what makes a congregation?

Coming across this post at Alan Cornett’s blog a couple of weeks ago prompted some thought on the exact nature of a congregation.  Most — in my experience, at least — congregations among non-institutional Churches of Christ do not have elders.  Often, this can be the case for congregations that have been in existence in excess of 30 years. 

I was speaking recently with a friend of mine about David Lipscomb’s church planting efforts in the earliest ‘suburbs’ of Nashville during the late nineteenth century.  Lipscomb, it seems, would go about holding tent meetings and out of these tent meetings would result groups of people who met regularly for worship.  But Lipscomb doesn’t seem to have considered a congregation fully organized — indeed, fully a “congregation” — until leaders (elder/presbyters and deacons) were in place.  In most of Lipscomb’s congregations this appears to have happened relatively soon in the life of the congregation (say, 2-5 years).  

All of that to ask, what constitutes a congregation?  Why are so many content to continue a shepherdless existence?  Is it a sort of anti-authoritarianism?  Are our unspoken qualifications for what an elder is too unrealistic (e.g. just how old does a candidate for elder have to be?)?

Your thoughts are welcome. 


2 responses to “what makes a congregation?

  1. It’s a matter of emphasis.

    We’ve come to see a located preacher as a necessity and elders as a luxury. Instead of looking at the Biblical model, we see the pastor system being employed in denominations and often try to copy it.

    We’ve become comfortable with “business meetings” as elder substitutes. Some who aren’t qualified to be elders get extremely comfortable with having a voice in decision-making.

    We don’t see a lack of elders as a shame and a disgrace, let alone see it for the horrifically dangerous void it is. There’s a reason God wanted qualified, mature men to shepherd congregations.

    We haven’t trained and encouraged men to become elders. We have all manner of preacher training and mentoring programs. For elders, though, we typically wait until a man is 50 or so, is married, and has kids who’ve been baptized before we start encouraging him. By that point, it’s going to be extremely difficult for him to meet some of the qualifications (apt to teach, for example, if the man has never taught before), and that can lead to unqualified men being named with the expectation they’ll “grow into” the position.

    Lots more reasons, probably. All can be solved by going back to the Bible.

  2. Chris, you already know what St Ignatius of Antioch said… 🙂 Hope you’re doing well, brother.


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