Westgate Baptist Church Philosophy of Leadership/Shepherding
Our Convictions Regarding Church Leadership
It is clear from the NT that there are 2 officially recognized offices of leadership in the church, namely the elders and the deacons (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-13). The “deacons” (diakonos) are the serving leaders, who free up the elders to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4), as well as to the oversight of the flock (1 Pet. 5:1-3). The deacons are responsible for various tasks in the church that are not in and of themselves spiritual duties; for example setting tables, caring for widows and other administrative duties; and the qualifications for deacons are just as high as for the elders, namely, that they must be men of godly character (Acts 6:3; 1 Tim. 3:8-13). Now when we talk about the elders there are 3 different Greek words, all used interchangeably to speak of the one office of elder. 1st you have the Greek word (presbuteros, which is translated “elder” cf. Acts 14:23; Tit. 1:5); this term emphasizes the man’s spiritual maturity necessary for the task. 2nd you have the Greek word (episkopos, which is translated “overseer or bishop” cf. 2:25; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:7); this term is used to speak of the general responsibility of guardianship and superintending matters in the local church. 3rd you have the Greek word (poimēn, which is translated pastor or shepherd; cf. Eph. 4:11, 1 Pet. 5:2); this terms emphasizes the task of full range care of the flock (through feeding, leading & protecting). And so it is the responsibility of the elders to provide full-range care and oversight to the flock of God that’s been sovereignly allotted to their charge (1 Pet. 5:1-3).
It is our firm conviction here at WBC that the church is to be governed by a plurality of morally and doctrinally qualified men from within the congregation itself, who serve as elders (Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Tit. 1:5; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). In the NT, we see this both modeled for us (Acts 14:23), as well as mandated to us (Tit. 1:5ff). As the early Church was formed a plurality of morally and doctrinally qualified elders were identified, equipped, trained, tested, affirmed and appointed in every local Church (Acts 14:23; Tit. 1:5). It is incumbent upon these men to shepherd the flock of God among whom the Holy Spirit has made them overseers (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). This entails: (1) leading the flock by example & exhortation (1 Pet. 5:1-3; 1 Thes. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:7, 17; cf. 1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17), (2) feeding the flock (by faithfully preaching & teaching the Word of God) (Jer. 3:15; Jn. 21:15-17; Acts 20:20; 26-27; 1 Tim. 3:2, 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:2; Tit. 1:9), (3) protecting the flock (from error & impurity) (Acts 20:28-32; 1 Tim. 4:16; Tit. 3:10; 1 Cor. 5); (4) caring for the flock (by praying for the sheep, visiting the sick, helping the spiritually weak, reproving sinning sheep, going after straying sheep, disciplining unrepentant sheep, and restoring repentant sheep) (Acts 6:4; 1 Thes. 5:12-14;2 Tim. 4:2; Tit. 2:15; Mt. 18:15-18; Gal. 6:1-3), (5) training up & ordaining other leaders (in the church through intentional discipleship & leadership training) (2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Tim. 4:14; cf. Mt. 28:19); (6) administering the NT ordinances of believer’s baptism (Acts 2:38; Mt. 28:19; Rom. 6:1-4) & the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-34; Mt. 26:26-29); (7) officiating weddings & funerals (which will include detailed pre-marital counseling prior to the wedding ceremony); (8) counseling the flock biblically (based on the sufficiency of scripture alone) (2 Tim. 3:14-17; cf. Rom. 15:14; Heb. 3:12-14); and (9) providing administrative & financial oversight to the flock (and to the various ministries within the church) (1 Thes. 5:12-13; 1 Tim. 5:17; cf. Acts 4:35, 37; 11:27-30), as well as delegating administrative oversight & duties to other gifted, godly leaders (such as the deacons) (Acts 6:4). Therefore these men must be able to teach sound doctrine and refute those who contradict it (Tit. 1:9; cf. 1 Tim. 3:2).
These morally and doctrinally qualified elders have no personal authority, only the delegated authority of Christ to lead the flock by example (1 Pet. 5:1-4). The elders must give account for every soul committed to their charge (Heb. 13:17; cf. Acts 20:28). Therefore, church membership (in one local congregation) is absolutely essential in order to understand who the elders are accountable for and also in order to carry out church discipline if necessary (Mt. 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5).
In summary, as you study the NT data on elders (Acts 11:27-30; 14:23, 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23; 16:4; 20:17, 28-31; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 5:17-20; Tit. 1:5-7; James 5:14) it’s clear that the elders are men moved by an internally generated compulsion of the Holy Spirit (1 Tim. 3:1); they are morally, spiritually and ministerially qualified (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9); they operate in a plurality (Acts 14:23; Tit. 1:5; James 5:14); yet they simultaneously recognize and exploit the unique gifts of individual elders (in other words, some elders are uniquely gifted for the public role of teaching pastor) (Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 5:17); the elders are supported by the servants of the Church (the deacons) (Acts 6:4; Phil. 1:1); they are appointed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28); they are clearly recognized in the Church (Acts 15:2); and they are ultimately accountable to Jesus Christ (Heb. 13:17).
