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The Point Church


APEDS 2018: Reflections: February 2019

Hello again everyone,

I am going to be bold and frank, and probably a little controversial, in this month’s conversation starter. Several points and questions listed on our APEDS2018 whiteboard related to how churches with an existing eldership and diaconate might help those churches seeking to establish their own. This month I want to share with you some of the things that I believe contributed to the successful development and appointment of the Point Church’s first elders and deacons. I hope it will be both helpful and encouraging to others. If you have read my previous articles, you will probably recognise some familiar themes.

First, a bit of background, followed by a strategic timeline, then concluding with a few more reflections.

The Point Church started in September 1998 with four families plus a few individuals (a total of about 17) meeting at Wellington Point (Brisbane). From its inception, the new church’s members were all committed to purposefully and prayerfully pursuing the development of biblical leadership (i.e. elders and deacons) as a matter of priority. Satan raised several obstacles intending to distract and derail which most of us took as a sure sign we were on the right track! We soon discovered that understanding and developing biblical leadership was only half the equation. Understanding and developing biblical followership was the other half, the greater challenge (in the Australian cultural context) which cannot be ignored or underestimated without putting the whole eldership and deaconate enterprise in peril.

Our progression towards the goal of biblical church government went through four distinct phases.

PHASE 1 (1998 – 1999): The congregation commits to the need for biblical church government and seeks to develop a clear and shared understanding of servant-leadership and servant-followership (with a continuing focus on prayer, Bible study and discussion over the next few years, including consultation with guest teachers such as Bob Abney from the USA).

PHASE 2 (1999 – 2002): The congregation endorses leaders who approximate the biblical ideal. Undertaken first in late 1999, the endorsement process is repeated in early 2002 (when the leadership team expands from 2 to 4). In both cases, eligibility for consideration as a leader is based upon who the congregation considers nearest to the biblical ideal. At this stage the biblical ideal is a combination of the criteria for elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-15; Titus 1:5-9) and relevant biblical principles (e.g. Matthew 20:25-28). These understandings are the fruit of phase 1 and are applied graciously as we now enter a phase of encouraging and facilitating the development of men in the direction of the biblical ideal (some of whom we hoped would develop in time to become biblically qualified elders and deacons). No attempt is made at this stage to differentiate between shepherd type leadership and deacon type leadership. There is some tension during this phase as a few who considered themselves leaders struggle to accept the congregation’s choice not to endorse them, and others struggle with the concept of submission generally. Interestingly and significantly, the church nonetheless begins to develop a new culture as they experience servant-leadership and ease into relationships of mutual trust – becoming leaders and followers. This phase is, in my opinion, critical to our success and so warrants some further explanation.

What sort of leadership does a church resort to in the absence of biblically qualified elders and deacons? What type or system of government does a church adopt? What are the criteria for participation in that system? Australian churches, judging by our practice, have usually responded along these lines: We adopt a democratic system (e.g. one vote per person), with leadership criteria based upon gender and/or church membership (i.e. rule by a male business meeting or by a congregational business meeting).

Frankly, that sort of government is not even remotely biblical. This is a curious thing among churches that consider themselves restorationists. It will not do to claim the freedom of expediency. The fact is, God has given his household a pattern for leadership (e.g. 1 Timothy 3:1-15). There is relatively little dispute about what that ideal is. Our job is to honour it and, to the degree we have departed from or ignored God’s model, repent and seek to restore it. If we do not have men in our midst who meet the ideal, we should look to those men in our midst who are nearest the biblical ideal. Nearest the biblical ideal is the next best thing to the ideal, and it keeps the church focused and moving in the direction of achieving the biblical ideal. _What _nearest the ideal looks like will be relative to the composition and history of each congregation (e.g. many or few long-term saints, or mostly new converts). Some may have men who are very close to the ideal, in other cases the nearest may still have a long way to go (as noted last month, a missionary or evangelist guiding a church through this process can be very helpful). In recognising those with potential (i.e. giftedness) and allowing them to lead (as apprentices or prototypes if you will), they gain the experience that fast-tracks their growth towards attaining biblical qualification. This, in principle, is what Paul said regarding deacons: test them before ordaining them (1 Timothy 3:10). An egalitarian democratic system (derived from our culture rather than Scripture) effectively ignores biblical principles such as the more mature leading the less mature and serving according to giftedness and biblical qualification, and, in my experience, inhibits the development of biblical leadership and followership. Our history suggests it is very difficult to transition from a culturally shaped egalitarian (equality = sameness) model of government to a counter-cultural Trinitarian (equal but different) shaped leadership/submission model of government. At this point I am sometimes advised I am promoting a pseudo-eldership (i.e. a false or pretend eldership). But surely a pseudo-eldership is any local church government that is not seeking and facilitating the development and appointment of biblical elders. Amen! I could name a variety of those sorts of church government. Away with pseudo-elderships! But what I am proposing is modelled on the biblical ideal and expressly serves to facilitate the development and appointment of elders and deacons. That certainly was our experience at the Point.

