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Shepherds of the Flock

Shepherds of the Flock

Rev. Geoffrey Bingham

Subject: Eldership in the Church

Pages: 58 pp, Booklet

Pub. Date: 1985

Book Code: 129

ISBN: 0 86408 025 5

PDF Download 217kb


Shepherds of the Flock

What is an elder?

What does it mean to be an elder in the church?

Is it both functional and practical to have elders,

or can we do without them?

Could our churches today become transformed by the oversight of eldership?


A pleasing feature today in the life of the churches is to see how many congregations have come to, or are coming to, the idea of eldership as functional to the true order and working of the church. Certain churches, e.g. the Presbyterian and Reformed polities, have always espoused eldership, but have formed their own patterns of such eldership. This is reasonable of course.

Other churches have seen bishops, priests (i.e. presbyters) and deacons as fulfilling the orders of ministry in the New Testament, or in the history, which is closest to the New Testament. Yet other denominations have an order of deacons, with or without an elder or elders. In some cases elders and deacons are looked upon as orders of officers, and congregations tend to think of them as attending to the business of minding the 'pews and keys'(!) much, say, as church wardens do in their denomination.

The move towards an eldership such as we detect in the New Testament, must certainly be advantageous. True, the election of what seem to be the most able people to carry out tasks required within the congregation may not necessarily result in selecting good 'eldership material'. The task of the eldership is primarily to care for the pastoral-teaching needs of the congregation, and not simply to act as organising officers. It would seem that natural eldership gifts are there, anyway, in most, if not every, congregation, and the task of prayerfully appointing (or, ordaining) elders should be pursued. More of this sort of thing is said within the book itself.

Some years ago a group of clergy and lay-leaders approached me to shape up some studies on eldership, for in their case their denomination was merging with two other denominations, and eldership was to be introduced. Other clergy whose denominations did not have eldership said they would be likewise interested in some Biblical material on the same. They wished to have a 'Clayton' eldership, i.e. the eldership you have when you don't have an (official) eldership.

This small book was written about eight years ago, and since then quite an amount of material on the subject of eldership has become available. What I sought to do was simply to abstract eldership material from the Scriptures, and state it in essence with a minimum of comment or interpretation. I have often been called upon to speak to elders at local churches and in retreats, opening up the material in this book.

Some of its points are hotly debated, such as speaking of an 'hierarchy of ministry' and the vexed question of 'women elders'. From a varied, extensive and thoughtful reading of modern exegetical studies on the ideas of authority and feminism, I realise that we are in a state of stalemate on the two themes stated above.

Even so, I do not think this little book is unuseful. It sets forth simply the matter of eldership as we find it in Scripture. At least that is a beginning. If scholars and church members wish to debate the matter of women elders, i.e. women presbyters, and the polities of churches as they see them to be truly functional or Biblical, so be it. I, for one, find it surprising that we do not take into account the possibility of our own personal predilections and our own 'hidden agendas'. Of course I include myself in such possibilities.

I trust, anyway, that the printing of this book—previously in the form of gathered notes—will make some contribution—however small—to our ideas and practice of eldership in the churches.

Geoffrey Bingham, August 1985