Why do we have leaders in the church? Why is it necessary for a few people to hold positions of power? Couldn’t God alone make all the decisions? After all, its members are His people. His family.
That might have been the case had Adam and Eve not sinned. But their sin introduced chaos into our earthly relationships, and dealing with chaos requires us to establish order–which does not naturally happen within a group of individuals without a leader.
Sometimes the task of leadership is to divide an overwhelming amount of labor, as Moses did when he appointed judges to be “rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens” (Ex. 18:21). When the nation of Israel needed deliverance from oppressors, God chose judges to lead them . Jesus Himself chose apostles, both during His earthly life and after His resurrection, who would found the entire church (Eph. 2:20).
After Christ’s ascension, the apostles immediately became “pastors” to 3,000 new Christians–a number that grew rapidly in the days and weeks after Pentecost (Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1, 7; 9:31, 35, 42; 11:21, 24; 14:21; 16:5). Soon the apostles became so overwhelmed with administration that they didn’t have time for their true spiritual calling–“prayer and…the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). The apostles asked the Jerusalem church to select “seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3) who could take care of logistical matters like the distribution of food.
At that point, the early church had two categories of leaders: apostles and “ministers” or servers (no label is applied to them in Acts). The apostles were concerned with oversight, seeking spiritual direction for the body of Christ in prayer and also proclaiming the gospel in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the seven servers focused on managing the day-to-day affairs of the church.
Once the church began to spread, Paul appointed elders and deacons to oversee local churches and to take care of their spiritual and physical needs. In addition, Paul appointed some of his proteges to provide interim leadership in the new congregations, thus carrying those new assemblies forward. These ministers all had three qualifications: they had to be reputable, Spirit-filled, and wise (Acts 6:3), since they would be responsible for correcting moral impurity (1 Cor. 5:1-5; 9-11), maintaining order in worship (1 Cor. 14:26-35), and rejecting heresy (1:3,4).
In 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, Paul details the qualifications for elders (or overseers); the qualifications for deacons and their wives are found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Churches were expected to use these lists as they appointed leaders in every city where new congregations were established (Titus 1:5). These elders, according to Paul, needed to be established in the faith and “blameless” – not perfect, but free from scandal and condemnation in their personal and family lives (3:2-7). They were also responsible for the teaching and preaching in the church (3:2), activities necessary for combating false teaching.
As the churches matured, their leaders and positions of leadership became established. The writer to the Hebrews suggests that the churches that would receive his letter were being shepherded by second-generation leaders (Heb. 13:17).
Now, many centuries after the first installation of church leaders, churches still need godly shepherds, who can not only preach and defend the gospel but who will faithfully serve the flock, ever mindful that they serve under the “Good Shepherd” who tenderly cares for His own (1 Peter 5:2,4). The health of the church in the midst of a hostile world depends on the quality of its leadership.
Source: The David Jeremiah Study Bible. Nashville, TN.: Worthy Publishing, 2013, p. 1707.