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A Survey of Church Leadership in the New Testament

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

This is a study I began for our elder/leadership team, and then got distracted with other things. I thought if I posted it in its very unfinished form that might motivate me to finish it. 🙂

Perhaps I should convey at the outset that I believe apostles and prophets are offices and giftings still given today by Jesus Christ – the Head of the Church – and are still needed today. Sadly some studies on leadership leave them out.

Titles: Apostles – 58 x’s; In gospels 9 occurrences – none really instructive or didactic; Apostle – 19x’s (none in gospels);

Deacons – 5 references (Phil. 1:1; I Tim. 3:8,10, 12, 13) in 2 passages; never mentioned in book of Acts though some feel the men (Stephen, Phillip, etc.) appointed to serve the poor/tables in Acts 6 were the first deacons. (no references to “Deacon”). Emphasis is on serving (e.g. I Tim. 3:13). No reference to leading, overseeing, ruling, etc. Less than half as many qualifications expected for deacons as contrasted to elders.

Elders – 15 x’s applicable; all occurrences in gospels = negative – speaking of the Jewish elders of that day; “Apostles and Elders” together occurs 6 x’s in Acts (15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4); Acts 20:28, 31 is instructive since addressed to elders in church in Ephesus – – “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, ….to shepherd the church of God…” vs. 28; “Therefore be on the alert…” vs. 31.

There are 23 expected characteristics for elders to be pursuing/growing in from I Tim.3 & Titus 1. 19 deal with character; 4 deal with action in the church – e.g. “able to teach” (I Tim. 3:2); “take care of church of God” (I Tim. 3:5); “ exhort in sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9); “able…to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). Finally elders per I Peter 5:1f. are to: “shepherd the flock of God among you..” vs. 2; “exercising oversight” vs. 2; “proving to be examples to the flock” vs. 3

Evangelists – 1 x in Eph. 4:11; Evangelist – 2 x’s – Acts 21:8; II Tim. 4:5

Leaders – 3 x’s in N.T. that are applicable; Matthew 23:10 “Do not be called leaders”; (2519 = kathegetes – sometimes translated “teacher” – defined as “an authoritative guide” – only time used in N.T.) Context of Matthew 23 is key to understand Jesus’s command; Heb. 13:17 “Obey your leaders..” Heb. 13:24 “Greet all of your leaders” (2233 = hegeomai) Leader – see Matthew 23:10 & Luke 22:26

Overseers (bishops in some translations) – 2 x’s – Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; Overseer – 3 x’s – I Tim. 3:1, 2; Titus 1:7 Generally understood to be synonymous with elders e.g. Acts 20:28 – speaking to the elders of the church in Ephesus Paul says, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,..”

Pastors – 1 x in N.T. – Eph. 4:11 – purpose is to equip saints (No references to “Pastor”)

Prophets – 88 x’s; Prophet 67 x’s; prophetess (2 x’s) – Luke 2:36 & Rev. 2:20; prophetesses – (1 x) – Acts 21:9.

References in N.T. to O.T. prophets:of the 88 references to “prophets” in the N.T., 63 of them pertain to or are speaking of the Old Testament prophets. They are: Matthew 2:23, 5:12, 5:17, 7:12, 11:13, 13:17, 16:14, 22:40, 23:29, 23:30, 23:31, 23:37, 26:56, Mark 6:15, 8:28, Luke 1:70, 6:23, 6:26, 9:8, 9:19, 10:24, 11:47, 11:49, 11:50, 13:28, 13:34, 16:16, 16:29, 16:31, 18:31, 24:25, 24:27, 24:44, John 1:45, 6:45, 8:52, 8:53, Acts 3:18, 3:21, 3:24, 3:25, 7:42, 7:52, 10:43, 13:15, 13:27, 13:40, 15:15, 24:14, 26:22, 26:27, 28:23, Romans 1:2, 3:21, 11:3, 16:26, Eph. 2:20, I Thessalonians 2:15, Hebrews 1:1, 11:32, James 5:10, I Peter 1:10, II Peter 3:2,

Of the 88 references to “prophets” in the N.T. 6 refer or pertain to false prophets. They are: Matthew 7:15, 24:11, 24:24, Mark 13:22, II Peter 2:1, I John 4:1,

The remaining 19 references refer or pertain to present day prophets, though most of the 8 references to prophets in the book of Revelation could refer to both present and past.

