Book Review: “Biblical Eldership” by Alexander Strauch

Alexander Strauch’s Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership represents the first book by Strauch that I have reviewed. A gentleman by the name of Glenn Chatfield sent this book to me. Its book title caught my attention the most; I have not read many books that placed an emphasis on biblical eldership. Needless to say, I was interested to read this.

STRUCTURE

After some acknowledgements, abbreviations and a section on why this book is needed, four parts follow (pp. 7-14). Parts one and two address biblical eldership and the defense of biblical eldership, respectively (pp. 15-120). Part three addresses the exposition of scripture as it pertains to elders (pp. 121-276). Part four addresses related topics (pp. 277-296). Notes, a scripture index, an author index and a general index follow (pp. 297-337).

In giving the rationale for why this book is needed, Strauch explains that this book:

…is aimed primarily at churches that practice eldership but misunderstand its true biblical character and mandate. Its purpose is to define, as accurately as possible from Scripture, what biblical eldership is.

p. 10

Strauch also explains he has a twofold burden God has placed on his heart; “first, to help clarify the biblical doctrine of eldership and second, to help church elderships function effectively” (p. 11). Strauch admits his book is intended to fulfill the first purpose (p. 11). He states he has developed additional written and audio materials to help fulfill the second purpose (p. 11). While I am bummed his book does not fulfill both purposes, I believe a fulfillment of the first purpose can help the reader fulfill the second purpose.

PART ONE: BIBLICAL ELDERSHIP (CHAPTERS 1-5)

In part one, Strauch looks at five different types of leadership. He dedicates a single chapter to each type. These types are:

  1. Pastoral (Chapter 1)
  2. Shared (Chapter 2)
  3. Male (Chapter 3)
  4. Qualified (Chapter 4)
  5. Servant (Chapter 5)

One thing (among many) I appreciated in Strauch’s book is his mass amount of Scripture usage. He quotes a plethora of passages. As a result, I found myself going to my Bible early and often in a lot of different places to verify he was handling Scripture accurately. It is a reason it took me some time to read this book. Thankfully, this was time well spent.

In chapter one, Strauch explains why biblical elders must be flock-protectors, courageous, spiritually alert, managers, hard workers, flock-leaders, flock-feeders and hard workers (among other things; pp. 17-29). One quote (among many) I appreciated was his refutation of the business-like language that describes those in the seeker-driven movement:

Thus when Paul and Peter directly exhorted the elders to do their duty, they both employed shepherding imagery. It should be observed that these two giant apostles assign the task of shepherding the local church to no other group or single person but the elders. Paul reminds the Asian elders that God the Holy Spirit placed them in the flock as overseers for the purpose of shepherding the church of God (Acts 20:28). Peter exhorts the elders to be all that shepherds should be to the flock (1 Peter 5:2). We, then, must also view apostolic, Christianized elders to be primarily pastors of a flock, not corporate executives, CEO’s, or advisers to the pastor.
If we want to understand Christian elders and their work, we must understand the biblical imagery of shepherding. As keepers of sheep, New Testament elders are to protect, feed, lead, and care for the flock’s many practical needs.

pp. 16-17

I spent about a decade in the seeker-driven movement. I have heard people with the title of “executive pastor” refer to themselves as the CEO of a church. Doing such a thing is not biblical. No biblical text states a pastor is to be a business of any sort. Instead, the pastor is a shepherd.

Another thing Strauch emphasizes in chapter one is the difference between a “board elder” and a “shepherd elder” (pp. 15-16, 31-32). Strauch portrays board elders as those who are “advisers, committee men, executives and directors” (p. 31). I have heard the term “board of directors” in the seeker-driven movement. Strauch contends true biblical eldership is not a business committee; it is instead a “biblically qualified council of men that jointly pastors the local church” (p. 31). These people “lead the church, teach and preach the Word, protect the church from false teachers, exhort and admonish the saints in sound doctrine, visit the sick and pray, and judge doctrinal issues” (p. 16). Strauch appeals to biblical texts early and often to support his justifications.

