How Our Church Came To Biblical Eldership
Vineland Park Baptist Church - Hueytown, Alabama
All By Grace
Sola Christus          
Sola Scriptura           
Sola Gratia           
Sola Fida           
Soli Deo Gloria
This local church came to its understanding as to biblical eldership and how to select elders in the church through a process.

As it was:

Until March 1999 this local church had the same pastor for 25 years and followed the now traditional and popular pastor - deacon leadership model. This local church had two men who were quasi-elders {me being one of them}, serving as “aides to the pastor” but they were not ordained as elders because we did not have plurality and certainly did not have equality of elders at that time.

As it became:

When the long-time pastor retired, we did not immediately change leadership models. We were like the typical Baptist church today.  We knew somebody who knew somebody and we invited him to speak a few times and the deacons presented him to the church and the church voted to call its new pastor. We did not consider but one man at the time, so we followed the “beauty contest” approach where several men are considered at the same time and the church selects the one it likes the best.

However, with me being a quasi-elder {the other quasi-elder had left the church} and leaving only myself, the new pastor recognized me as an ‘elder-in-fact’ and he referred to me as and elder before the church.  Then when this new pastor resigned after only nine months, the church had begun to see elder leadership as the Scriptural model.  During this new pastor’s term I taught a series of lessons on church polity and the church was thus being prepared for the change of leadership models. The key to this magnitude of change is that the church was strongly committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures.

However, before we actually implemented the elder leadership model, the church called a divinity school student and me to serve as elders with equality.  Very soon after that the church called two other men as elders.  One of these men was a deacon and was recognized by the church as being an ‘elder-in-fact.’  The other man was being considered for a call as deacon, but before we did that he too was seen as an elder and not as a deacon.  The point is that we had to learn how to think of eldership and get away from using deacons to serve the function of elders.

In our first attempt at biblical eldership, we gave the title of ‘co-pastor’ to the first two elders to emphasize equality.  These two elders did most of the preaching and we were making a distinction. But in doing that we inadvertently created a hierarchy in the eldership between the ‘co-pastors’ and the other two elders.  Our intent was to recognize all four men as elders with equality.  The division of duties, such as who preached the most, was not supposed to be a factor.  So to remedy that impression we simply refer to each elder as a pastor.  We do not have a “senior pastor.”

The way it is:

Having learned through this process, and perhaps to help other churches, when the elder who was serving the church and doing most of the preaching on Sunday’s was called to another ministry we realized another thing.  This is no reflection on the character or qualification of the man who left, but we did not need to go “shopping” for an elder.  We believe that the Lord provides for His church and will raise up men from within the church that will be recognized by the church as an elder.  For example, if we were to consider a young man who was either still in seminary or a recent graduate we would ask him to affiliate with our church and worship with us for a time before we would consider him as an elder of this church.  Do not infer that we require any sort of seminary training before we would consider a man as an elder.

As of this writing, our three elders all have been in this church for several years; 8 or so; 12 or more; and over 28 years.  We do not have a fixed number of elders, except we want more than one {plurality}. We also emphasize the equality of the elders.

I went through all the above to show that we did not just arrive overnight at what we believe to be the Scriptural leadership model. 

How would we select an elder today?

A man who has been in the church for a time {we don’t have a set time, but more than six months}, would be known to the elders and they would have spiritual discernment as to his ability to teach and function in the office of an elder.  He would be given opportunity to preach and teach and minister in other areas.  During this time the church would begin to see him in a leadership role.  At some point the elders would meet with the man and if all the elders agreed, the man would be presented to the church for consideration. If the man has not already been ordained to the Gospel ministry a presbytery of elders, some from other churches, would then examine him.  Assuming he satisfied the presbytery as to his profession of faith, his call to the Gospel ministry, and his qualification according to 1 Timothy 3, then he would be presented to the church for a call and ordination to serve the church in the office of an elder.

We have congregational government in that the church has the final approval.  However, there must be mutual trust between the church and the elders.  The church has invested leadership in their elders and the elders must not “lord it over the flock.”  If a situation arose where an elder must be disciplined, the other elders would take up the issue and if it could not be resolved it would then go before the church.

What I have written here is not yet in a church constitution and it may never be.  This is my understanding of where we are now after three years of moving through this process.  I do not believe we would have gotten to this understanding apart from living through the process.  But I do not recommend that another church follow our process. My recommendation is that they listen to what we have learned and move to biblical eldership.

I would emphasize that an elder should come from within the church, and not be ‘hired’ from the outside since there is no way that the church can know him well enough to call him to leadership.

I would avoid titles that suggest hierarchy.  There will naturally arise, “a leader among equals,” as Strauch puts it.  But he must earnestly try not to assume control of the body of elders.

Finally, the elders must always keep in mind that they serve under Christ, and that the welfare of His church is what they are there for.

All of this is difficult to put on paper.  I and the other elders would be happy share our experiences. 

Jim Gunn
Vineland Park Baptist Church
July 17, 2003