I’ve always found it interesting that scripture likens the people of God to a flock of sheep. Sheep are defenseless, are not very intelligent and easily panicked. If well-cared for by shepherds who protect, nourish, and do not abuse them, they turn grass into massive quantities of wool. I could spend time on the ways God’s people are like sheep, but for the purpose of this review, the more important question is how those who lead God’s people are to be like shepherds. Indeed, the term pastor is derived from a term meaning “shepherd”.
This book, edited by Benjamin Merkle and Thomas Schreiner, is a collection of articles exploring this question, considering not only the character of those who “shepherd” God’s flock but also the structures of leadership that most closely reflect biblical teaching. And it is here that I should give a caveat. It is not apparent either on the cover material or in descriptions of this book, that it is written from a Southern Baptist perspective. All the contributors are either theologians or pastors associated with Southern Baptist institutions and so the book reflects the polity and theological convictions of the Convention, although advocating strongly for plural eldership, which is not necessarily the practice of many Southern Baptist churches which have a single pastor-elder. In particular, all teaching roles are limited to men, while diaconal roles which do not involve teaching are also open to women.
Given that, the contributors nevertheless provide an accessible account of biblical teaching and subsequent church practice around leadership. Whether one agrees with the perspective of the contributors or not, there is much of worth in this volume. It begins by exploring the question of the degree to which the church derived its leadership structures from the synagogue structure of Judaism. While noting the carry-over of elders, it argues that the church usage focuses on spiritual rather than a larger civic role. The next three chapters explore the New Testament teaching on leadership. Particularly in Acts and the Epistles, it argues that the terms “bishop” (or overseer), “elder”, and “pastor” all refer to the same person, where elder is the office and pastor and overseer describe the functions of this office. It also notes the precursor to the diaconal role in Acts 6 and the teaching on deacons in the pastorals. And these also substantiate the local rule of congregations with a connectional association, particularly with the Jerusalem church.
Two succeeding chapters provide a history of the papacy, that while not favoring this structure, was more descriptive than critical. Similar treatments follow of Presbyterian, and Anglican forms of church government, each with some critique at the end of the chapters. Then the case is made for the Baptist form of church government, allowing that plural teaching (but not ruling) elders best conforms to scripture, that congregational rule is most biblical, and against any church hierarchy. Bruce Ware then gives a summary theology of church leadership from this perspective followed by a pastoral exhortation by Andrew Davis on the practice of church leadership in today’s world.
I found the book helpful for its review of the biblical material and its discussion of church leadership vis a vis the Jewish context out of which the church sprang. The review of leadership through church history was informative and much of the material on the contemporary practice of leadership challenging to live up to, regardless of the context in which one practices leadership–particularly the emphasis on being scripturally informed, patient and yet bold in leadership, and protecting God’s flock against attack. This all is a healthy corrective to the excessive attention to business models of leadership given in many church leadership texts.
I do not think the contributors adequately dealt with the argument that church leadership structures were still in formative stages during the period when the New Testament texts were written, or the contention that things written to particular local situations are prescriptive for all time. Nor do they deal with how structures beyond the local congregation played a critical role in articulating and regulating orthodoxy and orthopraxy throughout the church.
This book will be most helpful for those from Baptist-related polities or those who wish to better understand Baptist theology and practice around church leadership. Others can profit from the biblical and historical discussions keeping in mind the bias of the contributors.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”