Bible-based | Christ-centered | Family-focused | Mission-minded
The Scriptures are very clear; God has given us a divine leadership model for guiding the church! It is not of man’s design, nor is it like many of the worldly formats with which we might be familiar. Last week, I also wrote about Jesus being the only head of the church; no other stands above Him (Colossians 1:18). We touched on the fact that there is no Biblical authority for one, singular person within the church to rise up as supreme leader over all the church. In fact, the only people mentioned in leadership positions in the Bible are the “apostles and elders” (Acts 15:6; 16:4). So, this week, let’s ask the question, “Exactly how is the church organized?” And, let’s look at what the Bible says.
Scripture mentions several “types” of members within the church. In 1 Corinthians 12:28,29 and Ephesians 4:11. it mentions apostles, prophets, miracle workers, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Philippians 1:1 also mentions “deacons.” Here are some important points about each of these member “positions”:
An Apostle refers to the twelve men that Jesus called to work alongside of Him (Mark 3:14-19). They were the main leaders over the church during its infancy (Acts 2:42). But, not just anyone could/can be an apostle. According to Acts 1:21-22, there are very specific requirements to be an apostle, which means it is impossible for anyone today to truthfully call themselves one of Jesus’ apostles. Only two other men are mentioned in the Bible as having met those requirements, they were Matthias (Acts 1:26 and Paul (Gal 1:1). We no longer have apostles as leaders in the church.
Prophets and Miracle Workers
This refers to those early Christians, both men and women, who received miraculous gifts from the apostles (Acts 8:14-17). They could speak in tongues, heal people, and had other abilities. This was necessary because the New Testament hadn’t been written, yet. Gifts were God’s method for spreading and confirming the word (Mark 16:20). But, once the Scriptures were complete, there was no longer a need for those gifts, so they have ceased (1 Corinthians 13:10). In addition, all the apostles, who could impart such gifts, and those who received those special abilities have all died, which means those miraculous abilities died with them. Yet, even with their unique capabilities, they were not appointed as leaders over the church.
This simply refers to a member, who happens to be able to preach. Preachers are not the leader of the church. They are just workers in the kingdom who are capable of teaching the Gospel to others.
A teacher refers to those brethren who have the ability to understand the Bible well and then transmit it to others in a way that can be understood. Some are capable of teaching before larger groups of people, while others are better suited for private settings. In either case, they are not designated as overseers of the church.
These are, typically, men who have been placed in charge of a specific task within the church. The Biblical precedent is found in Acts 6:1-7. They also have very specific qualifications required in order to assume the position, (cf 1 Timothy 3:8-13). While deacons may be considered a type of leader in the church, their real purpose and job is to serve, to be a servant – that’s what the word truly means (1 Timothy 3:10).
The Bible also described these men as, “Overseers, Shepherds, Bishops, and Elders.” Each are synonyms for the same person filling that position. They are the only members of the church designated in the Bible as leaders. They are the only ones to which other members are instructed to submit (Hebrews 13:7,17). Their leadership has a specific purpose – that is, to guard and watch over the souls of the flock, (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17). They must also give an account to the Lord for their assigned duty. Notice they are always referred to in the plural and never in the singular, which means no one elder is over the others. They, too, are subjected to very specific qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Being an elder is an enormous responsibility that deserves much respect from the brethren.
I would like to encourage you to look up each of these Scriptures listed. Read the context and observe how each “position” functions within the body of Christ. Especially look at 1 Peter 5:1,2. The church’s organization was put in place by God, through His inspired writers. Let us never forget that God’s way works. Let’s never assume that our way could be better than God’s!