The Responsibility to Intentionally Train Leaders
While only the Holy Spirit can make elders (Acts 20:28) , one of the clear biblical mandates given to the leadership of every local church is to intentionally identify & train up leaders (faithful & gifted men) in order to preserve & perpetuate the true gospel (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:13-14, 2:2). This is clearly the biblical priority and emphasis (Acts 13:1-4; 14:21-23; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 2 Tim. 2:2; Tit. 1:5-9). This doesn’t mean however, that women have no role to play in local church ministry. Women are equal with men in dignity and worth (Gen. 1:27; 1 Pet. 3:7) they are however different in function and role. Women are not to have authority over men or to occupy a position of leadership in the church (1 Cor. 11:2-16; 14:34-35; Tim. 2:11-15), they do however play an important role in support ministry (evangelism, ministry to women and children, ministry to their husbands, etc.) (Jn. 4:39; Tit. 2:3-5; Gen. 2:18).
The local church is responsible to (1) to pray for God to raise up spiritual leaders (Mt. 9:36-38), (2) to identify those whom God is raising up in the Church (Acts 13:2; 1 Cor. 12:11), (3) to evaluate the character, giftedness, and faithfulness of those whom God is raising up (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Tit. 1:6-9; 2 Tim. 2:2) by testing (1 Tim. 3:10) and training them (2 Tim. 2:2) in the specific context of the local church ministry (Mt. 16:18; Eph. 3:10, 21). Once these individuals have been affirmed by both the local church leadership and the congregation, they are to be commissioned (1 Tim. 5:22) for leadership in that local church or sent out to another local church or to plant a church (either locally or globally).
The process of evaluating leaders is done through: (1) character (the Spirit’s work in producing a life of holiness in the potential candidate- 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 2 Tim. 2:21; Tit. 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-3), (2) call (evident giftedness and desire- 1 Tim. 3:1-2; 1 Pet. 4:10-11), (3) competence (the candidate will be encouraged to pursue church-based seminary training- 2 Tim. 2:2, 15; Tit. 1:9) and (4) creed (the candidate will clearly demonstrate faithfulness in both doctrine and practice- 1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 1:13-14; Tit. 1:9), (5) confirmation (the Church leadership (along with the congregation) will affirm the candidate- Acts 13:3; cf. Acts 6:6; 1 Tim. 4:14. 5:22; 2 Tim. 1:6).
The Responsibility of Making Disciple-Making Disciples
The Church must be committed to making disciple-making disciples (that is life-long learners, lovers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, who are unashamed and uncompromised in their allegiance to Him and who teach others to be the same) (Mt. 28:19-20; Lk. 9:23-26; 14:25-35; Acts 14:21-23; 2 Tim. 2:2; Tit. 2:3-5; cf. Ezra 7:10). It is incumbent upon the leadership of the church to promote biblical discipleship (rather than shallow, superficial, short-lived decisionism). Discipleship begins from the top down; the leaders of the church must identify and train other leaders (2 Tim. 2:2), who in turn train others (and the cycle must repeatedly perpetuate itself at every level of the congregation, not just at the leadership level- 2 Tim. 2:2 is referring specifically to training leaders but the application of the principle extends to all Christians). The leaders must live out and pass on the Ezra 7:10 model of (1) studying the truth, (2) practicing the truth & (3) teaching the truth to others! And again it’s important to recognize that discipleship is not just for the leaders of the church but for all Christians (Mt. 28:19). Every Christian should be in a discipleship relationship where they are being discipled by someone who is more spiritually mature than them & in turn they are discipling others who are less spiritually mature than them (2 Tim. 2:2; Tit. 2:3-5; cf. Rom. 15:14; Heb. 3:12-14; 10:23-25)
There are a number of practical ways to ensure that this biblical shepherding is taking place (1) A weekly men’s leadership training program; (2) Personal discipleship in the church (men dioscipling men (2 Tim. 2:2) & women disicpling women (Tit. 2:3-5); (3) A church-wide discipleship training program (i.e. fellowship groups or classes covering topics such as hermeneutics; exposition & homiletics; systematic theology; biblical counseling; missions & evangelism; church history; marriage, family & parenting classes; bible survey classes; apologetics, etc.); (4) Home Bible Studies (taught by gifted & godly men; gifted, godly women teaching women’s bible studies).