Jeramie Rinne. Church Elders. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014. 146 pp. $14.99
Church and Ministry
Should churches have elders? How many elders should they have? Should they be paid or non-paid? What qualifies an elder? What do they do? How do you train one?
If these questions cross your mind, then Church Elders – a sensational book in the 9Marks Building Healthy Churches series – will be a huge benefit. Even if these questions don’t cross your mind, this book will get your church and you, pastor, thinking about biblical church eldership.
Jeramie Rinne is the senior pastor of South Shore Baptist Church in the suburbs of Boston. He has reflected much on being an under-shepherd of his over-shepherd Jesus Christ. The fruit of this reflection is found in Church Elders, a concise handbook that helps churches identify godly men to lead the local flock of God.
Chapter one presents the biblical qualifications of an elder. Chapter two connects eldership to shepherding. Chapter three is a reminder that all elders must be bible teachers. Chapter four argues that elders watch over and protect the flock from straying. Chapter five checks pride by helping elders lead, through a servant-leader structure, without lording. Chapter six shares the advantages of leadership plurality. Chapter seven instructs elders to be worthy of imitation. Chapter eight urges elders to prayer.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
In my reading of Church Elders, I found myself celebrating two key benefits. First, Rinne exposes misguided motives and models of church eldership and corrects them. Second, he gives sound counsel on qualities of elders that often go overlooked or not practiced at all.
In the first chapter, Rinne shares misconceptions about the qualities of church elders. There are three common insufficient reasons for installing someone as an elder: faithful membership, big giving, and having a leadership role outside of church. Sure, these are good qualities, but they are not biblical qualities for being an elder.
Rinne corrects these elder installation mishaps with biblical qualities: a desire for eldership, godly character, able to teach the bible, a leader of his family, being a man, and being a believer. He provides corroborating biblical evidence for these elder qualifications and concludes that biblical elders are those in whom “the sheep should detect strong traces of the Chief shepherd in the lives and character of would-be under-shepherds” (30).
In Chapter two, Rinne helps churches diagnose a popular non-biblical structure for polity. He says, “Pastors, elders, and member often misinterpret the church through business and organizational lenses” (31). He argues that it is popular to turn eldership into a board of trustees. This is an importation of a corporate business model into the Church rather than exporting the biblical view of shepherding from the text into the Church.
Is this your model of church eldership? Then, listen up. Rinne corrects this model by reminding us that elders are pastors. Shepherds always smell like sheep, which is hard to do when calling shots from a boardroom.
Rinne biblically synthesizes a biblical model here: “Just as literal shepherds live among their flocks and know their sheep, and just as Jesus immersed himself in relationships with his disciples, so elders share their lives with church members. They see people as ministry” (36). This should be the aim of every elder team.
Church Elders brings out not just the normal exposition of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 – which it does really well – but it also guides churches to consider qualities that get overlooked or go unpracticed by elders.
One such quality is the elder as teacher. Rinne posits, “If elders shepherd Jesus’s sheep, then their most basic task is to feed the souls of church members from the Scriptures” (45). Rinne reveals that many elders are shy of preaching and teaching. But as 1 Timothy 3:2 and Ephesians 4:11 identify, elders are teachers. Thus, they not only must participate, but they also must be equipped to protect the teaching of the Bible.
Another important quality of an elder is his role to keep sheep from straying. To do this, elders must know who is in the flock. Rinne says, “It seems that biblical shepherding requires some clear way of defining the flock…to put it another way, church eldership requires some concept of church membership” (60). Rinne then presents a practical and helpful section on five species of straying sheep and how elders can protect them (62-68). Quite honestly, chapter four’s treatment on tracking down strays sets Church Elders apart from other books I’ve read on this subject.
A final noteworthy yet often overlooked or unpracticed discipline of an elder is prayer. Rinne remarks, “When an elder realizes he is a thirsty, wounded, wandering, hunted sheep himself, he will bleat for the Good Shepherd’s aid” (113). Because this is the case, elders should practice prayer extensively. Church Elders’ outstanding section on this subject – covering public, presbyter, personal, and private prayer – will encourage and equip elder teams to leverage this discipline (113-19).
All said, Church Elders is a book that you want to carefully read with your leadership team. Church Elders will either cause you to repent and align with God’s biblical design for church polity, or it will affirm and sharpen what you are already doing.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
Church Elders causes us to abandon misconceived motives and models for a biblically lush view of eldership.