The Lead Elder

Pastors Noel Cromhout and Dylan Hall teach on the Lead Elder from the Scriptures.

Lead Elder

(Please take the time to watch the video and review the paper “The Elder led Church” before reading this information).

How can there be a lead elder if the elders are equal?

Now that we can see that the scriptures give us clear picture of churches in the NT church being led by a council or plurality of elders we will look further at the idea of a lead elder.

1 Timothy 5:17 “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”

Although elders share equal position, responsibility, and authority for the leadership of the church, all elders are not equal in their gifts, biblical knowledge, leadership ability, experience, or dedication.1 Those who “rule well” or lead well, and who are particularly gifted leaders and/or teachers will naturally stand out among the other leaders. This is what the Romans called primus inter pares, which means “first among equals,” or primi inter pares, which means “first ones among equals.” The lead elder is a leader of leaders.

We can think about it this way. Every team needs a captain! We see this everywhere from sports teams to the workplace, to ministry teams at the church. For an elder team to function effectively, it must have a called, qualified, and gifted Lead Elder. This is not a position without accountability; rather, within the Elder team there is freedom, trust, authority, respect, honor, and support of the elders and other church leaders to actually give leadership to the church.

Where do we see this in the bible?
  • Jesus and the twelve: While all disciples were equal there were three who were part of Jesus inner circle, as a clear leaders or “first among equals” — Peter, James, and John.
  • Jesus submits to the fathers will. Although Jesus is fully God, he submits to God the father. This functional submission is an illustration of “first among equals” (Luke 22:42, John 5:19).
  • Peter stands out as the most prominent: At Pentecost when he steps forward to preach. The others were not “under him”, nor did he have some special title. He, steps forward as the leader (Acts 2).
  • Paul and Barnabas: They were both apostles, yet Paul was “first among equals” not because of a title but because of his giftedness (Acts 13&14).
  • All elders must be able to teach but a church should give special honor to those who lead well, and to those who labor to preach and teach (1 Tim. 5:17).
  • Think of the number of leaders that God raises in the Old Testament. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Nehemiah, David, etc.…

Some other patterns we see in scripture:

  • The family structure has the husband as the head. They are equal and united as one yet the leadership responsibility falls on the husband (Ephesians 5). The husband is “the first among equals” as the couple cooperates in a biblical submission.
  • Timothy and Titus are seen as senior leaders with authority as they appoint leaders and other elders as well as lead the church by correcting and putting things in order as needed2 (Titus 1, 1 Timothy 5).
What is the advantage of having a lead elder?

The advantage of this principle is that it allows for functional, gift-based diversity within the eldership team without creating an official, superior office over fellow elders. In other words, there is no sole, all-powerful, un-accountable leader or ruler. The lead elder has the gifts and ability to bring the team together and help fulfill the mission of the church.

Is there any danger by not having a lead elder?

Without a lead elder other leaders may drift and become representatives of various agendas, departments, factions, and programs in the church.3 Without leadership, dissention will come as individuals fight over resources: there will often be no unity in decisions, and there is sure to be many compromises, which can be the death of the church.

The lead elder helps to ensure that the elders are organized in an effective manner based on their unique church setting and giftedness.

  1. Alexander Strauch. Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership.
  2. Appointing Elders: Bible Gateway Article

  3. Mark Driscoll. On Church Leadership. Book
  • Download the PDF (right click and select “Save As…” or “Save Link As…” to download)