City Skyline - C. Solomon

Alexander Strauch in hs book, Biblical Eldership, speaks of a plurality of elders being the biblical model for church leadership. Upon his discussion of this he mentions a concept of ‘first among equals’ (FEQ). While this concept has been largely embraced by those who have a plurality of elders, I believe the model most faithful to Scripture does not practice this concept. Typically FEQ in practice means there is a senior pastor who preaches regularly from the pulpit and gives direction for the congregaation. Whie his vote does not carry more veto power than any of the other elders during their meetings, I believe it does implicitly. I seek to show that the FEQ model is flawed in its presuppositions and that doing away with it is better for the health of a church.

1. The first elder does carry more weight than the other elders. While it is true that his vote is one vote, the same as the others, this objective number is not absemt from higher persuasion than the man sitting next to him. This requires more humility on the part of the first man than the others – as he will need to be convinced and willing to be persuaded by his equals. However, we need to be honest that this clout is present with the first man.

2. There is no model of first among equals in the NT. Yes we have apostolic examples of Paul and Peter who seemed to carry more weight than those around them. Additionally, Timothy was asked to stay and select men who would be able to lead the congregation. He was to set them an example in life and godliness. Timothy, was setting up a leadership of men, and it must not be assumed that it was supposed to remain this way. Rather, as the church spread its imfluence and outposts were set up, it was necessary to gather faithful men to teach and lead. It is a failure to take into account the movement of salvation history with respect to apostolic leadership when we claim that because Paul and Peter seemed to be the go to guys, their position in history is distinct and should not be modeled without discernment. Essentially, they were setting up the churches. Once the churches are established they need to be led by 1 Tim 3-like men.

3. Giftings are utilized when FEQ is set aside. God has given us many men with different personalities and perspectives on life and ministry. Sure there may be one who seems to be a leader. One who is a little more vocal and seems to have his systems put together a little more tightly than other men. However, when FEQ is adhered to the idiosyncrasies (and sin) found in the first man seem to rub off on those that are hearing him preach week in and week out. How many times when you have discipled someone have you seen some of your characteristics magnified in them? If a true plurality of elders is embraced, the other pastor’s personality would a) file some of the roguh edges of other pastors and b) encourage people of different personalities exercise their gifts and quirkiness.

4. Embracing a true plurality of elders allows people to appreciate the different preaching styles of various men. I have seen many folks who sit unde FEQ preaching who think that preaching with illustrations, PowerPoint, without storiesm, etc is not preaching. What has happened? These folks have wrongly equated the first man’s style with what it means to be biblical in preaching. Having men who are more inclined to art and others who are more inclined to systems and logic will help people see the diversity and beauty and incarnational aspect of preaching. Not only this, different kinds of preaching will minister to a wider range of people.

I have tried to boil my argument to its essence. I realize that there are many who disagree with me on this issue and I welcome their rebuke, critique, and questions. I do believe that getting rid of the FEQ idea will strengthen the church and augment an atmosphere of diversity.

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This post has 10 Comments

  1. Fantastic arguments Matt. I agree with you completely — this is the model of biblical eldership that I have embraced to be true and believe to be 1. possible, 2. most beneficial to the church, and 3. particularly glorifying to God.

    It seems that the loudest argument against this type of plurality within the camp of those who support FEQ is that there will be issues that need to be decided when there is disagreement. To me, this sounds very much like what you have outlined — when one man is the “the buck stops here” guy, he is the senior pastor of the church and everyone else falls in line, agreeing or not. Obviously, there will be disagreements, but that is the beauty of the vote thus leading men who are called and functioning as elders to sometimes be willing to give way to other ideas for the sake of unity and diversity of ideas.

    With a few fellow pastors I have talked about the benefits of sharing preaching responsibilities amongst elders. (1) It does not elevate one man to a higher status in the eyes of the faith community because he is the one seen in the pulpit on a regular basis. (2) Corporate exegesis. The elders can all work together through books of the Bible in preaching and have a unified effort to faithfully exegete Scripture in regular, planned times throughout the week when specific passages are studied and discussed prior to one’s sermon preparation work. (3) More time to prepare. If we are going to practice what we preach (no pun intended) as reformed brethren, we need to emphasize the importance of a high view of Scripture through faithful exposition. This takes time. If a man is not called upon to preach every week (perhaps even several times per week), he will have much more time (a few weeks) to get one passage nailed down really well. (4) Elders need to be fed too. It’s hard for preachers to listen to others sometimes, but rotating would help defeat that pride, give varied perspective, and meet a wider range of diverse tastes (as Matt pointed out).

