Sunday: Elders in the Early Church

Look up the following texts: Acts 6:1-6, Acts 14:23, Acts 15:6, 1 Tim. 5:17, 1 Pet. 5:2. What insights do these verses give us regarding the challenges facing the early church and the role of its leaders?

Early Church Elders

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A large group of people becoming believers and joining the church is a great blessing from God. Yet, as the experience of the earliest Christians illustrates, rapid growth can bring problems.

For instance, Acts 1-5 documents the leading of the Holy Spirit and the conversion of many to Christianity. Acts 6:1-6 shows the result: the group became too big for its leadership, and it needed to put structures in place in order to manage the day-to-day functions of the church.

The issue that brought this weakness in organizational structure to a head was a complaint of discrimination. The Greek-speaking group complained that its widows were neglected in the daily distribution of food. As a response, a group of people, the deacons, were especially appointed to assist the 12 apostles with the management of the church’s resources.

It is true that the early church was led by the Holy Spirit in a special way. But even then there was a need to set up church structures. One key group of church leaders needed very early was the elders, who were established for each local congregation. In fact, appointing elders to lead these newly formed groups of Christians was something that Paul and Barnabas did as they went to places that had yet to hear about Jesus (Acts 14:23).

Elders were given many different roles in early Christianity. As leaders of their local community, from time to time they acted as instructors in teaching new converts. They preached, and they ensured the necessary things were done for the well-being of the community (Acts 15:6, 1 Timothy 5:17, 1 Peter 5:2).

What are ways that you can learn to work better with the leaders in your local church, even when you don’t always agree on things?


Sunday: Elders in the Early Church — 17 Comments

  1. It's ineresting the apostle saw the need to establish some organisational structure now that there was rapid physical expansion of the church -Acts 6:1-6.They formed the office of eldership based on the ability of the elected individuals to instruct, guide, teach the converts and preach. Today our church top leadership isn't based on the above named qualities but on the weight of your pocket, social class, social capital etc.Some elders can't even teach the new converts into Bible doctrines while some have neglected their duty and have ventured into running for political posts. Is this right biblically?

    • While your criticism may be true in some circumstances Simeon, there are a lot of leaders who fulfill the ability requirements very well. There are leaders who are good teachers and preachers. One must remember too that leaders are people like you and me. Just as we have weaknesses and faults they too are not without their weaknesses and have to rely on the Lord. Finally, if we want our leaders to lead, then we must be worthy disciples. It is hard for an eagle to fly if it is followed by a bunch of turkeys.

  2. It is interesting that the lesson attributes the problem of distribution of food to widows with a “weakness in organizational structure” when the context points to a problem with an existing function. So the seven men chosen to deal with this issue did not establish a new organizational structure in the church, but focused attention on a specific functional problem in the church. The early church was very small on organizational structure, but was very big on gospel function. Leaders in the church were described by function (what they did), not by a position.

    This can be verified by looking at the Greek words used in their context to describe what we now classify as positions in the church. One will also note that persons were “ordained” by prayer and the laying on of hands for specific function, not for a position in the church. Hierarchical (highly structured) organizations are not generally noted for being adaptable to changing situations or effective in professed function. This aligns with Simeon Ogutu’s comments.

  3. Any time church officials are chosen they get into a servantship position as opposed to gaining a status. God calls us to serve Him not to help Him rule. Unfortunately those chosen for different positions go to an extent of fighting to secure such positions with the mind of gaining status; that's not the mind of Christ. A leader is a servant. If leaders could be executing their duties well, then we could be having no problems unless they have rebellious people to lead. But most of the times people err because leaders lead them that way.
    KJV Isaiah 9
    16 For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed.

  4. The lesson is captioned; "elders in the early church," while Acts 6:1-6 talks about deacons, do elders and deacon refer to the same thing?

    • The lesson deals with both elders and deacons. It was deacon, Stephen, who was stoned for preaching the gospel. And it was another deacon, Philip, who baptized the Ethiopian government official.

  5. Like I mentioned to Sabbath Afternoon Lesson, we need to consent God first before giving members to act in church, and wait on His answer. Let God elects for us, not with our own desires. Then we can bless them for the work that they will be performing in the future for God.

