I cannot say enough about Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch. The subtitle is an appropriate description of this book – An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership. Helpful in so many ways, Strauch sets forth the definition of a leader, defends his position theologically and exegetically and also does a magnificent job at expositing texts that bolster his case.
In part one, Strauch lays the foundation for biblical eldership. An elder is a shepherd, one that leads, feeds, protects the flock of God. The shepherd elder has a heart for the people of God. Strauch writes, “The secret to caring for the sheep is love. A good shepherd loves sheep and loves to be with them.”
Early in the book, the author clears up any misunderstanding by defining biblical eldership: “A true biblical eldership is not a businesslike committee. It’s a biblically qualified council of men that jointly pastors the local church. The men who shepherd the people of God functions as a team. That is to say, there are no lone rangers in ministry. Plurality of leadership is the model set forth in the New Testament. “By definition, the elder structure of government is a collective form of leadership in which each elder shares equally the position, authority, and responsibility of the office.”
Strauch clearly delineates that elders in the church must be male. While men and women are equal in personhood, dignity, and value – God’s Word establishes different roles for men and women. The author discusses the model of male leadership in the New Testament and carefully outlines the meaning of headship. He rightly adds, “Ultimately the abdication of male headship is a refusal to submit to Christ’s Word and Lordship.”
Biblical elders must be qualified. So the author carefully unpacks the biblical qualifications of an elder in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. He outlines the moral and spiritual character qualities that must be found in a prospective elder. And he discusses the abilities of a prospective elder.
Biblical elders must be servant-minded. The author reminds, “Elders are to be servant leaders, not rulers or dictators.” He rightly reacts to an authoritarian mindset; one that leads in a heavy-handed way. He cites J.I. Packer with approval: “Authoritarianism is evil, and anti-social, anti-human and ultimately anti-God (for self-deifying pride is at its heart), and I have nothing to say in its favor.”
In part two, Strauch defends biblical eldership. He shows how the New Testament church was governed – always a plurality of leadership. Again, “New Testament … elders are not mere representatives of the people; they are … spiritually qualified shepherds who protect, lead, and teach the people. They provide spiritual care for the entire flock. They are the official shepherds of the church.”
Part three is devoted to the exposition of Scripture. Here, the author focuses on key New Testament passages, especially Acts 14:23 and 20:17-38. This section is the “meat and potatoes” of the book. The writing is clear and the exegesis is sound. Numerous word studies are presented. And the mission of the local church is expounded: “The church’s mission is to safeguard and proclaim the gospel of Christ. Every local church is to be a gospel lighthouse, missionary agency, and gospel school … The conduct of the believing community, therefore, must speak well of the gospel and of Jesus Christ.”
Biblical Eldership is a classic in its own right. Over the years, nothing has helped me better understand the role, mission, responsibilities, and qualifications of a biblical elder. First published in 1995, this work will be used for years to come and will serve as a helpful “staff” for shepherds who take their work seriously.
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you, not for shameful gain, but eagerly, not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:1-3, ESV).