.

Does this mean that other elders or deacons who form the church board have no role in ministry leadership? Not at all. However, if they are assigned a ministry role in the church (i.e. small group leader, facility oversight, member care, etc.), they are accountable to the lead pastor for that role, not the board. They do not report to the board, but to the lead pastor. It may also be the case that the board assigns them a specific board responsibility (i.e. audit oversight, personnel matters, etc.) and in this case they are accountable directly to the board. So the members of the church board need to be clear as to the nature of their responsibilities and to whom they are accountable for their accomplishment.”

I believe this model is popular, because it works. But many things work that we don’t want to do in the church, and the church governance shown in the New Testament ought to prevail. This leadership model is unscriptural, for it creates a hierarchy where it should not; it elevates one elder above other elders, and makes the several accountable to one. Furthermore it creates unbiblical offices, CEO, lead pastor, etc., within the church. It also, artificially and unscripturally, separates the eldership from the office of overseer and pastor. If all elders are pastors, how is it that “other elders and deacons” are “accountable to the lead pastor?” This distinction is unnecessary and unhelpful. It also effectively sidelines the elders of the church from the ministry of teaching and protecting the church.

The standard of eldership set forth in Scripture, beyond the moral standards (which are daunting), is rigorous. To be able to teach and defend the faith takes an investment of one’s life and energy, beyond the simple agreement to serve on a board. If I serve on a board of an organization which is not a church, I understand that there are professionals who are working in the organization to whom I must defer in matters of expertise and skill. I know that that I can only see to it that the general policies of the organization are maintained. But if I am an elder, I have a holy obligation to “be that expert,” at least as far as God’s grace allows, and to be fully committed to knowing God and His Word. Knowing God and His Word, then, I must teach it and defend the flock. This ministry cannot be outsourced to other experts; it is the task of the elders to fulfill.

The Church Effeminate by Stephen C. Perks

Effeminacy in Leadership: More the Effect Than the Cause of God’s Judgment

Reproduced below is a very keen and penetrating analysis of the nature of the deplorable upsurge of effeminacy in the church, with the locus of the phenomenon placed not primarily on its consideration as being the cause of God’s judgment but, conversely, on it, i.e., the phenomenon, as being theeffect.

Recently I was asked whether it would be correct to say that, in the history of the world, whole dynasties and indeed civilisations have foundered on the rock of homosexuality. My answer was that I would not put it this way. Of course I believe that homosexual practices are immoral, and forbidden by God’s law. However, in Rom. 1:21-32 Paul puts it this way: Men turned away from serving God to serving the creature. As a consequence God gave them over to impure passions. Homosexuality is God’s judgement on a society that has turned away from God and worships the creature rather than the Creator. Spiritual apostasy is the rock upon which cultures, including our own, founder, and homosexuality is God’s judgement on that apostasy. This is why homosexuality was a common practice among the pagan cultures of antiquity, indeed is a common practice among most pagan cultures, including now our own increasingly neo-pagan culture. In short, the idea that the toleration of homosexuality is an evil that will lead to God’s judgement is unbiblical because it puts the cart before the horse. It is the other way round. The prevalence of homosexuality in a culture is a sure sign that God has already executed or is in the process of executing his wrath upon society for its apostasy. The cause of this judgement is not the immoral practices of homosexuals (immoral though homosexual acts are); rather it is spiritual apostasy. The prevalence of homosexuality is the effect, not the cause of God’s wrath being visited upon society. And in a Christian (or perhaps I should say “post- Christian”) society this means, inevitably, that the prevalence of homosexuality in society is God’s judgement on the church for her apostasy, her unfaithfulness to God, because judgement begins with the house of God (1 Pet. 4:17).

This is not a popular message with Christians. It is easy to point the finger at gross sin and immorality, but the church is much less willing to consider her own role in the social evils that blight our age. The spiritual apostasy that led to our present condition started in the church, and much of the debacle of modern society that Christians rightly lament can in some measure be traced to this apostasy of the church as the root cause. And even now the church refuses to take her responsibility for preserving society from such evil seriously and has abdicated her role as the prophetic mouthpiece of God to the nation.