References to prophet in N.T./Church Age or in the present: Gospels: Matthew 10:41 (on receiving a prophet); 11:19 (John the Bap.) cf. 14:5, Luke 1:76; John 1:21, 25; Matthew 13:57 Principle: “….A prophet is not without honor…” (cf. Mark 6:4, Luke 4:24, John 4:44); Jesus as Prophet – John 4:19, 6:14, 7:40, 7:52, 9:17, Acts: 21:10 “a certain prophet named Agabus came down…”;

References to prophets in N.T./Church Age: Matt. 23:34; Acts 11:27, 13:1, 15:32; I Cor. 12:28,29; 14:29, 32; Ephesians 3:5, 4:11; Rev. 10:7, 11:10, 11:18, 16:6, 18:20, 18:24, 22:6, 22:9;

Question of Eph. 2:20 “having (“God’s household” from vs. 19) been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,” Are present day prophets meant to be considered part of this foundation? Some believe yes. I believe not. Here are my reasons: 1. “having been built” appears to imply something that has already taken place.

2. In Rev. 21:14 the idea of a foundation and the apostles being a part of that foundation clearly refers to the original 12 (minus Judas)– “And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”

Rulers – only appears in relation to civic leaders (e.g. Matt. 20:25, Rom. 13:3, etc.) greek word = arkown.

Teachers – 6 x’s applicable; Teacher – 2 x’s applicable;


“Govern” does not appear in N.T. “Lead” – no applicable passages “Leads” – Romans 12:8 (the gift of leadership) “Shepherd” – 3 x’s applicable = John 21:16; Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:2 “Rule” – 1 applicable time = I Tim. 5:17; proestotes = a participle signifying “to stand before,” lead, or show how. It does not mean driving, but leading – especially by example (e.g. I Peter 5:3 “….nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” – spoken to elders) “Led” = 1 applicable reference – Hebrews 13:7

Questions: Jesus’s overall emphasis/teaching on leadership in His church? Anti title (don’t be called rabbi, father or leader – Matt. 23:8-10); anti – authoritarian; pro – servanthood (the greatest serves) Matt. 23:11,12; Luke 22:26; shepherd His sheep (Jn. 21:15-17); Jesus on proper response to prophets – Matt. 10:41 – “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward;…”