    Overall, I think the notion that a plurality of elders requires a FEQ is too much of an alignment with a corporate business model — this seems normal to Americans because it’s the world most live in. It may seem normal and the best way to do things, but it doesn’t make it biblical. I’d love to get more opinion on it.

  2. I thought this post was relevant:

    The links in the post expand on some of the ideas…especially this one:

    Matt, you will like the influence of John Frame found in some of their tripersepectivalism.

    As to whether there is “any” biblical support for a FEQ is a bit strong as 1 Tim 5 does seem to at least set off certain elders who labor at teaching. And certainly the FEQ model Goodmanson elaborates on above is not the Corp business model. Far from it. A plurality with a FEQ can be extremely antithetical to the CEO model. A FEQ ought see himself as a slave, not a Lord of the manor, a pastor, not a potentate.

  3. Thanks for your well-thought out points. on this. This was timely for me as I’m in the midst of trying to adjudicate between the various structures in a congregational framework. See you Labor Day? Peace, Jason

  4. Thanks for the feedback, Reid. I generaly agree with Goodmanson’s article, but I think we may talking past each other if we had coffee. To jump from 1Tim 5 into an implication that there are those who are higher in the foodchain doesn’t seem like a valid one. I agree that there are elders who are more gifted at preaching than others. What I am arguing for, is that there not be one FEQ who is the vision setter and main preaching pastor. Thus the reasons I give for having a few men preaching frmo the same pulpit. I have been told I ‘overargue’ my position, but I think this idea of having a ‘preaching pastor’ causes undue stagnation. Therefore, it is not overarguing, but pleading for a revision of how we think of eldership.

  5. Matt,

    At Kaleo we have talked about a ‘Firsts among equals’ especially as we look down the road and plan for dozens of elders and a number of elders who are preaching in multiple locations each week. The challenge I’ve seen is church plants typically are started by one (which I don’t recommend) or a couple elders, of which one tends to be the primary first. As the congregation grows, elders should be developed who can be part of the FEQ.

  6. Matt, yes – we have team teaching where I am now, and I am planning on doing that in the future.

    Now, my concern is with an eldership where no one is responsible. Developing men, training and giving input the staff, etc. There ought to be someone who feels the burden for the team, who is their slave/servant/pastor not CEO of the board. At the very least I think there out to be some clearly defined roles (if only seasonal). Leadership and Servanthood are not contradictory. In a marriage there is a leader, not a king. Headship and authority are not popular in the home or in the church, but Scripture teaches that these are not only necessary, but good. In the church there should be leaders – to model, to preach, to lead from among the people in the missio dei.

    Also, team teaching should be the reality of every congregation. There ought be fathers teaching, people teaching in small group settings, in homes etc. The pulpit is not the only place where the elder, able to teach, is exercising his calling. We need to help people serve in ways in which they are called by God, enabled by the Spirit. On a practical note, when team teaching extends too much beyond 2 men the pulpit can become scattered.

    Our concerns should be derived theological from Scripture – but practical functioning should remain a concern.

    As to 1 Tim 5 – I don’t think this verse merits “ruling elders” and “teaching elders” – but at the very least, there are some men who seem to have a special function and calling among the plurality of men.

    One last issue. There are times where there just IS a FEQ. Here I am not talking title or positioning. I think we have all met men whom God has his hand upon. It is a reality which emerges in relationships and gifting. Lets just posit a hypothetical. If me, Matthew and John Piper were on an elder team together…there would simply BE a first of among equals. And I would not be threatened by this. Matthew would simply BE a FEQ on the team. He has that much Spirutal quan on his life. Just kidding – but I think you see what I mean. Piper would have one vote, could be removed for sin, should be accountable etc. But he would just BE someone I would follow.

    Thanks men – I have written too much…

  7. Thanks for the post. I am about to post a blog and I was going to use the concept of first among equals, but after contemplating your points, I have decided to adjust my own.


  8. Thanks for replying to my comment on your old blog,

    I agree that FEQ is more streamlined, but so is a dictatorship. What matters is how biblical it is, and like you said, FEQ is not taught in the Bible to the extent that it’s taught today.

    You called FEQ a “third-level” polity issue – I don’t know what levels one and two are. You also said that someone who doesn’t believe in FEQ wouldn’t be able to stay in a church that practices it – I don’t see how that’s true. If it’s really a “third-level” issue, then there’s no need to divide over it. Besides, what a low percentage of evangelical churches practice true parity!

    1. Here’s a good primer on theological levels:

      Also, that’s why I said it was thorny because it is a matter of interpretation as well as a mix of pragmatics (since scripture doesn’t give explicit direction over polity issues, but leaves room for cultural applications). It’s also thorny because while it’s a third level issue (like eschatology), it would be hard to stay at a church that practices a senior pastor model while you hold to a true parity practice. Not impossible, but difficult. Merely because there are sparse exemplars doesn’t mean we ought to forego its pursuit (which I know you agree with, just explicitly stating it)

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What Is Sunday Worship?

