The service of the Christian Elder is rooted in our Jewish tradition, but it also has characteristics unique to the New Covenant. A quick study of just one of these differences between old and new tells a lot about God’s missional design for the New Covenant church.

The [New Testament] local church has a simple two-level organizational structure of a plurality of elders and a plurality of deacons (Phil 1:1). The synagogue has the monarchical president who is responsible for worship.1

The Synagogue structure, ruled by a President, strongly resembles the Pastor-CEO structure we examined in the previous post.  So why then did the Apostles embrace some Synagogue traditions and, in the case of leadership, make such a radical departure from their Jewish brethren?


It is my opinion, the Apostles departed from the Synagogue model of leadership because they recognized, through Divine revelation, that it would restrict the spread of the Gospel in several ways.

  1. The Synagogue model is less adaptable to diverse and changing cultures.
  2. The Synagogue model hinders rapid growth and expansion because there are fewer leaders modeling and equipping the younger in faith.
  3. The Synagogue model has a limited attraction because it only draws in people who connect with the President.

Therefore, the Apostles established the church using a missional structure that could change, grow, morph and adapt to the needs of each culture.

The norm of church rule was plurality and shared leadership. This may understandably have been so because the church was a “new creation” and the apostles had no existing pattern of leadership to follow. While the fact of government in church was evident, still no biblical form was described. The church had the freedom to evolve within the general framework of church polity.2

It should be noted that while the Apostles eschewed the tradition of the Synagogue President, the establishment of a missional structure using a plurality of Elders was not a rejection of all authority or leadership in the church.

That the church is to have leadership is a divine requirement (Heb 13:7, 17). Organization is not wrong or carnal. People go to extremes on this matter. Some feel that the less organization the better, though in practice the work is hindered by not having sufficient organization. Others go to the other extreme and are so highly organized that it is difficult, if not impossible, for the Head of the church to be heard.3

As I stated before in my post, “Systems For A Viable Body” structure is necessary for a healthy church. Yet, the simple mission of the church is not something we fulfill through systems or programs (these serve only a secondary and supporting purpose). Allowing the Elders, deacons, mature disciples, staff, etc… to take the lead, model the incarnational-life of Christ, and equip every person to fulfill the simple mission of the church is the start of a healthy structure. Like a ripple in a pond, leadership lives the Spirit-filled life of Christ and inspires others to Reveal, Love and Abide.


This missional structure is a positive reflection of the principles I have outlined throughout this series. The emphasis is on the following four elements.

  1. The church is the Divine-Family with one God and Father over all.
  2. The Family as a living group instead of a legal organization.
  3. Eliminate structures that hinder mission; Build structures that empower people.
  4. Build a church driven by Divine mission, not by organizational hierarchy, personalities, or personal agendas.

The maks of a healthy missional structure are demonstrated in the eight elements shown in the graphic above.

  1. Spirit-Gifted service.
  2. Need-Oriented Evangelism
  3. Empowering Leadership
  4. Inspiring Worship
  5. Relational Structures
  6. Loving Relationships
  7. Passionate Spirit-Life
  8. Holistic Small Groups

Now that we can see the missional structure of an Elder-led Family, my next post will add one last component of structure that places relationship over institution.


1 Grace Seminary, Grace Theological Journal Volume 6, 6:322 (Grace Seminary, 1985; 2002).

2. World Evangelical Fellowship. Theological Commission, vol. 6, Evangelical Review of Theology : Volume 6, ” electronic ed., Logos Library System; 292 (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Periodicals, 2000, 1982).

3. Charles Caldwell Ryrie, A Survey of Bible Doctrine (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995, c1972).

Dr. Joe Miller (aka JR) is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. In addition, he is a church planter and coach for emerging leaders. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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