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Friday, June 6, 2014

"Elders in the Life of the Church" (Phil A. Newton & Matt Schmucker)

TITLE: Elders in the Life of the Church: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership
AUTHOR: Phil A. Newton & Matt Schmucker
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, Kregel Ministry, 2014, (256 pages).

Why elders? Where can we find biblical support for the plurality of elder leadership? How can one transition to an elder-led Church community? These questions are dealt with in this book written by two seasoned pastor-elders. Authors Phil Newton and Matt Schmucker look at the idea of "elder plurality" from three angles: historically, biblically, and practically.

From a historical angle, ponders on the title of "elders" in a baptist church. Even though many modern Baptist churches in America have elders in their congregations, historically, there is no consistent use of the word "Elders" to denote a pastor or a Church leader. Some thought has also been put in on the distinction of "ruling elders" and "teaching elders." By 1820, such a differentiation had become less popular due to the fear of greater hierarchical structure. Baptist elders also differ from Presbyterian elders where the latter see more integration of the ruling and teaching aspects of eldership. The key concern the authors have is the demise of elder plurality and the intent of this book is to restore the model back to the contemporary church. They point out that it is one thing to have a Church full of elderly people. It is yet another to have a Church with elder responsibilty.The need for elders is vital otherwise churches will look like sheep without a shepherd. So, whether, presbyters, overseers, elders, or pastors, they can all form the pool of plural leadership of people who are wise, mature, and sound in doctrine. Four basic elder duties are: Doctrine (teaching); Discipline (Admonishing or Encouraging); Direction (Decision-making); and Distinction (Modeling).

The biblical grounds are based on four key passages:
  1. Acts 20:17-31
  2. 1 Timothy 3:1-7
  3. Hebrews 13:17-19
  4. 1 Peter 5:1-5
The authors spend time drawing from the passages the biblical principles about eldership and how Scriptures exhort them to excel in the leadership roles and in particular the four basic elder duties as indicated above. At the same time, we are reminded that elders need to be regularly supported by common prayer, respect, and encouragement.  Part Three of the book touches on how theory can be put into practice. Newton and Schmucker have advice for churches currently not on a "elder leadership" model: that they be guided by "biblical teaching and congregational commitment." This calls for a high level of trust from the congregation and a deep level of faith to establish a structure based on submission to authority, guided strictly by Scripture. The changes cannot be implemented overnight, but evolved over time. Three general phases are suggested. The first is an Evaluation phase; the second a Presentation Phase; and the third an Implementation Phase.

I like the many examples within the book; such as Mark Dever's 2x2 matrix on how to evaluate an elder; the detailed steps to moving toward a eldership that unites both paid and unpaid elders; leadership for people with or without seminary qualifications; and others. While the introduction is brief and the conclusion rather muted, the bulk of the book centers on the description of how a eldership structure looks like; its biblical foundations; and the care taken to help churches adopt such a structure.

At the end of the book, I ask myself: Who is this book written for? I suppose there are at least two audiences. For those who do not have an eldership structure, it is time to consider this in the light of the biblical teachings espoused by Newton and Schmucker. It is important that the congregation buy into this, and that it not be done unilaterally. For those who already have an existing eldership structure, it is a good time to revisit the basics, to strengthen what needs to be strengthened, and to relax what are non-essentials. Overall, the book is about the need for a recognizable eldership structure that provides leadership visibility on behalf of the Church. More importantly, it is leading the Church to be the witness for Christ, beginning at the leadership level.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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