After a bit of a blogging break, I want to return to thinking about the New Testament church pattern, and how Restorationism seeks to build churches that are faithful to this. A key text for Restorationist churches is Eph 4:11 which lists what are often referred to as the “Ephesians 4 ministries” – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
Cessationists believe that the first two ministries are no longer in operation in the church, but Restorationists strongly emphasise the need for all of them. The most controversial of these is apostles, but New Frontiers at least are happy to concede that there was something unique and unrepeatable about the original twelve, which puts most people’s fears to rest. Apostles are understood as those who relate to churches (particularly newly planted ones) in a fatherly way, giving direction and advice to the leaders, without having authority over them in an official denominational sense.
As important as these five ministries are, they are not understood to be exhaustive by Restorationists. Indeed, modern ministries such as “worship leader”, “small group leader” and “youth leader” are flourishing in charismatic circles, and supported by a wealth of training materials and courses.
But where do “eders / overseers” and “deacons” fit into the picture? Are these additions to the list of ministries? While I have never heard this explicitly expressed, I believe that the New Frontiers position would be that these are the only two “offices” in the church. In other words, anyone exercising a leadership or authoritative ministry is either an elder or a deacon. Most of the Ephesians 4 ministries would be exercised by the elders of a church, while those with the other “modern” ministries I have mentioned are understood to be deacons (although they would never be called this). I’m pretty sure that all the “apostles” in New Frontiers are also elders in their home churches.
Each local church is understood to be led by a group of elders, often with a senior elder (the pastor) being first amongst equals (theocracy is preferred to democracy in Restorationist church government). The church also would usually relate to someone with an “apostolic” ministry, who would meet with the elders on an occasional basis and provide some guidance, and prophetic direction. However, the elders are understood to be autonomous, and free to refuse the advice given (although this may result in the apostolic relationship being broken).
For complementarian groups such as New Frontiers, eldership is seen as male only, but the “deacon” ministries are open to all. So many female worship leaders, cell group leaders and youth leaders are to be found within these churches.
How faithful is this to the New Testament pattern? Richard Collins understands Eph 4:11 in a very different way. He sees it as expressing the diverse models of leadership that God is pleased to use in different churches. But as with the charismatic gifts, I would place more emphasis on the diversity within an individual church. So not everyone has the gift of prophecy, and not everyone has the ministry of evangelist, but we should desire all gifts and ministries to be operating within the local church.
So it boils down to three main levels of leadership:
1. Apostles – providing ongoing support to new churches, and ensuring they stay faithful to the gospel
2. Elders – initially perhaps only one, but quickly growing to a team of elders as the new church grows
3. Deacons – people given responsibility to lead in different areas of service as the elders see fit (see Acts 6 for an example of how a need was seen and met with the appointment of leaders)
While I don’t believe there is only one possible structure of church leadership, I do think that this general setup is preferable to some of the more complicated structures that exist in other circles. More importantly, I believe that it fits in well with what we see in the New Testament about church leadership.