Getz, Elders and Leaders

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Gene A. Getz, Elders and Leaders, God’s Plan for Leading the Church, A Biblical, Historical, and Cultural Perspective. Moody Publishers, 2003.

Referenced in: Plural-Elder Congregational Leadership

LifeandLeadership.com Summary

This is a readable and thorough biblical presentation on how plural-elder governance works in congregations. Getz is part of a non-denominational Fellowship Bible Church faith tradition that follows an autonomous and independent form of church governance. Not all who come from plural-elder orientations will agree with him at every point, but all can derive great help from this volume. 

As described in the foreword, Gene Getz is recognized for his work in training and developing healthy church governing boards, even to the extent that each elder actively mentors his own successor. His example has provided hope to many that church governance can be spiritual, effective, and enjoyable.

Getz insists that among the plurality of elders there should be on one who serves as the primary leader. This distinguishes him from other popular writers on the subject such as Alexander Strauch, Benjamin Merkle, and Mark Dever. Getz is also less concerned than the others regarding the actual titles used for the elder role. His views on elders as overseers and managers, at least in the degree of emphasis, distinguishes him Lynn Anderson, Ian Fair, and Rick Thompson. The latter warn against an over-dependence on structural/positional authority of elders, and stress a leadership style of relational authority and moral suasion that is focused on empowering others for ministry.

Getz’s style is methodical and easy to follow. He first describes his method of studying the Scriptures to mine out the principles for effective congregational leadership. Next, he overviews the New Testament “story” of how leadership developed chronologically, year by year, in the New Testament era. One may not agree with his dating/timeline, but it is hard to deny the big picture of how the leadership roles evolved. In the next section, he extracts fourteen observations based on the historical overview that are then developed more extensively in the remaining chapters. Here are the fourteen principles (from the summary on pages 179-181):

  • Observation #1: The Term “Elders” - In the early years of Christianity, spiritual leaders in local churches were consistently identified as “elders” (presbuteroi)
  • Observation #2: The Term “Overseers” – As Paul and his fellow missionaries expanded their church-planting ministry into areas that were heavily populated with Gentiles, spiritual leaders were also identified as “overseers” or “bishops” (episkopoi)
  • Observation #3: Managing – One of the basic terms New Testament writers used to describe the overarching function of elders/overseers was “to manage” (proistemi)
  • Observation #4: Shepherding – The second term New Testament writers used to describe the overarching function of elders/overseers was “to shepherd or tend (poimaino) the flock of God.”
  • Observation #5: A Noble Task – When Paul outlined these overarching functions for elders/overseer, he made this opportunity available to any man who desired this “noble task” and who was qualified spiritually (1 Timothy 3:1).
  • Observation #6: Specific Functions – In order for elders/overseers to carry out the overarching responsibility of “managing” the church effectively and “shepherding” God’s flock as faithful and sensitive leaders, New Testament writers described and prescribed at least six specific and essential functions. These are: teaching biblical truth, modeling Christlike behavior, maintaining doctrinal purity, disciplining unruly believers, overseeing financial matters, and praying for those who are ill.
  • Observation #7: Qualifications – The New Testament outlines very specific qualifications for serving as local church leaders, but they were not revealed in writing until Paul wrote letters to Timothy and Titus following his first imprisonment in Rome (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9)
  • Observation #8: Human Responsibility – As the biblical story unfolds, we see more emphasis on human responsibility in selecting and appointing “qualified leaders.”
  • Observation #9: Apostolic Representatives – Though Timothy and Titus assisted Paul as apostolic representatives in selecting and appointing leaders in Ephesus and on the island of Crete, we’re not told how other churches in the New Testament world carried out this process.
  • Observation #10: A Unified Team – As the biblical story unfolds in the New Testament, it becomes increasingly clear that each local church was to be managed and shepherded by a unified team of godly men.
  • Observation #11: A Primary Leader – The New Testament definitely teaches and illustrates that when there is a plurality of leadership, someone needs to function as the primary leader of the team.
  • Observation #12: Accountability – In the early years of the church, there was accountability for elders/overseers among themselves and also beyond their local ministry.
  • Observation #13: Delegation – The New Testament teaches that elders/overseers must maintain their priorities by delegating responsibilities to other qualified men and women who can assist them in managing and shepherding the church.
  • Observation #14: Function and Form – The biblical story on local church leadership does not describe specific “forms” – only “functions” and “directives.”

