Friday, 7 June 2013

What does the Bible say about leadership in the local church? Part 3

The third and final part, which includes thoughts on the area which is a hot potato. I have sought to present my thoughts with care and grace. If I have failed in that please let me know as I believe I have genuinely written what follows from a correct motivation.

Women in Leadership

It seems clear that women can’t hold the office of elder, but can hold the office of deacon. Elders, as already discussed, are to be men. But, that does not mean women can’t lead. They are able to be deacons, presuming they meet the criteria of character in the Bible, and they are meant to teach, train and encourage other women (Titus 2). It also does not mean that women can’t be prophets, evangelists or teachers for example. We quite clearly read of prophetesses in the OT and NT. 

The following verses all show women leading in some way whether it be teaching, deaconing, missionary work etc. (Luke 24:10; Acts 18:26; 21:9; Rom 16:1-16; 1 Cor 11:5; Php 4:2-3; 1 Tim 3:11; Titus 2:3-5). So there is absolutely a place for women in leadership in the church.

I found Andrew Wilson’s blog posts on this issue very helpful ( and and I will refer to some of his content as we go.

We are called to obey scripture and, in 1 Timothy 2 and 3, it is stated that women should not teach with authority or be elders. We don’t have time to flesh out exactly what “teach with authority” means in this essay. But, I think it ties very closely with being an elder and being the teacher or pastor giving sermons weekly in a local church. 

Back to the idea of obedience to scripture, if we believe that is the case then we should read 1 Timothy 3 and unless there is an obvious reason that it no longer applies, or was only relevant to one church at one time then we should believe it holds true today. Not only that, but 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1 are the only two places in scripture where the criteria for elders are spelled out explicitly. Surely that gives them greatest weight in the argument, unless we think God somehow forgot to tell us something. They are also very different contexts, city on the one hand, villages on an island on the other.

We can’t base all we believe on history and tradition, but for nearly all of the last 2 millenia, churches were structured with male only elderships, presbyteries etc. We cannot be chronological snobs and think we are somehow more enlightened or spiritual, that would just be arrogant and show more about our cultural blindness than we care to admit.

Here is a quote from one of the posts above which I think also backs up the argument very well.

“If Paul felt able to (a) commend women deacons and co-workers, and celebrate the truth that in Christ there is no male or female, and yet also (b) urge that wives submit to their husbands, and women not teach or exercise authority over men, then it would appear that he did not see (a) and (b) as incompatible.”

The burden of proof must lie with those wanting to have women elders as scripture seems to point the other way.
I will end this sub-section by stating that I would not go to the stake for this, although I do believe it to be what scripture teaches, and that I also have some good friends who love scripture too and would totally disagree with me.

Here are a couple of things that people like me need to think through to make sure we are being consistent:

1. If we have men who are not elders (in ours or any other church) preaching in our Sunday gatherings, then why will we not have women? It seems that preaching/teaching is the job of an elder. If we argue that men who are not elders sit under the teaching of the elders when they preach and so we allow it, then why can't women do the same, because what seems to be excluded in Scripture is women teaching with authority not teaching full stop?

2. If we argue that women can teach in other contexts such as Sunday School or Women's meetings, but not in the Sunday gathering, are we not somehow making the teaching of children and women less important?

3. How do we help women who are obviously gifted by God to fully realise and practice those gifts?

Maybe I will blog more fully on some of these one day.


Leadership in the church is a role not to be taken lightly. It carries with it great responsibility and many challenges. But, it is a role for which there is much grace in Christ. Church leadership should be done in humility, with a servant-heart and desire to know and love the Lord more.
Leaders should be seeking to see the church grow numerically and in spiritual maturity.

I believe churches should be structured with a team of elders and a team of deacons. I also believe (as per previous essay) that decision making ultimately lies with the elders. The only office and function in a local church that I believe to be male only is the office of elder. I would whole-heartedly encourage and expect churches to have female deacons.

The qualifications for these elders and deacons is quite explicit in Scripture. These should be taken seriously. Men and women should be tested accordingly before taking up either office; their relationship with the Lord, their family, the world and their self-awareness all come into that.
I would expect that the regular preaching in the church be done by the elder(s) who is/are the pastor(s), with the other elders taking up the rest of the responsibility. 

A book I heartily recommend for those in leadership is "Fruitful Leaders" by Marcus Honeysett.

1 comment:


    Who is responsible for oversight of the church of Christ?

    First let us establish that Jesus Christ is head of His church.

    Colossians 1:13-18.....18 He is also head of the body, the church......

    Ephesians Christ also is the head of the church....

    The question remains who are the men responsible for the oversight of the Lord's church?

    Did God put a pastor, a bishop, an elder, or an overseer in charge of shepherding His church?

    Pastor, bishop, elder and overseer are the same office.

    Men were given the oversight of each, local, church of Christ.

    Acts 14:23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they believed.

    Elders (plural) were appointed in each church congregation.

    Titus 1:5-7 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.....7 For the overseer must be above reproach....

    Elders were appointed in every city where there was a church of Christ. Elders were also referred to as overseers (some translations use the word bishops).

    Acts 20:17-28 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.......28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

    Notice: Elders (plural), and overseers (plural). Elders and overseers are used interchangeably and are told to shepherd the church.

    1 Peter 5:1-2 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you exercising oversight...

    Note: Elders (plural), were told to shepherd the flock of God. Peter said he was one of the elders. Peter did not say he was the Pope or the Head Elder.

    Ephesians 4:11And He gave pastors.....

    The word pastor means shepherd.

    Elder, bishop, overseer and pastor are all the same office and they are to shepherd the local churches of Christ.

    The oversight of the local church is to be a plurality of ELDERS (overseers, bishops, pastors).

    There is no mention in the Bible of one pastor ruling a single church. There is no Scripture indicating one man should rule a world wide church. There is nothing in the Bible that tells us to set up a church board to oversee the local church. God never set up different denominations to be ruled by groups of men. There is no office of Pope or priest mentioned under the New Covenant church of Christ.


    (All Scripture quotes from: NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)

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