A Review of “Eldership and the Mission of God” by J.R. Briggs & Bob Hyatt

eldership and mog“God’s mission has a church.” In their book Eldership and the Mission of God J.R. Briggs & Bob Hyatt attempt to relate the role of the church elder to that very mission of God. They believe they have written a book unlike any other book on eldership. It’s the kind of book each of them wishes had been written when they were first starting out as young church planters. There’s much to commend about this volume, but perhaps not what the authors intended. While Briggs and Hyatt have written a good book, it does not achieve what it promises.

The authors assert their goal plainly in the introduction. They write:

Again, why did we write a book about eldership? Because when we were starting our churches, we looked high and low for resources on eldership within a missional church context but there was nothing available – at least nothing that seemed to fit what we sensed God was doing in our communities and what he was calling us into. This book is an attempt to create a resource that we wish had been available when we started our churches. (18)

This is a book about “eldership within a missional context.” It is an attempt to connect the eldership of a local congregation with the mission of God. I loved the idea, and there was much about it that commended the book to me. Yet the authors seem to fall short of carefully and consistently clarifying what they mean by the mission of God.

The authors do a good job of clarifying many other terms and ideas in the book. The clearly outline the roles of an elder (chapter 3) and the qualifications of an elder (chapter 4). The even define the world “ministry,” clarifying what it is and isn’t (24). Yet the most basic and essential definition for their thesis, “the mission of God” seems to elude them. They come close at times to offering something like a definition. They talk about the sending nature of God, the idea of “bringing heaven to earth as we live” (25), and imaging God (26). But while they use all sorts of catchy phrases and pithy statements, even compelling truths, none of this finally produces a concise and clear definition of the mission of God. They state that the “call of elders in a local church context is to faithfully lead God’s people by imaging the character of a missioning God” (26). Which is a great concept, but hardly seems like a comprehensive explanation of either eldership or the mission of God. And without this most essential definition the rest of the book feels disconnected from the thesis.

The book does have some real quality features to commend itself. The authors are very helpfully unpack the Biblical expectations of an elder and his qualifications. They pay careful attention to the nuances of the text and the original languages. They also offer some extremely practical tips on selecting elders, and decision-making among the elders. They offer good counsel on the language we use to speak about eldership, and the cultivation of team leadership. These chapters (6, 8, and 9) are very practical and insightful. Their chapter on women elders will no doubt stir up lots of heated debate. I personally found it to be very poorly argued, offering no interaction with opposing viewpoints, yet it was graciously handled and for that I commend the authors.

In many ways it is a rather standard book on eldership. Much of its content can be found in the numerous other books discussing the subject. The Biblical description of the role and qualifications of elders is certainly unpacked by Alexander Strauch in his comprehensive work Biblical Eldership, and in Jeramie Rinne does a good job of presenting that material in a concise fashion in his little book on Church Elders. Their emphasis on safeguarding the mission of the local church is picked up well by Peter Bolt in Mission Minded and by the authors of Trellis and the Vine. The book simply isn’t as novel or innovative as it suggests it is, and the lack of a clear definition of one of its major foci makes it somewhat disappointing. While I liked the book, and found some things helpful, I wouldn’t recommend it. There are better works treating the same subjects. Eldership and the Mission of God simply doesn’t deliver on what it promises.

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