In the first article of this series, we studied the giftedness of elders who, as individual believers, participate in the normal course of church life. Every proper exercise of gift in the assembly whether by elders or others is given for profit (I Cor. 12:7), and for the edification of all (I Cor. 14:26). But elders must also use their gifts collectively, i.e. working together as a team. This good work will be promoted by an understanding of two important and related principles:
1) Spiritual gifts are meant to complement, never to compete.
2) The authority of elders to lead comes from God, never from gifts.
Division of Labor
In a healthy assembly, temporal and financial duties which could become a burden upon the elders, are delegated to other godly men so that the elders may devote themselves to the vital functions of prayer and the ministry of the word. This is the great lesson of Acts 6, and it is not surprising that as a result, “the word of God increased, and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly….” (Acts 6:7). The expression “ministry of the word” would likely include not only time in studying the scriptures, but also the many spiritual and practical leadership functions for the Lord’s people of which elders’ work is comprised. This would include planning and providing spiritual food for the flock, visiting and caring for the believers, and matters of vision and planning for the needs of a growing assembly.
In any case, it is clear that the believers complemented each other by sharing the workload. But what about the work within the elder board itself? How is it divided?
Plurality of Gifts Among the Elders
It is God’s express design that no one has all the needed gifts (1 Cor. 12:29-30), but that each brother contributes the part for which God has divinely qualified him. In an ideal situation, at least one elder will have a teaching gift, and in addition to laboring in the word and doctrine (I Tim. 5:17) may coordinate arrangements for preaching and small group ministry. (For a discussion of the elder’s qualification of “apt to teach,” see the last issues of ESN – Vol. 2, No. 1)
Another elder having pastoral gift will help the group become effective in their visitation, counseling and related shepherding duties. Yet another will have some administrative gift (as “governments” I Cor. 12:28 or “ruling” Rom. 12:8), guiding the meetings and communications of the elders as they lead and plan. Of course real life situations are seldom ideal and by God’s wonderful provision, gifts lacking within the group can be supplemented from within the assembly.
The Complimentary Nature of Spiritual Gifts
When explaining the working of the gifts in I Corinthians 12, Paul draws heavily on the analogy of the parts of the human body and the relationships they sustain to one another. So among the elders there is more to the question than each elder being gifted and functioning in his separate sphere – much more. As in the human body so in the body of Christ, the members are not in competition but actually compliment one another.
The teacher for example gains insight for his studies by hearing of needs from the brother whose pastoral gift brings him into close contact with the flock. And the pastor can supply a wealth of insight to the brother whose gift adds skill in planning functions and communications that must be clear and relevant to the needs of the people.
Again, the teacher will discern those struggling with certain doctrines and so may point out the need for an encouraging visit or even a weekend retreat to spend time in subjects that help the family or the assembly. When viewed in this way, the elders meeting is a delightful time spent in fellowship with the Lord and with one another hearing from the Head, and working together towards the building up of the members of the body.
Next issue, we’ll consider the second of the two principles mentioned above, namely, the relationship between the gifts and authority of elders.