In our previous chapters on the subject of elders, deacons, preachers and saints a few core ideas have been established:
- These are specific roles that are based on responsibility, aptitude and appointment. Men serve as elders, preachers and deacons because they have certain abilities, they are appointed to their tasks by the church, and the main difference between them and the rest of the church is their responsibility.
- Church leadership rests with Christ, is embodied by the word and the Holy Spirit, and is exercised by the elders. Our goal should be to move away from the denominational model of the preacher-centered church where the pulpit preacher is the main pastor, manager, minister and caregiver, to the more biblical model of the elder-centered church where the elders are the true leaders in teaching, ministering and shepherding the church.
- This book is not simply an academic exercise. I am writing it with the hope that it will motivate existing elders, preachers, deacons and saints, and will also stimulate others who are not yet serving to step forward into these roles.
Before we look at and explain the very specific requirements for qualification as elders, let us examine some broader characteristics that are necessary when trying to recognize whom among us should serve in this capacity.
There are specific qualifications for elders found in the epistles to Timothy and Titus, but there are also some generic qualifications that help us identify what kind of man is truly eldership material:
This man accepts the Bible as God's word as the only standard within the church.
15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. 16 By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.
- I Timothy 3:15-16
A person who is not yet convinced of this or who cannot defend this idea lacks the fundamental component for successful leadership in Christ's church.
The major tool for the elder is the word. If he does not know it or does not believe that it is God's word, or if he does not go to it for direction and counsel, he will lead God's people into apostasy.
This man loves the church.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,
- Ephesians 5:25
Christ loved the church and died for it. Christ's elders should be mature enough to see the church with all of its faults and still love it. Like the parent who loves his rebellious child, the elder loves the church regardless of its failures because if he does not, no other human will.
This man knows how to worship God in every context of life.
1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
- Romans 12:1-2
Paul equates service and purity as our everyday worship as opposed to our public corporate worship that consists of songs, prayers, communion, teaching and giving.
The leaders of the church are able to lead in both types of worship. They can pray, teach and sing during "corporate" worship, and they know how to worship God the rest of the week as well by leading lives that are pure and full of service.
Too many times we choose only the ones who are good at leading "long prayers" without examining what kind of "spiritual service of worship" they may be offering during the rest of the week.
This man works well with others.
5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.
- I Corinthians 3:5-9
The work of the elder is a "people" job. Not only does the elder work with the congregation through teaching and counseling, but he must also work with other elders, preachers and deacons.
In this passage Paul diffuses a potentially divisive situation by giving God the glory for the harvest, and distributing credit for the work to everyone.
God's leader is recognized for his ability to foster unity and peace, not for his ability to get his own way. Elders do not confuse leadership with self-will.
This man knows how to make decisions.
4 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses."
6 The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter.
- Acts 15:4-6
22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas-Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, 23 and they sent this letter by them,
"The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings.
- Acts 15:22-23
The thing that elders do the most is make decisions; that is what leadership is for. Elders do not make all the decisions, that would be "lording" over the church, but they do make important decisions. They make decisions as teachers and guardians of the faith. They decide what will be taught and if what is taught is biblical when there is a dispute (Acts 15).
Elders teach the church. By their choice of material and teachers they are, in effect, influencing the entire church in the work of different teachers.
They make decisions about discipline (I Corinthians 5:1-8); Paul tells the Corinthians to decide in the matter of disciplining sinful members.
They make decisions about who will serve where, and how they will serve. In Acts 6, the new deacons were commended by the Apostles and leaders. In I Timothy 4:14, preachers were appointed by elders.
Elders are men who understand that they must make decisions, they understand how to make decisions (prayer, fasting, study), and they are able to continue serving even when the final decision made by the elders as a group does not go their way.
Elders are men who understand indecision is worse than wrong decision, and consequently are not afraid of making the tough or unpopular decision when it comes.
So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
- Romans 14:19
This man is dependable.
James tells us that those who are unstable will not have their prayers answered (James 1:8). It may not be flashy or controversial but stability, reliability and durability are comforting and necessary traits for one who leads God's people.
There are so many fads and fashions in religion; so many wars and rumors of wars in the world; so many false Christs who try to influence the Lord's people. God's shepherds need to be men who are able to ride these waves and face the winds of change without overturning the boat by their own foolish fear.
Elders are men who can be depended upon to say the right thing, do the right thing, be where they need to be and do these things year in and year out. Someone said, "Even if we are only two left, I will be here..." Elders are like that, no matter what happens, they will be there.
This man can share his feelings.
36 When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38 grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.
- Acts 20:36-38
Elders are limited in being able to "fix" things. They are not usually trained to counsel those with psychological, family or abuse problems. They are not financially able to eliminate all debt problems, and most are not medically trained to heal diseases.
Their job is not to "fix" but rather to "feed" and "feel." Their task is to nourish the church with the word of God so that it will be spiritually strong, regardless of the physical, financial or emotional issues facing the members. Elders need to empathize with the church in times of joy, as well as those periods when it is mourning and in sadness.
Their ability to feel with members the happiness of a new baby or the pain of separation helps the church understand that God cares and God knows how we feel. Elders are God's instruments to reassure His children that He notices every sparrow's falling, He feels the sadness at the demise of each saint and He rejoices at the return of every sinner.