  6. The Lesson mentions Elders as well as Deacons meaning, leaders. The admonitions in 1Peter 5:1-5 and comments, are usually in need of correct application. The examples we observe in different churches of our faith, often are leaders as described in name only. While the office are committee approved, there also are occasional political overtones. I would site Elders that do not read the Holy Bible. Others are past functioning as Elders or Deacons on a regular basis. Differences in affirmation of Sabbath Church services. These are just a few of the unrecorded challenges that we see.

  7. As much as Gods ideal plan for leadership was service to him, it is also true that human beings are not fit to do the Job before them that is why they have to depend upon the Holy Spirit. It is not a matter of who chose them, but who do they rely on. For example even though Saul was chosen of God he deviated and led Israel astray, Samson, David etc. We all fall short, so we cannot blame leaders always when we err sometimes like Israel caused Aaron to make a golden calf, we too we influence our leaders to compromise. Let us pray for these leaders, if they are strong so will we be, if they are weak we might also be found wanting

    • Hi Mandlenkosi. Let's be clear, if we are "found wanting" when Jesus comes, we will have no one to blame but our (rebellious) selves. If our leaders could cause our destruction in the lake of fire, then they would also be our "saviors" and that cannot be true since there is only One who saves... Jesus.

      It is our faith in Jesus that saves, not our faith in our leaders. It is our rejection of Jesus that leads to eternal death, not poor leadership in our church.

      Whatever the quality of our church leadership, it is still true that only Jesus saves.

  8. Leadership should not be taken to be 'I am the best or the most clever'among the rest. God appoints leaders through prayers from members tasked to choose leaders.
    Problems creep in when those chosen begin to use their 'personal wisdom and elevate themselves above the led- thus become proud. God resists the proud.
    A leader, as others have said, is supposed to be a servant of the people, casting his/her cares upon the Lord. When a leader seeks wisdom and guidance from above, his/her leading will be smooth and one appreciated by all. Abasement is beginning of exaltation.

  9. Fellow believers,the bottom line is that there has to be leadership in place at a given time and the lesson is just there to remind all of us the Godly yardstick to leadership. Let's learn and apply it in our daily walk with Jesus for whatever Peter is saying in this lesson,he saw it in the life ministry of Jesus Christ himself. Elder K Zambia

  10. Per today's last questions, it is to pray, and subdivide the duties!-
    Is how it occured to me! This, meaning, to further subdivide the duties that is! Well from the Holy Spirit that is, from the Holy Spirit meaning with respects to the revelation and all!

    oh and think of how much more effective it is when Your responsibilities are actually manageable!

    I mean seriously, break it down--let's--as The HOLY SPIRIT GAVE IT TO me!
    Think how effective it is, to go from Six (6) tasks to three (3)! How much more effective you are or become is what I meant!
    so I don't know!-But any comments, questions or concerns, please feel free! I await! or Your thoughts, especially Your thoughts!

  11. I think the deacons are mentioned in order to show the emergence of certain functions to meet present needs. Right after Pentecost the church was of one heart and one soul (Acts 4:32). The situation of discrimination was splitting the unity of the churh. So deacons, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, were appointed to meet the problem. Unity was restored and the church continued to grow (Acts 6:7). Errors from without and from within had to be faced by the elders to uphold and to restore unity (Acts 20:28-30). They had to be founded and in Scripture (1 Timothy 5:17).

    History has developed necessary structures to meet the needs of the church on its local, national and worldwide levels. These ordering functions were initiated by the outpouring and the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28).

    Winfried Stolpmann

  12. we can learn to work better with leaders in our local churches by deliberately and earnestly praying for them and their duties in church, also by learning to play our part fully and honestly as members

    • Oscar, we have examples of leadership roles that can be both useful and in need. A word that the world of computers uses is Apps, Application can make the difference in our understanding when discussing scriptural admonitions. For instance when I read a text that needs application I try to compare the reason or the circumstances that the admonition was given. This often requires a bit of research. When confronted with what we might label a judgment call, we know the texts pretty well about a mote in ones eye. We also have God given differences of opinion. As you mentioned Oscar prayer is important , we are told to pray without ceasing.


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