This is Part 2 of a series on discipleship and the nature of the Church. Follow along as we explore these topics! This series will be reaching for the top shelf in regards to study, but feel free to take your time or re-read as needed!


During his life, Jesus told his disciples, “I will build my Church,”6 and upon Jesus’ ascent to heaven, He gave the church The Great Commission. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” 7 Jesus’ command to His disciples is to make disciples, and to do this they are told to 1) go, 2) baptize, and 3) teach.

However, the emphasis of the mandate is not on the “going” but the main verb is “make disciples”, and the “going” is a participle indicating a necessary accompanying action. It’s a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple.8

In the book of Acts, the church began its vibrant growth and journey in making disciples. The word for church in the Greek New Testament (ekklēsia) means “gathering,” “meeting,” or “assembly.” While some of these elements might be present in a church, the Church isn’t a holy building where weekly spiritual meetings take place, a Eucharistic society where God dispenses grace through the sacraments, nor is it a moral police force of society seeking to bring virtuous change to the society. One useful definition of the church is, “…the community of all true believers for all time,”9 including “all persons anywhere in the world who are savingly related to Christ… who have lived and been part of his body, and all who will live and be part of his body.”10

This definition is helpful in that it clarifies the difference between someone who merely attends a local church and someone who is a disciple; who’s heart has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.11 It also demonstrates that the individual disciple who attends a local church is part of the same community of those who went before, and those who will come as well. It is a community that transcends space and time as one’s identity is not found in an earthly institution, but in the person of Christ. The church is a disciple-making center, seeking to guide believers in the way of Christ from the cradle to the grave. In order to do this though, a local church needs individuals to commit to being a community of discipling-disciples who are committed to one another.

Regarding the outworking of a discipling-making, church community, Hellerman quotes Bruce Malina:

“What this means is, first of all, that the person perceives himself or herself to be a member of a church and responsible to the church for his or her actions, destiny, career, development, and life in general… The individual person is embedded in the church and is free to do what he or she feels right and necessary only if in accord with church norms and only if the action is in the church’s best interest. The church has priority over the individual member.”12

While this explanation can sound cultish, that is cleared up when one understands that

in any institution, there needs to be structure.

Firstly, Christians believe that Jesus is the head of the church,13 and that He is the one who builds His church (not of human hands).14 While many churches may have a staff position called the Senior Pastor, 1 Peter refers to Jesus as the “archipoimēn” or the chief Shepherd.15 While Jesus is the leader of the church, the Lead Disciple, a plurality of leaders, are to be put in place in order to also help disciple the family. Within church governance, these leaders are often known as Elders, Pastors, and Deacons, although these titles tend to carry different responsibilities in different local churches. Some churches might not have “deacons” but people who help serve, in the same way that other churches have pastors who are not elders.

Not just anyone should be an elder. Alexander Strauch explains, “A true biblical eldership is not a businesslike committee. It’s a biblically qualified counsel of men that jointly pastors the local church.”16 As Strauch notes, the New Testament demonstrates that the early church was committed to a plurality of elders who shared the burden of servant leadership.17

They are to care for, protect, guide, warn, rebuke, organize, and feed the family. In the New Testament we are given qualifications for these elders. The Apostle Paul tells his protégé Timothy:

“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.
Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self- controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”18

He also instructs his friend Titus:

An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”19

Eldership is a high calling. However, as Colin Marshall and Tony Payne point out, “at a profound level, all pastors and elders are also just partners. They do not have a different essence of status, or a fundamentally different task – as if they are the real ‘players’, and the rest of the congregation are spectators of support crew.”20 They are considered equals with the congregation yes, but the congregation is also instructed to submit to their elders.21

This paper has focused time on the church and elders in regards to discipleship because elders are responsible for discipling their congregation. The essential work of the pastor/elder is to live out the call of Jesus to Peter to “Feed my sheep.”22 The church is to teach their disciples to obey all the Lord has commanded in order to equip them for the work of ministry and faithful presence. The elders are charged with preaching God’s very words, and the good news of the gospel, not just spiritual guidance for improved living, but to bring people to maturity in Christ through nourishment and faith.23 As Mark Dever notes, “A healthy church is a church that hears the Word of God, and continues to hear the Word of God.”24 The work of the pastor/elder is to also guard the good deposit25, passing on the teaching of the apostles as they disciple future generations.



4 Kyle Strobel, Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2013), 25.

5 Strobel, 47.

6 Matt. 16:18, NIV.
7 Matt. 28: 18-20, NIV.

8 Colin Marshall, Tony Payne, and Matthias Media, The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything (Kingsford, N.S.W.: Matthias Media, 2009), 13.

9 Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England : Grand Rapids, Mich: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 853.

10 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2013), 957.

 11 Acts 2:47, NIV.

12 Bruce J. Malina, Christian Origins and Cultural Anthropology: Practical Models for Biblical Interpretation (Eugene, Or: Wipf & Stock, 2010), 19.

13 Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23. 14 Mt. 16:18.
15 1 Pe. 5:4.

16 Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, Rev. and expanded (Littleton, Colo: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 1995), 31.

17 Ja. 5:14; Acts 13:1; 14:23, 15, 20:17, 20:28; 1 Tim. 5:17; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:1, 5:1; 1 Cor. 16:15-16; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13; Heb. 13:7, 17, 24.

18 1 Tim. 3:1-6, NIV. 19 Titus 1:6-9

20 Marshall, Payne, and Matthias Media, The Trellis and the Vine, 67.

21 1 Pe. 5:5.

22 Crossway Bibles, ESV, Jn. 21:17.

23 1 Thess. 1:5, 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:12, 23-25, 2:2; 2 Pet. 1:19-21, 1 Cor. 2:4-5, 2 Tim. 3:16-17.

24 Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Third edition (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013), 58.

25 Crossway Bibles, 2 Tim. 1:14.


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