Jul 17, 2014
Review of Elders in the Life of the Church
Phil A. Newton and Matt Schmucker, Elders in the Life of the Church: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership, updated ed. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2014).
Elders in the Life of the Church is an updated edition of the 2005 Elders in the Congregational Life. Not only has Matt Schmucker been added as a contributor, but the content has been significantly bolstered by at least eighty pages. In essence the book examines elder plurality from three angles: historical, biblical, and practical.
The historical angle is primarily concerned with Baptist history. A short but enlightening survey of statements and confessions make a solid case that at least some of the Baptist forebears believed in a polity that included plurality of elders.
In the biblical section, the authors focus on four key texts: Acts 20:17–31; 1 Timothy 3:1–7; Hebrews 13:17–19; and 1 Peter 5:1–5. Strangely, Titus 1 is not treated independently in this section, although the authors do interact with Titus a number of times in the book.
Newton and Schmucker also discuss practical issues related to the elder model. This discussion really involves two aspects. First, the authors unpack the practical advantages of elder plurality. Second, significant attention is paid to practical implementation, that is, how one makes the shift from the more common single pastor plus deacons to the elder model.
This book is easy to read, with short chapters. The authors’ call to consider the elder model is one worth hearing. There is a transparency in the discussions with frequent references to personal anecdotes highlighting Newton and Schmucker’s successes and failures in taking their own churches through a transition to the elder model. Those seeking to make a similar transition will find plenty of practical advice. Even those already in elder-led churches will probably find at least some of the suggestions to be helpful.
The greatest weakness in the book is the biblical section. It is not that a biblical case cannot be made, but ironically, insufficient attention is paid to the details and specifics of the biblical text. Also puzzling is the omission of Titus 1, even if there are parallels to the 1 Timothy passage. The placement of some of the chapters appears to be strange or forced. For example, it is unclear how chapter 2 flows from chapter 1 or transitions to chapter 3.
Nonetheless, Elders in the Life of the Church is a helpful primer to the plurality of elders model, especially from a Baptist context. Baptist pastors and leaders who want to know more about the elder model or how to transition to such a model should find help here.
You can read an excerpt here.
Thanks to Kregel for providing the free review copy used in this unbiased review.