Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Book Review: Biblical Eldership
I missed everyone yesterday. Had a full day away from my study. I make it up to you with a critical book review.
Strauch, Alexander. Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership. rev. and exp., Colorado Springs:Lewis and Roth, 2005, 337 p.
Alexander Strauch writes to correct an area of neglect and misinformation he sees as all too common in “Churches.” That area is the area of eldership and church leadership in general. In his forward Strauch admits that “churches worldwide practice some for of eldership because they believe it to be a biblical teaching” (10). The problem he proposes to solve is that most of these groups do not understand the true nature of elders and he consequently suggests a return to the “only God-given, authoritative source or authentic Christianity” (10). Strauch then begins Bible-based look at elders and elderships, dividing his information into four sections: Part One – Biblical Eldership, Part Two – Defense of Biblical Eldership, Part Three – The Exposition of Scripture, and Part Four – Related Topics.
Strauch effectively begins by debunking the idea that elders are a form of board of directors, policy-makers, financial officers, etc. (15). This concept is wide-spread in the denominational world and is also within the churches of Christ. Strauch then proceeds to define the Biblical role of elders as shepherds, overseers, leaders, and care-providers. As shepherds, elders must be spiritually alert for danger and protect the flock (congregation) from worldly influences and doctrinal error. This according to Strauch requires elders to be men who spend time with the Word of God. This time in God’s word also provides them the knowledge to “feed the flock” and lead them to godliness. Strauch does not take away all financial matters from elderships and includes such in the idea of leading as stewards or managers of God’s flock as overseers (25). Strauch also makes certain that his readers understand that elders are to assist with practical needs that include: visiting the sick, comforting the bereaved, strengthening the weak, praying for all the sheep, visiting new members, and providing counsel (29). This does not remove the responsibility from all Christians, but emphasizes that elders are servant leaders and examples for others to follow.
Strauch sees elders as members of a group that serve a local congregation. He develops this correct concept in chapter 2 on Shared Leadership, and supports the idea throughout the book as he looks at passages on elders and elder responsibility. Strauch sees that each local church should have her own elders (plural) and that they should be from among the members and not hired professionals (37). Strauch correctly states: “The concept of the pastor as the lonely, trained professional – the sacred person over the church who can never really become a part of the congregation – is utterly unscriptural” (43).
Strauch is effective in establishing that the eldership is male in make-up in chapter 3. This chapter rings of familiarity as it is similar to the material LaGard Smith writes in his book, “Male Spiritual Leadership.” Both Smith and Strauch are correct in their application of the scriptures and do so with respect to women and their valuable yet different roles they play apart from male leadership roles.
Strauch spends many pages on the qualifications of elders, not only in the chapter of qualified leadership, but in the multiple chapters that compose Part Two – Defense of Biblical Eldership and Part Three – The Exposition of Scripture. Most of the problems with Strauch’s material are in his explanation of the qualifications of elders. Strauch suggests that elders do not have to be men of advanced age. Without knowing specifically what he considers advanced age, one must realize that the early Christians would have associated the idea of elder with the elders of cities in both Hebrew and Greek cultures. These men would be older as the term “elder” indicates. Strauch also strays in assessing that elders can be single and without children. He assigns the passages in Timothy and Titus as meaning that they are sexually above reproach and are good household managers and “if” they are married, and “if” they have children then they should care for them in the right way. Strauch misses the point (see 189-193). The text says married and with children and we need to take it as such. Unmarried and childless men can and do serve in different ways.
Another area where Strauch may be shaky is in his implied understanding of the extent of an elderships authority. Although in one sentence Strauch affirms that elders serve in one local congregation, he also sees them over cities containing multiple smaller churches. If he is seeing small groups that occasionally meet separately, he may be right, but if he sees the individual cells as part of a larger unassembled body, he is not correct (144).
Strauch does his reader a great service with the word studies he isolates in separate text boxes. Much of that material gives insight into the background of the words and the thoughts of Strauch himself. These sub-sections help to understand where he is coming from as a student of God’s word.
Over-all Strauch is successful in his attempt to take a Biblical look at eldership. Although there are sections where I think he needs to study further, it might truly be said of him, “you are not far from the Kingdom.”