How was the church led in the book of Acts? Ch. 1 – Jesus gathered and commissioned the apostles to wait for power to fulfill their mission. The apostles and others then gathered for days waiting on the Lord in prayer. Peter at one point felt led to appoint an apostle to replace Judas. All those who were there put forward two men, prayed, cast lots, and Matthias was chosen. Ch. 2 – All still together; Spirit comes; tongues break out; crowd gathers; Peter preaches gospel; crowd responds; church multiplies dramatically; new converts baptized (because of large number I’m guessing many participated in that baptism – probably beyond apostles – vs. 41); they – the church “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” vs. 42; “many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles” vs. 43; Ch. 3 – lame man healed by peter and john; crowd forms; peter preaches; Ch. 4 – religious leaders show up; arrest peter and john; tried in court; peter proclaims Christ; threatened peter and john and released them; afterwards returned home and gathered with ? NASV inserts “companions” but not in greek; probably other apostles and core folk, though possibly whole congregation (see vs. 32); they prayed and God showed up (vs. 31). Great unity in the church; Apostles with great power testifying of resurrected Lord; proceeds of sold properties laid at Apostles feet. Ch. 5 – Peter – an original apostle – facilitated the slaying by God of Ananias and Sapphira. Vs. 1-10. “At the hand of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people.” vs. 12 After being arrested twice and then flogged, they returned home and “kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” Ch. 6 – Several developments re: leadership arise in this chapter. First rapid growth caused some growth pains. Second the 12 apostles determined they could not meet the legitimate need, and thus asked the congregation (literally “multitude”) of disciples to choose seven men to meet this physical need. “They” then chose the 7 and brought them before the apostles, who prayed and then laid hands on them. And they began to meet this need/serve. These servants are not called deacons, but many scholars believe this was the beginning point of appointing deacons to meet physical/material needs in the church. Ch. 7 – Stephen’s defense & murder Ch. 8 – “Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John…” vs. 14 Apostles in Jersualem recognized leadership. Ch. 9 – vs. 26 the disciples in Jerusalem were afraid of newly converted Saul. “But Barnabus took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road…” vs. 27 Apostles in Jerusalem still recognized leadership. Ch. 10 – Peter with Cornelius and gang Ch. 11 – Peter returns to Jerusalem and reports to the uncircumcised men (at least) about his ministry to Gentiles (vs. 2f). “the church at Jerusalem …sent Barnabus off to Antioch” (vs. 22). Barnabus (on his own evidently) pursued Saul of Tarsus to help him (vs. 25,26). “…some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch (not sent evidently) to minister as the Holy Spirit led. One named Agabus prophesied accurately about the coming famine. The church in Antioch took measures in response to that having taken place (vs. 27-30) First time prophets appear in Acts. Ch. 12 – Peter’s imprisonment & angelic release. Ch. 13 – Prophets & teachers of the church in Antioch were ministering to the Lord and fasting. No mention of apostles or elders or pastors. The Holy Spirit spoke to them and commanded them to “set apart Barnabus and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Prophets and teachers typically don’t overly appreciate each other. But in this church they were the ones who in harmony and unity heard the word of the Lord and carried it out. In vs. 2 the Holy Spirit “said”. In vs. 4 the Holy Spirit “sent”. Rest of chapter details Barnabus and Saul’s traveling ministry Ch. 14 – first 22 verses and last 5 verses = more accounting of Barnabus and Saul’s traveling ministry. In vs. 23 we find that Saul and Barnabus had appointed elders in every church after “having prayed with fasting”. Ch. 15 – Some men came down to Antioch from Judea spreading a false works gospel in the church there. Paul and Barnabus took issue with them. Eventually were encouraged to take some of the brethren and head to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders in the church there about this issue. “apostles and elders” show up together in vs. 2, 4, 6, 22, 23 as those who helped solve this crisis and had the authority to do so. “Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message.” Vs. 32 They were prophets from Jerusalem (vs. 22) and “leading men among the brethren there”. They were chosen by the apostles, elders and whole church to accompany Paul and Barnabus (vs. 22). Appears Judas and Silas were probably in those long meetings in Jersualem as this issue was hammered out. Paul and Barnabus’s squabble in vs. 36-41 shows the freedom and autonomy there were given to carry out their mission. Ch. 16 – “….decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders…” shows where the authority lied in the church in Jerusalem. Vs. 4 rest of chapter more missionary exploits of Paul with timothy and silas. Ch. 17 – more missionary exploits of paul, silas and timothy Ch. 18 – Paul, Priscilla and Aquila, and Apollos Ch. 19 – Paul in Ephesus Ch. 20 – Paul still the major player, but important to see that though it might appear from vs. 3, “….he decided to return through Macedonia” that Paul was a loner or independent or made decisions on his own, he was at that time accompanied by Luke at least, and there were 7 others of his team, who had been with him, but as vs. 5 states, “…had gone on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas.” Important as we focus on the references to “he” in this chapter that we do not neglect the many references to “we”. I also find it interesting that when Paul and Luke (and perhaps the others on his team) got to Ephesus, he chose to focus on the elders (the leadership of the church there) (vs. 17). His great concern was for the sheep as seen in vs. 28-30 etc. But he knew key to the safety and welfare of the sheep is the ministry of the elders to them. Apostles must care for the sheep of individual congregations by equipping their leadership (elders, etc.,) to shepherd the sheep appropriately in the fear of the Lord. Paul did not exclusively equip leaders. He did at times minister to the sheep or members of a congregation or church in a city. But he knew that their fate depended upon their leaders in many ways, though ultimately on God Himself (see vs. 32).

Observations: 1. No control seen. Variety of leadership and initiatives taken.

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