Missional Ecclesiology: Problems and Pitfalls (Part 3)

In Part 1, we observed that to avoid rogue and/or rigid missional communities, church leaders must clearly answer three questions:

  • What is the role and function of the individual Christian?
  • What is the role and function of local church elders?
  • How do these roles and functions work together for the glory of God and the good of the body?

The Role of Elders: Lead the Mission and Equip the Saints

Acts 20:28: 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

If every Christian and every MC is called to make disciples, then what role do local church elders play in the process? The answer is twofold.

First, elders define and direct the mission. Pastor/elders are the human leaders biblically responsible for the oversight of God’s redemptive mission (Acts 20:28). Making disciples requires teaching sound doctrine – and elders are the ones commanded to guard sound doctrine (Titus 1:9). Making disciples requires confronting sin and dealing with wayward sheep – and elders are the ones commanded to speak with authority in instances of church discipline (Matthew 18:17). Making disciples requires submission to authority – and elders are the human leaders that God’s people are commanded to submit to (Hebrews 13:17).

Elders define the mission by answering the who question: “Of whom we are seeking to make disciples?” Elders direct the mission by answering the how question: “How are we going to make disciples? What specific ministry philosophy, structures, and processes will we use to apply the unchanging truth of Scripture to this particular people group?” By answering these questions, elders create a context for discipleship. They build a structure – a specific local church – within which the work of discipleship can take place. When elders do their job well by creating a healthy local church, Christians can do their job well by making disciples within the context of that church community.

The mission of making disciples cannot happen apart from the local church. Disciples of Jesus do not exist in a vacuum. All disciples of Jesus are to be vitally connected to a local church. (This is the essential problem with parachurch discipleship ministries: though they are fulfilling a biblical mandate – making disciples – they are doing so without the biblical oversight and structures of authority that God commands).

Second, pastor/elders equip the saints for the work of ministry. God “gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service” (Ephesians 4:11-12). A pastor is a man of strong godly character who can competently make disciples and equip others to do the same. Or to say it another way: a good elder is really just a good Christian who can teach others to do what he does. This means that in a healthy church, the work of discipleship is not dependent on the pastors. Rather, every Christian is owning the mission of making disciples, and the pastor/elders are leading, equipping, teaching, and training church members in the work of discipleship.

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