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Healthy Leadership

Charlie Boyd - 6/25/2023


In talking about the state of the church today, my friend Bill Wellons sums it up this way: healthy leaders—healthy staff—healthy church. The opposite is also true: unhealthy leaders—unhealthy staff—unhealthy church. It’s safe to say that one of the biggest reasons the church doesn’t matter to many people today is because of unhealthy church leadership. So, what does healthy church leadership look like? More specifically, what does healthy “elder” leadership look like? That’s the question we’ll unpack today.


Unhealthy church leadership is one of the biggest reasons that the church doesn’t matter to many people today. So, defining “healthy” leadership is of utmost importance. The most common word in the NT to describe the leaders of a local church is “elders,” and we see this in a number of passages (e.g. Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). Sometimes, the apostle Paul refers to “elders” as “pastors (or shepherds).” At other times he refers to them as “overseers.” All NT scholars see these words as synonyms describing the same office (see Acts 20:17,28). So, you see how the work of an elder is described—elders “pastor” or shepherd the flock. Elders “oversee” the spiritual health of those under their care. Sometimes these words are used as nouns—sometimes they’re used as verbs. These two words carry the same basic idea of making sure that the flock is cared for, as well as, guarding against false teaching creeping into the church. Also note that when Peter talks about “elders,” he also incorporates these same ideas of pastoring/shepherding and overseeing (see 1 Peter 5:1-5). Again, the point is, those called and appointed to the office of elders are charged with making sure the congregation is cared for, guarding against false doctrine creeping into the church, and calling wayward church members back to Gospel-living.

In addition to elders, the NT also talks about deacons. As Paul introduces his letter to the Philippians, he writes—“To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons.” (Phil1:1). So clearly, the role (office) of a deacon is distinct and different from the role (office) of an elder. From what we gather from the NT it seems that the elders lead/serve the church by caring for the spiritual needs of the congregation and the deacons serve the church by meeting practical needs (see Acts 6:1-6). So, the two church leadership offices set forth in the NT are elders and deacons—they serve in different ways within the church—their “doing” is different, but their “being” is pretty much the same.

READ 1 Timothy 3:1-12. Obviously, there’s a lot we could unpack here, but I want to highlight one very important point. First and foremost, this passage, dealing with the qualifications for elders and deacons, is mostly about character—the Christ-like character of the people being appointed to serve in these two offices. The character qualifications of those serving as elders or deacons is pretty much the same. They must be above reproach, meaning, no one can make an accusation against the person that can stick. They cannot be greedy or addicted to alcohol. They must be hospitable. They must be faithful to their wives and manage their families with dignity and respect. They both must have a long track record of faithfulness as well as have a good reputation with those outside the faith. The main difference between the two offices is that elders must be “able to teach”—they must be able to defend the faith—while deacons must be able to hold true to the faith with a clear conscience. Plus, the role of elder carries with it a certain spiritual responsibility and authority that is not given to deacons. So, actually, local church leadership rests with the elders. (As to the question—Can women serve as deacons and/or elders?—watch/listen to today’s message).

Now with that foundation, let’s go back to our original questions: What does healthy elder leadership look like? There are six things that I see in Scripture and that we have practiced here for 26 years that I have seen shape a healthy elder leadership culture at Fellowship. Actually, these six things marked the elder culture I was a part of for nine years in Little Rock, AR before coming here. So, I have a 35-year track record of having the privilege of being a part of a healthy elder culture. The six things are: longevity, plurality, unity, accountability, humility, and pneumatic decision-making (These are unpacked in the message.) These six things are all interrelated—each one is vitally connected to all the others. And when all six are priorities in church leadership “health” is the by-product.

What I want you to hear in all this is this—your elders do not carry themselves like a corporate board of directors—their primary job is not managing the finances. Of course, they oversee and make decisions regarding the big picture of church finances, along with an amazing financial team, but finances and business strategies are not their primary business—NO—

Your elders serve you as shepherds—under shepherds of the Chief Shepherd. They are a community of God-appointed, Spirit-led leaders who oversee the spiritual health of the body. They seek God’s direction for the church. And let me say, what you enjoy and experience here, is due to the shaping influence of your elders and staff. So, yes, it’s true—healthy leaders—healthy staff—healthy church. And when that rings true in a congregation, church really does matter. It really does make a difference in our community and in the world.

*We are a church located in Greenville, South Carolina. Our vision is to see God transform us into a community of grace passionately pursuing life and mission with Jesus.