I doubt that any of us have ever belonged to, or even visited, a perfect church. Local churches are made up of people, and since people are imperfect, the churches are imperfect, too.
Any organization, from a corporation to a school to a police department, suffers when there is a lack of good, strong leadership.
Even in the Lord’s church, where most everyone is united around a common love of God and determination to do His will, there are problems and disagreements. The church at Philippi endured Euodia and Syntyche who were quarreling (Philippians 4:2–3). The church at Corinth had groups of Christians that were beginning to follow different teachers (1 Corinthians 1:11–13). Paul warned the church at Galatia to stop biting and devouring one another, lest they finally consume and destroy one another (Galatians 5:15).
Genuine disagreements will arise about how to best spend money, how to best advertise to the community, how to arrange a worship service that best glorifies God. Sometimes silly arguments, such as the color of the new carpet, or the order of the worship service, will throw the congregation into discord.
God knows this aspect of human nature, and has provided a system to handle it in the church. Now, let us never forget that Jesus Christ Himself is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22–23). No one is authorized to re-legislate God’s laws for the church, or to provide it with a new direction or focus. But, God has ordained leadership roles to guide the members of the congregation in a wise and righteous way.
After establishing churches in Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, Paul and Barnabbas retraced their steps through each town, and “appointed elders for them in every church” (Acts 14:23). Elders are a group of older men that lead and make decisions for the local congregation. In 1 Peter 5:1–5 we learn that elders “shepherd the flock of God” and “exercise oversight.” In fact, these two roles are used as titles for the office in other passages—elders are called “overseers” in 1 Timothy 3:1, and are called “pastors” in Ephesians 4:11.
A church that is functioning according to the New Testament pattern will have a board of elders that cares for the members of the congregation like a shepherd cares for a flock of sheep. The shepherd leads the sheep to good grazing lands where they can be bountifully fed, and protects the sheep from ravenous wolves. Spiritually, then, the Christian shepherd ensures that good doctrine is being delivered to the congregation at the hands of able teachers and preachers, and that false teachers who are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” are chased away (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:28–31). The shepherds also go after sheep that have gone astray. The elders supervise the work that is being done by the church, and determine how to best fulfill Jesus’ great commission. The Holy Spirit has provided special qualifications for these men, recorded in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
This of course requires that the members of the congregation submit to the leadership of elders. Hebrews 13:17 says, “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” When problems or controversy strikes the congregation, the members do not have to get worked up, because the situation is being handled by qualified men who have the best spiritual interests of the church in mind. When decisions have to be made, the members do not have to squabble, because the decision is being considered by qualified men who have the best spiritual interests of the church in mind. When God’s plan for church leadership is followed, strife dies down and is replaced by unity of work and purpose!
There are other levels of leadership in the church, too. Deacons are appointed to manage certain aspects of the church’s work. They are not spiritual overseers like elders, but deacons are recognized for their good character and standing within the church, and their important contribution to the smooth running of the daily work of the church (1 Timothy 3:8–13, Philippians 1:1, Acts 6:1–6). We also notice the leadership function of evangelists (1 Corinthians 16:15–16; 1 Timothy 4:11–16), older men (Titus 2:2) and older women (Titus 2:3–5).
A church with godly leadership is a healthy church! —John Guzzetta