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.