Monday, May 5, 2014

"Church Elders" by Jeramie Rinne: A Review

I will argue in chapter 2 that the term pastor (i.e., “shepherd”) refers to the same church position as elder and overseer. Biblically speaking, elders are pastors, who are overseers. The person in a church we typically call a “pastor” is a paid elder, and the person in a church we typically call an “elder” or “overseer” is an unpaid, lay pastor.

Elder or shepherd, overseer or pastor, paid or volunteer. It’s all the same job. (16)

I have never been a member of nor served in a Baptist church that had elders. Therefore, my understanding of the role and responsibilities of elders in Baptist life is limited. It is critical for every minister and church, especially in the Baptist tradition, should turn to Scripture, and not tradition, first in order to shape their local polity. How should churches govern themselves according to Scriptures?

In his book Church Elders: How to Shepherd God's People Like Jesus (Crossway, 2014) author Jeramie Rinne puts forward the argument that the elder model is the biblical model. He then weaves in some practical and helpful insight on the roles and responsibilities of the office. He describes the book as follows:
This book is intended to provide a concise, biblical job description for elders. I wanted to create an easy-to-read, inspiring summary of the elder task that could be given to a new or potential elder who needs to know what an elder is and does. I hope the book will answer a godly, well-intentioned man who asks: “I’m an elder. Now what?”

But this book is not just for current or aspiring elders. It’s also for church members. The whole congregation needs to understand God’s plan for the local church, including his plan for leadership. Church members can be just as confused about an elder’s job description as the elders are. (15)
What follows, then, is a biblical defense of church elders. I assume, just by reading the books title and subtitle, that this is precisely what the author was going to do. My interest is more on the practical side of the issue: what is the role and responsibilities of a church elder and how do they relate to the senior pastor, church staff, and deacons?

Ultimately, the argument of the book can be summed up with the following sentence (quoted in fuller above): Elder or shepherd, overseer or pastor, paid or volunteer. It’s all the same job (16). An elder, according to the author, is a lay-pastor. Though unpaid and untrained, he is a pastor nonetheless. I found the following paragraph helpful:
But just because a paid pastor may have more availability, education, or gifting, it doesn’t follow logically (or biblically) that a lay elder is any less a real pastor. Volunteer firefighters face the same flames as the paid firefighters, and volunteer elders confront the same challenges of shepherding as the staff pastors. Lay elders may honor vocational pastors as “firsts among equals,”1 but the lay elders are still equals. (34)

But just because a paid pastor may have more availability, education, or gifting, it doesn’t follow logically (or biblically) that a lay elder is any less a real pastor. Volunteer firefighters face the same flames as the paid firefighters, and volunteer elders confront the same challenges of shepherding as the staff pastors. Lay elders may honor vocational pastors as “firsts among equals,” but the lay elders are still equals. (35)
This has some important implications. First, the author warns against creating a business model for the church. In this polity, the pastor is a type of CEO and the congregation/members are customers. The elders, then, are likened to a board of trustees who remain distant from the congregation/customers by making decisions that affect them but are not involved in their lives. By viewing elders as lay-pastors who serve along with the staff, elders exercise a different type of role and authority. The author provides a number of chapters of what this looks like. In essence he shows that elders, in this model, are called to teach[1], minister to the members [2], pray, and live godly lives[3].

I find this model helpful. I must admit that in many ways I assumed that by elders the author was going to promote the board of trustees model. Though not all of my questions were answered, the author provides a helpful model for those like me who are still new to this issue and would like to see it practiced. I approach this book as a pastor in a deacon-model church and found this book to be a great resource for me as I contemplate what the Bible says on the subject.

This book is one of several in a series published by 9Marks and Crossway books, some of which have been reviewed on this site. I would highly recommend this book as well as the rest in this series. They are all brief enough for the average believer to consider and yet simple enough for us all to understand. This is purposely not an academic book but an engaging read that truly seeks to help the reader understand and practice church eldership.


This book was provided for the purpose of this review by its publisher, Crossway Books.


[1] He writes, The first should be obvious: elders must participate in the teaching ministry of the church. If you are an elder, you need to get busy expounding the Bible. (48)
[2] He writes, The first revolutionary implication of an elder-as-shepherd model is that elders are to engage in relationships with church members. (35)
[3] He writes, It’s simple: God has called elders to be men worth imitating. (101)


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