Why Does Rockland Have Elders and Not Just a Pastor for Its Leadership?

The global or universal Church is made up of all Christians all over the world who trust Christ as Savior and Lord. The local church is a local group of gathered Christians from the global Church who meet together for encouragement, instruction, worship, and more. When it comes to leadership, churches are often overseen and cared for by a group of God’s appointed leaders called ‘elders’ or sometimes translated ‘overseers.’ The elders affirm the core doctrine of the church with their members, but also must affirm some additional doctrines.

Some churches have just one elder or pastor leading them. Others have a plurality of elders—that is, church leadership is shared among several individuals. Although there are no explicit passages forbidding the practice of having a single leader as overseer of a church, a strong biblical case can be made for having a plurality of elders. When we examine the structure of the early church and the instructions given by the apostles, it becomes apparent that modern churches should lean toward shared leadership.

In Acts 14:23, Luke records that “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” Prior to this, in Acts 11:30, Luke mentions “the elders of the church in Jerusalem.”  Other passages in Acts also reference a plurality of elders, such as Acts 15:2, 16:4, 20:17, and 21:18.

The epistles also support a plurality of elders. In Philippians 1:1, Paul introduced the letter with greetings to “all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the elders and deacons.

Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus provide well-known references to the subject of eldership. In 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul instructs that “the elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” (Notice the plural form of ‘elders’.) Additionally, Timothy’s ministry was in the church of Ephesus, indicating the presence of multiple elders in one church.

The letter to Titus also affirms a plurality of elders. Paul wrote, “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you” (Titus 1:5).

Many contemporary churches like Rockland employ a hybrid system, having elders and a lead pastor. The pastor may have more influence and responsibilities than the other elders, but he is still considered an elder/overseer of the church.

What is an elder (or ‘overseer’)? What do they do? What are the qualifications?

At Rockland, the Elders are responsible for the missions, vision, operations, direction, and overall health and shepherding of the church, as well as its doctrinal faithfulness and integrity.

Some other Scriptures describe in more detail what elders are and what they do for the Lord in His church:

I Timothy 3:1-7– “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” (see also 1 Timothy 2:8-15)

Titus 1:5-9- “This is why I (Paul) left you (Titus) in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

Acts 20:17-31– “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.”

I Peter 5:1-4–  “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

I Thess 5:12-13– “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.”

I Timothy 5:17-21- “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.”

Hebrews 13:17– “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

James 5:14– “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”