What to Look for in a Church: Solid Leadership Structure
Over the last few years, we’ve seen pastor after pastor resigning (willingly and forced) for some kind of moral failure committed in his home, in his office, or in his church.
When a pastor falls, it doesn’t only damage his own image and well-being, but also the image and overall health of the church. The enemy of our souls would love to deplete the church by bringing defeat on its key leaders.
Consider Mars Hill Church, whose pastor, Mark Driscoll, had been overtaken by some personal sins and resigned. It was a very short period before one of the largest churches in America was shut down entirely.
Why do I bring all this up in a blog series about what to look for in a church? It’s simple. A healthy church has a solid leadership structure built up of established elders and deacons.
While good leadership won’t prevent every failure or fix every flaw, it will make it ensure a loving and holy environment for all believers to thrive in.
Elders and Deacons
Elder and deacon are two specific offices prescribed for the church today. Every church should have people serving in both offices for the purpose of their specific role as it is prescribed in scripture.
Elders describe the distinctive leaders in a church who shepherd and oversee the local body of believers. Elders are synonymous with “pastors” in a church, caring for the church through specific ministries such as administration and teaching. Most importantly, the plurality of elders is the biblical model for church governance.
Scripture makes the qualifications for elders clear.
An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. -Titus 1:6-9
Deacons, on the other hand, are there to serve the church by helping to carry out the vision of the elders. They also give themselves to caring for church members and minister to the local community. This helps in freeing up the elders to do their work.
9 Marks explains, "Deacons are to care for the physical and fiscal needs of the church, to create unity in the body, and to support the work of the pastors and elders. The word ‘deacon’ means servant, and the roots of the office seem to lie in the need for a group of people to care for the physical needs of the church. The deacons do their work, in other words, so that the elders can devote themselves to the ministry of the word, prayer, and oversight.”
Scripture also provides clear qualifications for deacons.
In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.
In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.
A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus. – 1 Timothy 3:8-12
Transparency in Leadership
However, just because a church has elders and deacons, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a healthy church. If these leaders aren’t transparent, it means there are likely a multitude of hidden sins.
9 Marks explains, “The word transparency isn’t found in the Bible, but numerous Scripture passages exhort Christians to live holy and blameless lives. Jesus says, ‘Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12). Transparency is living our lives reflecting Jesus’s light as we acknowledge our need for gospel reminders, accountability, and repentance.”
Being transparent means being open and honest about one’s struggles, temptations, and sins. It goes beyond simply admitting “you’re not fine.”
Some signs that church leadership aims for transparency is that they are open about how they choose elders and deacons, what their responsibilities are, and how they are held accountable.
Proper Accountability for Leaders
Accountability and transparency in leadership go hand in hand as you cannot cultivate one without the other.
Pastors need to be known and they need to be surrounded by others who can speak openly and authoritatively into their personal and professional lives (preferably other elders/pastors).
Why? For his own holiness as well as the sanctity and witness of the church.
No minister leader is above temptation. Billy Graham, for example, recognized this and developed the Modesto Manifesto to maintain his and his ministry’s integrity.
Covenant Eyes describes, “Of the four traps they considered—finances, immorality, independent spirit, and exaggerated success—the one that has been longest remembered has been immorality. Billy Graham and his associates formulated the ‘Billy Graham Rule’ to protect their sexual integrity: they would avoid all compromising situations with members of the opposite sex.”
Another example you might consider is John Piper, whose ministry staff routinely submits to a series of written accountability questions. While the churches you visit may not have their leadership accountability written on the walls of the church, they should be comfortable responding when you question them about it.
If you suspect sins are being swept under the carpet, it likely isn’t the church for you.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. – James 5:16