PHASE 3 (2003): Distinguishing between the two types of church leadership. Church endorsement of leaders based on nearest the biblical ideal is repeated, but for the first time the difference in qualities and qualifications between elder and deacon (per 1 Timothy 3:1-13) inform the selection criteria used by the congregation. Newly appointed leaders are now designated “Shepherd Type Leaders” and “Steward Type Leaders.” The leadership is expanded from 4 to 7 at this time (the Point’s membership had grown considerably, increasing the pool of candidates). A congregational culture increasingly comfortable with biblical leadership and followership is very evident at this stage (evidenced by mutual trust and respect between leaders and followers, and an optimistic confidence that the process of developing leaders was heading in the right direction).

The move from generic leader to the more specific shepherd type leader and deacon type leader served two purposes: First, it both reflected and further facilitated our progress towards the goal of developing and appointing elders and deacons. Second, we noticed that administrivia was distracting from pastoral work, so it was deemed necessary to distinguish between ministry of the word and prayer on the one hand and waiting on tables on the other hand (Acts 6:1-7). In this way, shepherd type leaders could focus on the former, and steward type leaders could focus on the latter.

PHASE 4 (2005): Appointment of elders and deacons. Candidates for formal appointment as shepherds and stewards to serve the Point Church are those who already have the church’s endorsement as leaders and who have been serving the body in their respective roles as shepherd type leaders (Terry Gill, Warren Holyoak, Peter Searson) and as steward type leaders (Peter Amos, Arthur Bowell, Stephen Hughes, Steve Wilson) since October 2003. Peter Searson and Steve Wilson were the original leaders appointed in 1999, whose service was complemented by the appointment of Warren Holyoak and Arthur Bowell as leaders in 2002. Formal appointment of the Point Church’s first shepherds and stewards occurred on Sunday, 4 September 2005, which was the 7th anniversary of the Point.


It was critical that sufficient time and resources be devoted to laying the foundation of a shared vision, commitment, and understanding of biblical church leadership: a shared vision to clearly see and remain focused on what we were aiming for (picturing ourselves with biblically qualified elders and deacons); a shared commitment necessary to overcome obstacles and distractions (and there were plenty of them); a shared understanding of the how and why of biblical leadership and followership, and of the qualities and qualifications of elders and deacons in the larger context of biblical leadership and followership.

But it was also critical that we move beyond the foundation phase to start building. This is where our commitment to achieving the biblical ideal of congregational government by elders and deacons, and the strategy of endorsing as leaders those who most nearly approximated the biblical ideal, proved to be decisive in two ways. First, it set us free from the traditional democratic egalitarian business meeting model (had we gone there I suspect we would still be there, waiting for fully qualified elders and deacons to sprout in soil that, at best, is not conducive to their development). Second, it set us on a path defined and bounded by the biblical ideal and which therefore facilitated growth (for both leaders and followers) in the direction of the biblical ideal.

The process, from beginning to end, was owned by the congregation. The whole church was called upon to endorse men from its midst who met the criteria appropriate to phases 2-4. This disarmed complaints so prevalent in our individualistic culture: “Who made you a ruler over me?” (the congregation did); and “Why am I not one of the leaders?” (because the congregation does not recognise you as a leader at this time). The endorsement of the congregation allowed the church and its legitimate leaders to avoid getting drawn into the game of people pleasing and the politics of democratic egalitarianism (which would have derailed the process). Owning the process from the beginning and allowing the process (a courageous step of faith for many) helped the congregation to ease into the risky and bumpy business of leadership and submission. This was no quick and hasty operation. All leaders had grown into their roles, gaining experience and proving themselves over a period of years. Over the total period of seven years the congregation had become accustomed to, and comfortable with, both leadership and followership. We learned to trust one another and to be gracious towards one another.

That we adopted the awkward word followership as a more palatable term than submission speaks volumes about our struggle with the New Testament church’s very counter-cultural (from an Australian perspective) model of organic complementarianism (e.g. 1 Corinthians 12:1-27; Ephesians 5:22-33). Our tall poppy syndrome in one form or another (shades of Numbers 12 and 16) has frustrated many sincere attempts to establish the biblical pattern of congregational government. I fear that the growing influence of radical feminism (dismissing gender difference as a mere social construct) and postmodern pluralism and relativism (undermining biblical authority and apostolic precedent) will make it even harder in the future. More than ever, we need biblical elderships and diaconates established to demonstrate and perpetuate God’s way of congregational government.

It’s not easy, but it is doable. What do you think?

Looking forward to seeing you all in Melbourne at the APEDS2020 Conference!

Grace and peace,

Steve Wilson