After developing each of these in over 50 pages and five chapters, Getz then considers how these observations play out in the actual working of the church in the 21st century. His aim is “to create appropriate forms that 1) harmonize with biblical principles, 2) apply lessons we’ve learned from history, and 3) utilize both past and present cultural insights.” (232) Typical of his style, he lays out fourteen leadership principles (from the summary on pages 233-235):

  • Principle #1: First Official Appointments – When local churches are established, the first official appointments should be spiritual leaders who are able to give overall direction to the church; however, they should not be appointed until they are qualified.
  • Principle #2: A Unified Team – The goal of every local church should be to eventually appoint qualified leaders who serve together as a unified team.
  • Principle #3: Qualifications – All spiritual leaders should be appointed based on the maturity profile outlined by Paul in the Pastoral Epistles.
  • Principle #4: Basic Ethics and Morality – When looking for qualified leaders to serve the church, consider first those men and their families who’ve grown up in an environment where their values have been shaped by Judeo-Christian ethics and morality.
  • Principle #5: An Initial Leader – If there are no candidates in the church who are qualified to serve as the official spiritual leaders, another qualified leader needs to serve in either a temporary or permanent role until others in the church are sufficiently equipped to serve in this role.
  • Principle #6: A Primary Leader – Every group of spiritual leaders needs a primary leader who both leads and serves, and who is accountable to his fellow spiritual leaders.
  • Principle #7: Titles – When determining “titles” for spiritual leaders in the local church, how they function is far more important than what the local body calls them.
  • Principle #8: Multiple Fathers – Spiritual leaders should manage and shepherd the church just as fathers are to care for their families and shepherds are to tend their sheep.
  • Principle #9: Important Priorities – All spiritual leaders should make sure they manage and shepherd the church well by maintaining six important priorities: teaching the Word of God, modeling Christlike behavior, maintaining doctrinal purity, disciplining unruly believers, overseeing the material needs of the church, and praying for the sick.
  • Principle #10: Mutual Accountability – Spiritual leaders in the church should hold each other accountable for their spiritual lives as well as the way they carry out their ministries.
  • Principle #11: Expanded Accountability – To follow the model that unfolds in the New Testament story, every body of local church leaders should have some kind of accountability system that extends beyond themselves – particularly involving the primary leader.
  • Principle #12: Qualified Assistants – In order to maintain their priorities, spiritual leaders should appoint qualified assistants who can help them meet the needs of all believers in the church.
  • Principle #13: Financial Support – Spiritual leaders are to make sure that those who devote significant amounts of time to the ministry, particularly in teaching the Word of God, should be cared for financially.
  • Principle #14: Adequate Forms – Spiritual leaders are responsible to make sure that adequate forms are developed for carrying out the functions inherent in the above biblical principles.

In addition, Getz offers five chapters at the end that address issues such as age requirements for elders, selecting and appointing elders, the number of elders necessary to lead a church, how long elders should serve, how elder boards should make decisions, the biblical basis for a staff-lead church and whether all staff should be elders, the differences between a pure congregational model and elder-led churches, the kinds of “form” changes that need to be made as a church grows numerically, and observations on the “household model.”

**For a summary, click here for the Kindle Version, go to right column, and download the free sample. If you don’t have a free Kindle Reader on your computer, there’s a link for that too.

From the Publisher

Strong leadership in the church is exactly what God had in mind. However, very few people, Getz believes, understand the biblical pattern for church leadership. He has written Elders and Leaders to unravel the mystery and alleviate the confusion surrounding this critical topic. In the first part of the book, Getz lays the historical and biblical groundwork for the position of elder. In the second part, he shares how he has applied or has seen these principles applied over the years.

About the Author

GENE A. GETZ, (B.A., Rocky Mountain College; M.A., Wheaton College; Ph.D., New York University), a host and teacher of Renewal Radio, served as a professor at Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored more than 60 books, including The Measure of a Healthy Church, Elders and Leaders, and the Men of Character series. He has been a church planting pastor in the Dallas metroplex since 1972 and now serves as President of the Center for Church Renewal and Pastor Emeritus of Fellowship Bible Church North in Plano, Texas.

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