Elders Lead A Healthy Family: Missional Structure

Elders Lead A Healthy Family: Missional Structure

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 other young 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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  • http://www.beingfilled.com/ Chuck McKnight

    I know this is a series on elders, not deacons, but I don’t think there is such an office as a “deacon.” Rather, a deacon (meaning servant) is something that all believers are supposed to be. While there are certainly certain positions of service to which different believers are called, we should all be deacons.

    An important passage to consider is Ephesians 4:11–12, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (NASB).

    • http://www.MoreThanCake.org/ J.R. Miller

      I do struggle with the word “office”, but I have yet to come up with a better term. Acts 6 shows how “deacons” were chosen and appointed by the laying on of hands. So, yes, all Christians are called to serve, but that does not preclude some who are called to a specific “office” of service. If you read the rest of Ephesians, it says that some are given the gift of Faith. Does this mean that not all Christians are to exercise Faith? Of course not, so we see other patterns of instruction to the church where a word is used to describe ALL believers and then in other places to describe a selection of individuals.

      There is a healthy balance here between a chaotic “free-for-all” and “rigid-structures” that needs to be struck.

      • http://www.beingfilled.com/ Chuck McKnight

        Acts 6 is the standard proof-text for deacons, yet the word is never even used there. Yes, these men were chosen for a specific area of service, but they were not chosen as “deacons” like we think of them today.

        While the word diakonos is not used there, diakonia (service) is. Yet that same word is used both for the serving of tables and for the “ministry of the word” (verse 4). So we again see that all believers should be deacons (servants), but different people will have different areas of service.

        • http://www.MoreThanCake.org/ J.R. Miller

          well, you are arguing against a point I never make. Maybe one day I will do a series on deacons, but until then all I can say is that I appreciate your thoughts on the topic.

          • http://www.beingfilled.com/ Chuck McKnight

            I guess my point, as it relates to your post, is that I don’t see deacons as an element in the “structure” of the church. It’s just something that all believers should be. :) Sorry for hijacking the comments.

          • http://www.MoreThanCake.org/ J.R. Miller

            Chuck, the only place I mention deacons is in this sentence,
            “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.”

            The “structure” I talk about is that everyone who is seen as a leader in the church (and I consider leadership a mark of maturity, not a job description) should work in concert to model the life of Jesus and inspire others to live the Gospel-mission.

            So in the context of my post, are you saying that deacons should not be part of this structure? Which part is offensive to your ecclesiology, the part about working cooperatively with others, modeling the incarnational-life of Christ, or equipping others to fulfill the mission of the Church?

            I also list 4 specific applications of my statement on building structure. Can you point out which of these four violates your definition of “deacon”?

          • http://www.beingfilled.com/ Chuck McKnight

            I did not find anything offensive with what you wrote, brother. :) I was just pointing out something that I believe has caused a lot a lot of confusion among believers.

            And my comments were not directed at the text of the post so much as at the charts, which both seem to place deacons as staff between the elders and the congregants.

          • http://www.MoreThanCake.org/ J.R. Miller

            That is a relief.. I was under the impression that you were saying my post put deacons into the kind of structure you were criticizing. I don’t come from a tradition that uses “deacon” in a highly structured way, so I often forget that when others read that word they get confused because they are coming from a different church background.

            I can see the potential for confusion with the graphic. In context of the post, however, what I am trying to visually convey is the no matter what “titles” a church uses for their leaders, they all need to work in concert to fulfill the mission. I did not intend to use “staff” as a synonym for “deacon” nor as I have tried to make clear in the entire series, do I ever use “pastor” as a synonym for “Elder”.

            If I was smarter, I could make a graphic that conveyed all those things… but I just can’t think of a way :-(

          • http://www.beingfilled.com/ Chuck McKnight

            No worries, brother. :) Sorry for nit-picking on a minor issue.

          • http://www.MoreThanCake.org/ J.R. Miller

            Thanks for your friendship and participation in the discussion brother!

          • http://www.beingfilled.com/ Chuck McKnight

            Thank you as well!

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