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Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership Paperback – April 15, 2005
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From the Back Cover
Self-government and autonomy are long-standing cherished traditions of most evangelical churches. Ideally this means each member participates in decision making, but in reality pure congregationalism is unwieldy and unworkable. Pastors try to solve the problem by assuming more and more of the authority themselves. Neither approach is biblical.
A biblically functioning church requires intentional devotion to the New Testament model of church leadership. In this practical book, experienced pastor Phil Newton examines this biblical model of leadership by explaining the necessity of elder plurality and how it functions in a congregational setting. Newton demonstrates the history of elder plurality from personal experience in Baptist life, expounds three biblical texts to shed light on the New Testament model for spiritual leaders, and provides answers to commonly asked questions.
“A valuable contribution not only on the subject of eldership, but concerning biblical leadership.”
—David L. Olford
President, Olford Ministries International
“You can tell by the wealth of information in these chapters that Phil has lived through the process, and he’s willing to share his own experiences—good and bad—in order to help us have even better experiences in our churches.”
—Pastor Mark Dever
From the foreword
Phil A. Newton (D.Min., Fuller Theological Seminary) is a senior pastor at South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., where he has been since 1987. In ministry for more than thirty years, he also has served as an adjunct professor at several schools, and is regularly involved in leading international mission teams. Phil and his wife, Karen, live in Germantown, Tenn.
About the Author
Phil A. Newton (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; DMin, Fuller Theological Seminary) is senior pastor at South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis. In pastoral ministry for over thirty-five years, he also serves as an adjunct professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Equip Center.
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Newton divides his helpful book into three sections:
Part One is composed of answering thequestion: Why Churches Should have Elders. In Part Two Newton exposits three key texts on how Elders functioned in the New Testament: Acts 20:17-31; Hebrews 13:17-19; and 1 Peter 5:1-15. In giving a thorough exposition of each passage he demonstrates how Elders are models for their congregations; how Elders and the congregation work together in harmony; and how their primary calling is to be spiritual leaders for the good of the congregation and God's greater glory.
In my opinion the most helpful section of the book is in part three. In this section Newton shows how a leadership team can transition into a fully functioning Elder Leadership in the Church with Deacons as well. All four examples are oflarge Baptist churches going from a Diaconate Board to two separate functioning boards of Elders and another of Deacons.
Giving a step-by-step process Newton shares from personal experience [South Woods Baptist Church] and from the experience of other well-known ministries (Mark Dever's [Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C.], Jeff Noblit [First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals, Alabama], and John Piper's [Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN.] transitions from Deacon Board structures to adding Elders into the mix). The process is slow, methodical, and takes into consideration traditions, a thorough study of biblical passages on leadership, and how the principles are studied and bandied about in teams. The process for the four cases studied is very helpful to keep in mind no matter what background your church has, and where it's at in the transitional process.
I think this is an excellent book for leadership teams to study and for pastors, staffs, deacons, and elders to use in seeking to become as biblically effective as possible in seeking to develop a healthy infrastructure for the good of the Church and the glory of God. Newton really doesn't push any particular church government on the reader. He is more intent on the reader/s discovering what the Bible has to say about leadership and acting accordingly within what the Bible specifically warrants. I highly recommend this book!
Phil Newton's book,Elders in Congregational Life , dives into the challenge of moving a church with an unbiblical government to a church with a plurality of qualified elders. This book seems specifically aimed at Southern Baptists, but is applicable beyond. By being aimed at Baptist, Newton is able to address specific issues, use specific examples and pull from the history of the denomination, while consistently basing his argument in Scripture, to counter illegitimate examples, modern tradition that spurns the tradition of the founders of the SBC and poor exegesis.
Newton divides the book into three sections. The first section is used by Newton to address the problem of poor church polity and the history of biblical church polity in the SBC. Section two looks at 3 specific passages and how they support the idea of a plurality of leadership and what a biblical elder actually resembles. Section 3 is the application section. Rather than begin by giving a list of how-to's and pages of commands and promises, Newton chooses instead to tell the story of some churches that have made the change, and the challenges faced and success enjoyed by these examples. He then proceeds to make some practical suggestions. It is important to note that this section is not binding. It is not commanded in Scripture, or even modeled in Scripture, but it is practical advise gleaned from multiple sources that have led a change in a congregational church from single elder/pastor to plural, biblical elders.
It was when Newton began dealing specifically with the "first amongst equals", or the "senior pastor", that he lost my seemingly perpetual "amen". The term itself, "senior pastor", when applied to a man is offensive to me. According to Scripture, Christ is the Senior Pastor, the Chief Shepherd, of His Church and, subsequently, every local church. Anyone who serves the church as an elder is an under-shepherd of Christ. This is not just some semantical* nit-picking because it is important, as Newton points out in his book, that every elder realize that he is not autonomous and that he is accountable to the Shepherd for how he handles His flock. Beyond that, when addressing the role of the "senior pastor", it seemed to place much too high an emphasis on him. Plurality of leadership did not seem to flow into plurality in the pulpit and plurality when leading the way in decisions and announcements and vision. I would have liked Newton to have offered a vision of true plurality, where a plurality of men are filling the pulpit on a regular basis and the vision of the church is solely tied to the church, and not to the "first amongst equals".
Elders in Congregational Life is great for what it is. It is concise yet robust, dealing with the Biblical mandates, support and examples as well as addressing the rich history of plurality of leadership within Baptist history. The practical sections give a lot of great ideas, if at times the advice seemed a bit one-size-fits-all. If you want a broader defense of plurality of leadership and exposition of the texts dealing with plurality and elder qualifications, I would suggest Strauch's Biblical Eldership. But, if you want a solid, congregationalist based argument for plurality and a sufficiently thorough exposition on the qualifications of an elder, Newton's Elders in Congregational Life is a great read.
*It appears that the word "semantical" may not exist. For the sake of clarity, brevity, and possibly irony, I have left it in. Plus, legitimate semantics or not, I like the word. :-D