Who is really responsible for the ministry?
In my job, when I write a report, my supervisor is required to sign it below my own signature. Why? Because my supervisor is ultimately responsible for the report I wrote. She has the final say in whether or not what I write is valid. Make no mistake, I am responsible to write that report. It will not get done unless I write it. I bear a big responsibility in getting it done. But its validity will ultimately fall on my supervisor shoulders, no matter how sure I am that my report is valid.
Is this what the ministry is like? Do church members do the ministry, while elders have a final say in what the ministry is actually doing? If only elders have the authority to affirm who is a member, for example, then that is exactly what is happening.
I believe the responsibility of the ministry of disciple-making is fully given to the whole church. Elders equip the saints for the ministry, they guard the gospel, they teach sound doctrine, and they shepherd the flock. They are authorized to do so. The whole church, however, is authorized to decide what the gospel is, and who belongs to the gospel. I think that is what is gathered from Matt. 16, 18, and 28.
Besides the biblical evidence for congregationalism, I also think there’s a pastoral reason to consider this view. Congregations that are responsible for deciding who does or does not belong to the gospel, are going to know the gospel better. They are going to better understand repentance, grace, the effects of sin, the power of the Holy Spirit, and anything else connected to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Going back to my work example above, a lazy worker will write a report carelessly, and depend on the supervisor to bring to light any mistakes. The lazy worker knows the supervisor will care enough to catch the flaws, since the supervisor is ultimately responsible. I bet if every worker was fully responsible for what’s in their report, they would exercise more caution.
If your interpretation of scripture leads you to believe the elder-rule model is biblical, then you’re possibly taking away an important opportunity from the members. In every church that takes membership seriously, elders need to regularly practice discernment over their members so they know who belongs to the gospel, and thus, who belongs under their care. Exercising those discernment muscles is a blessed work. You will know the gospel better through this blessed work. Why exclude the members from this work? Why wouldn’t God give the members the authority to do such a work?
I believe God wants members to mature, and grow in the knowledge of the gospel, and he gives the church a certain authority that enables them to do exactly that.