In chapter two, Strauch explores the concept of “shared leadership” (pp. 35-50). One takeaway (among others) I got was the concept of a “council of equals” (pp. 45-50). Chapter three addresses the concept of male leadership (pp. 51-66). Strauch makes excellent points in this chapter. Strauch explores the concepts of male leadership in both the New Testament churches and with the apostolate (pp. 52-64). In his affirmation of the males’ being over the females in church, he appeals to the “go-to” texts of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-38. He also does an excellent job in refuting the egalitarian position of opposition to male leadership (pp. 64-66). Specifically, he explains how the Galatians 3:28 text, the verse egalitarians appeal to to justify women pastors, has absolutely nothing to do with the concept. Instead, the verse (in addition to basically the first 5 chapters) are in the greater context of affirming the precious doctrine of justification by faith.

In chapter four, Strauch explores the concept of qualified leadership (pp. 67-84). One quote (among a few) I appreciated was one Strauch cited by British theologian P.T. Forsyth; Forsyth states:

The real strength of the church is not the amount of its work but the quality of its faith. One man who truly knows his Bible is worth more to the church’s real strength than a crowd of workers who do not.

p. 80

In my opinion, one of the main failures of the seeker-driven movement is its embarrassing inability to equip the “crowd of workers” (also known as volunteers) it has with any type of reliable biblical competency. I learned more about Christianity by listening to Pastor Chris Rosebrough of Fighting For The Faith for eighteen months than I did in about a decade in the seeker-driven movement. That’s an issue. Pastor Chris knows his Bible. His teaching helped me learn what Christianity is really about. Sadly, he was far from local. He is in Minnesota. I am in California. Pastor Chris is qualified. The seeker-driven movement does not emphasize qualified leadership. That lack of emphasis is one of many reasons I left that movement.

In chapter five, Strauch looks at the concept of servant leadership (pp. 85-98). Strauch appeals to both Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul as he explains the concept (pp. 86-95). He then explains how elders are servant leaders (pp. 95-98).

PART TWO: DEFENSE OF BIBLICAL ELDERSHIP (CHAPTER 6)

Strauch dedicates a single chapter to part two; it is titled “Bible-Based Leadership Structure” (pp. 101-120). He dedicates the majority of this space to both plural eldership and the instructions given to these elders. Strauch appeals to a mass amount of biblical texts in his explanations. In both this chapter and the book itself, Strauch relies on such texts as Hebrews, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus and 1 Thessalonians (among many others). His heavy reliance on Scripture is something I really appreciated in this book.

PART THREE: THE EXPOSITION OF SCRIPTURE (CHAPTERS 7-13)

In yet another Scripture-heavy part, Strauch dedicates seven chapters to part three. This is arguably the densest part of the four; Strauch exposits heavily from various Scriptures in explaining seemingly everything there is to know about biblical elders. I cannot complain; I’d rather hear from Scripture than Strauch’s own opinion. Thankfully, I did not really think I got Strauch’s own opinion here.

In chapter seven, Strauch calls Acts “the logical starting point for the study of Christian elders” (p. 121). He calls both Acts 14:23 and Acts 20:17-38 “two of the most significant texts on eldership” (p. 121). Given that statement, I now show those texts:

23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Acts 14:23 (NASB)

From the above passage, one sees that elders are both appointed in every church and commended to the LORD.

17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them,

“You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there,23 except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.

25 “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face.26 Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

36 When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38 grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.

Acts 20:17-38 (NASB)

As you can see in the text above, being a pastor, shepherd and even an elder is a big deal. Pastors can get blood on their hands by not declaring the whole counsel of God. Repentance and faith are included in that “whole counsel.” Elders should most definitely be biblical. Moreover, there should be a reverence in being an elder. One should not take the position casually.

Before I move to chapter eight, I wish to share a good quote (among a few) I saw in chapter seven (p. 155):

Paul entrusted the elders not only to God, but to “the word of His grace.” With Paul’s frightening predictions of wolves, false teachings, and divisions, the elders desperately needed “the word of His grace,” which is the full gospel story (Acts 13:43; 14:3; 20:24). The gospel is the story of the wonderful Lord Jesus Christ, His person and His work; it is the story of God’s love and grace to undeserving sinners; it is the message of forgiveness, the promise of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. The elders must rest in the living, supernatural message and continue to learn of its infinite riches and depths.