Of course, this does not mean we should not challenge the gay lobby and work to establish biblical morality in our society. We must. But we must also get our priorities right, and I fear that the church has misdiagnosed this problem and got her priorities wrong. The church suffers from the homosexual blight as much as, perhaps more than (with the exception of the media and entertainment world), any other section of society. For most of this century the church has been seeking a female god to replace the God of the Bible. We have had ministers who have thought, acted and preached like women for many years now. The clergy in our age is, on the whole, characterised by effeminacy. The increasing number of homosexuals in the ministry is, I think, both a cause and effect relationship related to this and at the same time a manifestation of God’s judgment on the church. Often, of course, judgement works through cause and effect relationships, because the whole creation is God’s work; it therefore functions according to his plan and will. The church has become thoroughly feminised by an effeminate clergy. Ministry today is directed primarily at women, and ministers have begun to think and act like women, so that Christianity has become what someone has called “lifeboat religion”—women and children first. And the world sees this well enough.

For example, I have been told on more than one occasion by priests and ministers that when they go out visiting members of their parishes if the man of the house comes to the door the first thing he will often say is “I’ll go get the wife.” Vicars and ministers are there to pamper to women and children, or so the world thinks, and this is simply because ministry in the church is so often directed primarily to women and children, not to men. Likewise, I have been told by clergy that now that women are increasingly present in the ranks of the clergy the nature of chapter meetings etc. has changed; now these meetings of the clergy are characterised much less by doctrinal matters and discussion revolves more around “relationship” issues (in other words the meetings have been taken over by a women’s agenda). I have observed the same kind of thing in church meetings. If one brings up doctrinal issues or even serious issues about the mission of the church there is little interest. “There isn’t time now. We’ll deal with this another time” is the usual response, though seldom are such issues dealt with later either. But there is always enough time to consider trivial matters and in particular whether all our “relationships” need more work on them. And yet in most churches where I have experienced this kind of attitude I have not detected serious relationship problems troubling the church. However, there have often been and continue to be prodigious doctrinal problems and problems related to the church’s understanding of its mission in the world troubling these churches, yet these are not even considered worthy of discussion in church leadership meetings. Church leaders will talk endlessly about “relationships” and the like but avoid doctrinal issues like the plague because these are deemed to cause division and hinder “relationships.”

Now at root I believe this is a serious problem created by the feminisation of church leadership. The leadership agenda, which is a masculine agenda, has been replaced by a feminine agenda, which is a disaster for leadership. The church has abandoned the God of Scripture for the cosiness of a female type of deity who does not require church leaders to expound biblical doctrine or act with conviction according to God’s word (both of which are perceived, often correctly, as causing division—Mt. 10:34ff.), but instead requires leaders simply to mother their congregations in a feminine way. This naturally produces effeminate clergymen and an effeminate church. But this is not merely an impersonal cause and effect relationship. God works through second causes in his creation to accomplish his will. An effeminate ministry and an effeminate church is God’s answer to the church’s determination to replace the God of Scripture with a female god; and this crusade against the God of the Bible has been, in its own way, as much a feature of evangelicalism as it has been of the outright liberalism that evangelicals claim to abominate yet so willingly imitate.

Not only is this a problem in the church now, but because it is in the church, society at large is now feminised and effeminate. We are ruled by women and men who think and act like women. But women do not make good rulers gener-ally. In Margaret Thatcher we had a reverse situation, a women who thought more like a man should think—but the exception does not nullify the rule. I am not making a party political point here, or endorsing any policies; because even then I believe this was all part of the judgmental situation. The world is turned upside down because men have turned it upside down by their rebellion against God. Jean-Marc Berthoud made this point well in his article “Humanism: Trust in Man—Ruin of the Nations,” which I recommend in relation to this topic. We are now ruled by women and boys (Is. 3:4, 12).

But leadership is not feminine. Effeminate leaders do not rule well, either in the State or the church. It is vital that justice is tempered with mercy. But one cannot temper mercy with justice. When mercy is put before justice societies collapse into the idiotic situation we have today where criminals are set free and innocent people are condemned. For example, punishments meted out to motorists for inadvertently driving a little over the speed limit today, even where no danger is involved, are often more severe than punishments meted out to thieves. And a parent can be punished for spanking a naughty child today, even where such punishment is carried out in a loving and disciplined environment and there is no danger to the child; yet one can murder one’s unborn children with impunity. The State even pays for these abortions by providing them on the National Health Service.