I’m gonna keep this simple, but hopefully not simplistic. As you consider your corporate gathering of believers (typically on the first day of the week), there are three ways to think about it. You can think of it as an event, a participation, or a transformation.

The Event Model can take on two modes: emotionally-driven or cognitively-driven. The emotionally-driven mindset, of course, could baldly mean that you show up to hear some great music and hear a message. You go to watch and experience something. The cognitively-driven mindset could mean that you highlight the sermon so much that it becomes the point of your showing up. You hear this a lot in evangelical churches that the sermon is the most important aspect of the worship experience. The problem with such thinking, though, betrays an onlooker mentality. That is, I go to church to observe and consider and think and have my thinking changed.

In this model, there is an I-Thou expectation of the worship service. I go to that. I consider that. I am separate from and participate in that. In other words, this kind of approach to the corporate gathering is apart from who I am. I go to there. I leave from there. Sure, we talk about taking the message home with us…but come on! You and I both know we forget what was said within 10 minutes of leaving the building. When we are confronted with traffic on the way to the buffet. And then, we get bored. Bored with our lives. Bored with our faith. We find greater joy in our team winning the game than in our eternal salvation won at the cost of the Son of God.

The Participation Model is a little bit better than the event model. This puts the onus on the believer to come to the service seeking to be engaged in other people at church. For all the talk about this being a need in churches, and people nodding their heads in agreement…this does not happen in reality. People cognitively ascend to this truth, but they don’t fully grasp this truth.

If they do grasp a hold of this participation model, it often devolves into judgmentalism (others aren’t as serious about their faith as you are) or complacency (I asked someone how their walk with God is going and they gave me the cold shoulder). So what’s the problem with this model? Write simply it remains in the realm of I-Thou. That is, I bring something to you. I come to serve you. I am apart from and wholly different from you. At its root, it is simply another (albeit more spiritual rendition) of the event model. 

The third, and I believe more biblical model (of course!), is the Tranformational Model. This way of approaching the Sunday morning gathering sheds itself of the event. It doesn’t come in judgment of the service–I didn’t like that song. I liked the sermon. I really engaged with God this morning. Wow, what a wonderful time. Instead, it views Sunday morning as another step in my being conformed into the image of Jesus. It does see it as an event you come to. It is something we participate in. But preeminently it embraces the fact that over time we are being changed by the service itself. 

What does this look like? Well, it understands that every time we attend an event or participate in a service, we are slowly changing. You are much more different from the fifth football game you attended, than the first. You understand the language, the traditions, the cheers. 

So it is with a church service…and this is where it gets a bit thorny. With the typical evangelical liturgy (and it is a liturgy) of two fast songs, two slow songs, a sermon, and dismissal, we are slowly becoming consumers. Or better put, our already-ingrained consumer mentality is reinforced as we observe (and maybe participate). We watch the stage. We critique the songs–or what the song leader was wearing. We sit down and hear someone wax eloquently–or not. 

I fear that much of the problems we see in modern evangelicalism stem from us offering goods and services to people and not inviting them into be transformed. This fact is betrayed in much of the assumptions underlying decisions made on how the liturgy ought to roll. For example, since we need to be engaging and winsome in our communication of the Gospel, we need to play this popular radio song and do a Jesus juke to talk about how real love is only found in Jesus. Of course I’m not saying messages and songs ought to be fuddy-duddy and boring! Stop putting baby in the corner. 

What I am saying is that churches ought to be very clear in what they are shaping their people into becoming. We ought to understand that we are in the business of transformation–from one degree of glory to another. Not filling seats. Not being entertaining and relevant at the cost of depth. 

This is why at Christ the Redeemer, we have been intentional in our liturgy. We believe that the primary purpose of the Sunday morning gathering is the transformation of people. We have an explicit order to our service that follows the biblical storyline of Creation>Fall>Redemption>Consummation. Over time, people’s being is changed. It unwittingly becomes easier to say “I’m sorry, please forgive me” because you are trained to confess your sin every week. You more readily accept forgiveness because you are trained to hear God’s Word of Forgiveness to you after confessing. You more readily come to fellowship with God in spite of and because of your sin because you are trained that at the Lord’s Table you find satisfaction and rest for your souls.

Yes, Sunday morning is an event. But not merely so. It is something we participate in. But not merely so. It is preeminently another step in our being transformed into the likeness of Jesus. The primary goal of Sunday morning is our transformation through intentional liturgies.

