Leadership in the church is just as important as the church itself. Leadership can run a group of people into the ground or build up a church. When Paul was helping establish a church in Ephesus, he made sure Timothy knew exactly what needed to be done, so he started with leadership.
Now when we take a look at how the leadership of a church is supposed to run, we must carefully remember that those leading do not have final say. The church is not run like a courtroom or government system. Ephesians 1:22, 5:23 says that Christ is the head of the church. Everyone, including the leadership of a body of followers of Jesus is answerable to Jesus. Christ died for the church and therefore he is the head over all things of the church.
The main leadership that comes to mind when we think of the church are elders. These elders can be known as overseers, bishops, or elders traditionally. All three terms hold the same office and meaning. In Acts 20, we get the first glimpse as to what elders of a church do and their role. Acts 20:28 says, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” Paul tells the elders, as he called them in v17, to keep watch over themselves and the flock. The flock can also be known as the people within a body of Jesus followers, or the church. Paul uses shepherding language here and some versions say elders are “to be shepherds”. Their job is to watch over the flock and care for them just as a shepherd would his sheep. Jesus used this language in John 10 talking about himself as the Good Shepherd. The elders’ role is to shepherd God’s people to the ultimate Shepherd.
While taking care of the flock, and watching for false teachings or dangers the flock could be in, their role can also be to preach and teach as Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:17. To shepherd a flock of people, they need to know the truth and this can be done by teaching and preaching the flock.
Peter also tells the elders to which he is writing, to be examples to the people. In other words, Peter does not want the elders to force the flock to be a certain way and act a certain way. The role of the elder is to lead by example, just as Jesus did.
Paul gives us a “list” if you will to be able to choose elders more wisely in 1 Timothy 3. Of course this list is not comprehensive. Paul gave Timothy these qualifications so Timothy would know the type of men to look for to shepherd a new church. Self-controlled, respectable, household management were all things Paul looked for when establishing elders. Paul also tells Timothy later that elders should be respected.
When it comes to leadership in the church, there must be elders present to shepherd the people and watch over them. Some of their roles can seem vague but as long as they are watching the flock and teaching the truth, they are fulfilling their role. They are not to act as kings or rulers. They shepherd the flock, and the Good Shepherd, Jesus, is over the whole church which everyone is under.