CHURCH LEADERSHIP SERIES LESSON TWO: ELDERS
In the church of Jesus Christ, God has established leadership of the local church through the office of elders. These are men of God who have a special calling to oversee the flock along with the pastor. How is one chosen for this special position? What qualifies a person for such a calling? And what are the duties of an elder? Let’s study God’s Word on the subject.
There are different words for elder in the New Testament. Presbyteros is the most common and which depicts a mature saint in the faith who is qualified for leadership (1 Pet 5:1). Episkopeo, sometimes translated “bishop,” is another term that means overseer (1 Pet 5:2). Together the words mean a mature believer called by God to oversee the flock of God on a leadership team. Pastors (poimaimo, which means shepherd – 1 Pet 5:2) are also of this body and have the main duties of the spiritual feeding and nurturing of the flock.
How are elders chosen? The Bible speaks for their appointment. (Titus 1:5) For this reason I left you in Crete, that you . . . appoint elders in every city as I commanded you. Elders, then, are technically not voted in by the congregation but are appointed by the leadership of the church.
What are the qualifications for an elder? (1 Tim 3:2-7) A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence 5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); 6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (See also Titus 1:5-9) In many churches elders are chosen for their business prowess or prominence in society. How far this is from the Biblical teaching of selecting men for their character and their family life!
Elders are also called to pray for the flock. (James 5:1) Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. They should be available to the saints for prayer during times of gathering and also open to visiting the sick and praying over them for their healing.
How long should they serve? This is up to each church body. Some elders serve ongoing or as long as the Holy Spirit leads (Acts 20:28). Or, they may serve a designated time (3 years is common) so other men may also have the privilege of serving. This also keeps things fresh with new blood (Lev 17:11). Elders should meet regularly to discuss church matters and seek the mind of the Lord together in unity for necessary decisions (Acts 15:28). They should also be supportive of the pastor and his leadership by their friendship and assistance (1 Kings 4:5; Exo 18).