Brief Thoughts on Church Membership (altogether incomplete)

I have been reflecting on the subject of church membership for the last few weeks. This stems from planting a church and having folks join who are members of existing churches. This also stems from folks who joined our church plant and have moved their membership–both issues had to do with distance to our new location and a desire to be involved in a more specific way to those who attend another church for purposes of ministry (both great reasons!).

My thoughts haven’t just been a result of circumstances. Rather, they come from a desire to think theologically about this issue.

First, I want to make clear that membership in a local church is the primary means of discipleship in the Christian journey. We make commitments to others to love and serve and be loved and be served by others. It is a beautiful and necessary commitment that we take way too lightly.

BUT too often pastors and church leaders speak about church membership in very unhelpful terms. We speak about it being like a marriage. It most certainly is not. It is not a covenant either. Scripture speaks about our membership in the Body of Christ. The local congregation is a physical manifestation of that reality. Everything we do is in the context of local–geographically and temporally. My fear is that church bodies can begin to assume that members of a local congregation cannot leave. Much like the Hotel California, people are often guilted in staying. People are made to think they are being less committed to the mission of the Church (yes, that’s a large C, signifying the Church Universal).

We have a membership class coming up for Redeemer in a few weeks. I take great pains to help people see that our congregation is one among many faithful churches in time and space. We do not have a corner on the market of faithfulness. We are one very small player on the great stage of history. The more we recite this truth, the more humble and grateful we will become. Every time we say this, we are reminded that God’s purposes are much larger than us. We are reminded that we have certain proclivities and characteristics that may set us apart by way of trends and passions. We are reminded that there are many other brothers and sisters seeking to do the same thing as us–take up our crosses daily and follow Jesus (individually and corporately).

One of the things I make sure to tell people is that if they want to make a commitment to be a member of Redeemer, it ought to be based on it mission and vision. We try to keep it very simple, as you’ll see from our website. How we go about accomplishing these things are called our Core Values. That’s how we seek to accomplish the vision right now in 2018.

But the Church is an organization, but it is also a living organism. As with all organisms, change is inevitable. Indeed, it is desired. As human beings we necessarily grow and change if we are alive. It is inherent to the very definition of life. Change is beautiful. Inevitably, our church will grow as people are added to our congregation. This is beautiful because it enables and empowers people to contribute their gifts and passions to the whole, and for the whole to shape the particular person.

Over time, there may be people who have changes of convictions for how “to do” church. That is, they may disagree with our emphasis on church planting, mission, and mercy. They may disagree with our commitment to simplicity. At the end of the day, as a pastor I want people to be freed to serve and be served by others. If they are staying at Redeemer just because they made a commitment in 2018, that is not healthy. Rather, my desire is that they be involved. Intimately involved in the growth and development of our church. If they cannot do so, it is healthier that they find a congregation where they can faithfully live out their convictions.

This doesn’t have to be an ugly thing. Rather, it can be a very beautiful thing where we are again reminded and remind each other that we do no have a corner on the market of biblical fidelity. Jesus promised to build his Church. I get to be a small observer in that construction project–stone upon stone.

We want people to be a part of Redeemer who believe in the vision and mission and who want to play an integral part in seeing that vision become a reality in our small corner of the universe. So when folks leave, we don’t need to guilt them. Sure, we will miss folks as they leave, but may we depart to meet again.

Less Hype. More Humility.

Please. Embedded in our consumeristic culture, there is the assumption that newer is better than older–though I prefer aged beef and cheddar to new. There is the assumption that grand and renovated and powerful is preferable to meek and lowly and weak.

The church often adopts this form of communicating in an effort to gather people into its doors. “God is doing awesome things here at Church _______.” The fact is that God is doing awesome things everyday and everywhere. He’s sustained your life. He’s given you sight and hearing and legs. And if you have none or only one of these, he’s still given you life and a mind to engage the world around you. Truly miraculous. What is more, is God not also doing something in the old, decrepit church that meets faithfully every Sunday? Is God not at work in the mundane? Is the changing of laundry and washing of dishes and working through an argument devoid of God’s presence?

I see so many churches trying to drum up excitement about the latest outreach or project, when what our culture needs is the staying power and sobriety of faithfulness in the ho-hum drudgery of going to a job you hate or a marriage that is contentious. What we need is not more hype, but more humility. More service and less heavy-handedness. We need more gentleness and less power grabs.

If we don’t, what then becomes of the senior citizen who is tired? What becomes of the baby who is sleeping? What becomes of the unemployed and outcast and burdened? They are forgotten. They are seen as less valuable because they aren’t producing the kind of energy requisite for assumed faithfulness to the disciples’ call.

In reality, we need less loud voices and red faces and sweaty brows and more silence and calmness and a deep well of contentment.