This, I believe, is ultimately the result of the feminisation of our culture. It is often thought that feminine rule is more compassionate, more caring. This is a myth that feminist ideology has worked into the popular perceptions of reality in our culture. On the contrary, the feminist culture is a violent culture, a culture that produces abortion on demand and at the same time the demand for the banning of fox hunting. A more perverse situation is hardly imaginable. Ultimately feminism is in practice inherently violent, inherently unstable, inherently perverse, inherently unjust, because it is all these things in principle, viz the rejection of God’s created order, and the consequences of a religious commitment will always work themselves out in practice. Feminism is now working out practically the consequences of its religious vision of society (and it is a religion).

The churches have failed to see this. They have embraced feminism vigorously, and as a consequence have become themselves a major avenue by which feminism has been able to influence our culture. The clergy were involved in feminising the faith and the church well before the feminist movement had become so conscious in the popular perception. And the feminisation of our culture is a major reason for its anarchy and violence. For instance, the result of the feminisation of society has been that men have lost their role in many respects. Feminism has defined men into nothing more than yobbos or effeminates. These are the two alternatives for men in the feminist perspective, though this might not be understood by many feminists, perhaps usually is not, because feminism is naïve and operates not on the basis of reason but on emotion; and this brings us again to the problem of female leadership and rule. Emotion does not lead or rule well. For the feminists, men are incapable rulers; women should rule.

Now we have the rule of women and effeminate men. The effect of putting the feminine virtues into the place of the masculine virtues and the masculine virtues in the place of the feminine virtues has been to overturn the created order. As a result justice is despised and mercy is turned into vice. Leadership is masculine, but it needs the tempering of the feminine virtues. When feminine virtues are in leadership the masculine virtues cannot function; masculinity is made redundant. This is one of the most serious problems facing our society. Feminism has rendered masculine leadership in the church and the nation obsolete, and we are now reaping the spiritual and social consequences of this. Justice is a casualty. Mercy ceases to be mercy and becomes indulgence of the worst vices. Violence, anarchy, disorder, and a dysfunctional society are the legacy of the feminisation of our society, because in this order neither the masculine nor the feminine virtues can play their proper role. The world is turned upside down. Even the “Bible believing” churches are numbed in their apostasy regarding this and many other matters in our society. We have an effeminate church, and an effeminate
society, and therefore God’s answer has been an increasingly homosexual ministry and an increasingly homosexual society. This is God’s righteous judgement on our spiritual apostasy.

The answer is repentance: turning to God and turning away from our rebellion against the divine order of creation. The church must start this. Judgement begins with the church (1 Pet 4:17), and repentance must also. I do not believe we will solve the homosexual problem until we recognise its cause. It is God’s judgement on the apostasy of the nation. Leading the way to that apostasy was the church.

What I have said above is not meant to downplay the seriousness of the homosexual problem, nor its immorality. But we must recognise it as a manifestation of God’s judgment, as Paul teaches so clearly in Romans chapter one. The answer lies with tackling the root cause, while not leaving undone the other things. What is said here is not meant to encourage a lessening of Christian opposition to gay rights by any means; but it is meant to encourage a wider reading of the problem, because it is in this wider reading of the problem that we detect the cause, and hopefully, the solution to the problem.

Furthermore, this issue is not an isolated one. It is all part and parcel of the repaganisation of our society, a trend that the church in large measure has not only acquiesced in but sometimes actively encouraged by her myopic perception of the faith and her practical denial of its relevance for the whole of man’s life, including his societal relationships and responsibilities. While criticism is necessary and vital in the church’s prophetic task of bringing God’s word to bear upon our society, it is not enough. The church must also throw off her own acquiescence in the practice of secular humanism and practise the covenant life of the redeemed community instead if she is to have any effect on our culture. So far, the church, by and large, has shown herself unwilling even to contemplate the practice of this covenant life, and has contented herself with mere criticism at best (though not even criticism of secular humanism or its code of immorality is to be found among many clergymen). Therefore the judgment will continue unabated until the church once again begins living out as well as speaking forth the words of life to the society around her. Only then will she begin to manifest the kingdom of God; and only when the church begins to manifest the kingdom of God again will our society begin to be delivered from God’s judgement.

(Stephen C. PerksThe Church Effeminate, Editorial: Christianity & Society [January 2000])