One does not graduate from the Gospel. It is not a flu shot. One thing (among many) that drove me away from the seeker-driven movement was its heavy emphasis on the law (what to do) combined with a neglect of the Gospel (what has been done for you). Biblical elders must never treat the Gospel as an afterthought. Instead, they must treat it as precious. Finally, they must preach it. This can involve telling someone he/she is born dead in trespasses in sins.

Ephesians 2:1-10 explains (NASB):

2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

The Bible is clear that people are born dead in trespasses and sins (2:1-3). God’s being rich in mercy makes one alive in Christ (2:4). Furthermore, it is by grace through faith that one is saved (2:5-9). It is not based on works (2:9).

If you do not believe what Ephesians 2:1-10 states, I would ask you please look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen something, even if it was small? Have you ever used God’s name in vain? Jesus said that whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus also said that if you ever get angry at someone, you’ve committed murder in the heart (Matthew 5:21-26). Just the mere thoughts of adultery and murder make you guilty of the very acts themselves.

Please understand that it only takes one murder to be a murderer, one lie to be a liar and so forth. David said in Psalm 51:5 that he was conceived in sin. Genesis 6:5 states that every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually. Clearly, man has a sin problem. Romans 3:23 states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Man is in big trouble with God because of his sin. This is more amplified by the fact that perfection is the standard (Matthew 5:48).

Now, some people try to justify their sin by trying to balance it out with the good deeds that they have done. However, if you were to try that in a court of law, the judge would throw the book at you. A good judge would not accept a bribe. He would cast you off into jail. God likewise will not accept a bribe, for there is no partiality with Him (Deuteronomy 10:17; Ephesians 6:9).

Thankfully, Jesus came to solve the sin problem over 2000 years ago (Isaiah 53:1-12). You and I broke the law. Jesus paid the fine (Matthew 26:14-28:20). This means that the judge can do what’s legally right in dismissing your case. He can say, “This person has broken the law, but someone has paid his fine. He’s out of here.” This is good news.

There are two things a person must do. He must repent. This means to turn from his sin (Mark 1:16; Luke 24:36-49; 2 Timothy 2:19-26; Acts 17:30-31). He must also put his trust in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31, 17:30-31; Romans 4:1-25, 10:1-17; Galatians 3:1-14; John 6:26-29). These gifts of repentance and faith are granted by God (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:22-26). If you repent and put your trust in the Savior Jesus Christ, He will forgive you of your sins and grant you everlasting life (John 6:47). Oh may you know His mercy and grace today if you have never repented and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. 

Chapter eight is titled “Paul’s Letters to the Church” (p. 161). In the chapter, Strauch looks at the “doctrine of eldership” (p. 164). In chapters nine and ten, Strauch looks at Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus, respectively (pp. 181-238). At this point, I should note that Strauch begins every chapter in this book with a citation of a biblical passage. For chapter nine, Strauch cites 1 Timothy 3:1 (p. 181). It’s a beautiful verse. However, Strauch cites the New Century Version of that verse. The New Century Version is a bad translation because it has some New Age suggestions in some verses. This includes Ephesians 4:6. Because Strauch was (spoiler alert) solid overall in this book, I won’t thrash him to pieces. Instead, I will consider this biff a blind spot (or fatal flaw) of his (see pp. 40-41 for a brief discussion of that interesting concept). Moreover, this book was written in 1995. I am sure he has cleaned up a lot of blind spots/fatal flaws since then. I know I have.

Before I move on to chapter eleven and beyond, I wish to share a gut-checking section from Strauch on the backend of chapter nine. The section falls within the context of “giving double honor” to the elders. I then offer commentary on it.

Twice in the New Testament, Deuteronomy 25:4 is quoted to support the right of teachers and preachers to receive material sustenance for their labors (1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18). To refuse to support hard-working teachers of the Word is as unjust, heartless, and selfish as muzzling an animal while it is working, which was a common practice among greedy, ancient farmers. The passage thus implies the provision of adequate living support, not merely token gifts, for the worker.

Paul’s New Testament quotation, “the laborer is worthy of his wages,” is from Luke 10:7. Jesus originally spoke these words to the seventy before He sent them out to preach. Paul applied His words to all who teach and preach the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14). Here, in 1 Timothy 5:17, 18, Paul applies the same words to elders who labor in the Word.

No matter how poor a local congregation is, it must exercise faith and liberality before the Lord (2 Cor. 8:1-5) in giving to those who labor in the Word. In short, God’s people must honor their elders. “For what could be more unkind,” writes Calvin, “than to have no care for those who have the care of the whole Church.”

Today we desperately need to capture Paul’s passion and vision for the centrality of preaching and teaching the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit. If we do, we will gladly render double honor to elders who labor in the Word. If we don’t, we are doomed to wander far off course into forbidden waters, just as the church at Ephesus did.

pp. 214-215

I caught myself saying “ouch” to the above section; I know my giving could be better. What I appreciated from Strauch is his rightly handling God’s Word in explaining the biblical rationale for giving to those who labor in the Word. When I was in the seeker-driven movement, the pastor would preach a message on giving/tithing at least once a year (this isn’t in a vacuum; others pastors across the world do the same thing). Normally this would be in alignment with a 90-day tithe challenge (other pastors do the same thing). These pastors normally twist Malachi 3:8-10 in doing so. Sadly, I have seen some pastors lately twist John 3:16 in such a message. Moreover, their twist is absolute blasphemy because they turn that beautiful Gospel text into law. What I do now is show John 3:16. I bold the part of the verse they quote to support tithing/giving. You should notice something is wrong when I stop the bolding. I show the NASB translation:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16 is about eternal life. Sadly, these pastors who twist the above text to support tithing/giving do so to their own destruction. Moreover, they blaspheme in doing so. I am glad Strauch is not one of those guys. Had Strauch included John 3:16 in his rationale for giving to elders, I would have had a major problem.

In chapter eleven, Strauch looks at Peter’s instruction to the asian elders (pp. 239-252). In chapter twelve, Strauch looks at James’ instruction to the sick (pp. 253-264). To conclude part three, Strauch dedicates a chapter to the exposition of Hebrews 13:17 (pp. 265-276). That verse states:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

Hebrews 13:17 (NASB)

PART FOUR: RELATED TOPICS (CHAPTERS 14-15)

Strauch dedicates two chapters to conclude the “parts” part of this book. In chapter fourteen, Strauch explains the appointment of elders (pp. 277-290). In this process, Strauch analyzes the elements of desire, qualification, selection, examination, installation and prayer (pp. 279-289). In chapter fifteen, Strauch examines the topic of elders and the congregation (pp. 291-295). Strauch then concludes the book with a lengthy section of notes, a good-sized Scripture index, a brief author index and a decent general index (pp. 297-337).

CONCLUSION

I consider this book an advanced reading; Strauch has so many Scripture citations that I probably spent as much time reading Scriptures cited in this book as I did the book itself. Thankfully, he cites some of the same Scriptures repeatedly. As a result, I became more familiar with those particular Scriptures (1 Timothy, Titus, 1 Peter, etc.) after reading this book. While the book is an advanced reading, I think it is a must-have for the Christian. Strauch is nearly flawless in his Scripture handling. Moreover, he takes various biblical stances on a variety of topics. I would consider this book a classic that will highly educate one on the concept of biblical eldership.

NOTE: I emailed him my review via https://www.biblicaleldership.com/help/contact-us/. I also tweeted my review. While his Twitter account seemingly has had no activity since August 2014, I still tagged him in the tweet.

Published by Clint Adams

My name is Clinton Adams. I am a born-again Christian. I used to have the blog "faithcontenderblog.wordpress.com." After taking it down, I have since rebooted as "The Earnest Layman" as I earnestly contend for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3). I also promote sound Christian doctrine and rebuke that which contradicts it (Titus 1:9). I mainly do book reviews. However, I also do other types of posts (normally extensive). Should you request a certain topic, I will most definitely consider it. :) If you ever have questions or comments on anything you read here, feel free to comment with your feedback on any of my posts. You can also email me at earnestlayman@outlook.com. If you really like what you read here, you can always follow my blog. Thank you so much for reading!

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