Currently, we only have one elder (Noah Braymen), you can read his bio here. As the Lord gives us more elders, we will link to their bios from this page.
Summary Outline: *
1. Men devoted to the ministry of the word, both studying and preaching
2. Men devoted to prayer
3. Men who have 3 titles for 1 office in a church
4. Men who serve in a plurality
5. Men who are qualified
6. Men who are accountable
7. Men who serve to a particular end
1. Ministry of the Word – Studying & Preaching
In Acts 6:4-7 we see a prototype for elders. As the early church gathered a number of Hellenist widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food, and the twelve apostles had to devote themselves to the ministry of the Word and prayer. So, they appointed qualified men to serve (to deacon or diakonein) the tables. Elders in a church are not apostles, but they follow their example outlined in Acts 6 – devoting themselves to prayer and the Word.
This is similar to Paul’s exhortation in 2 Timothy 4:2 for Timothy to devote himself in a pastoral capacity at Ephesus by preaching the Word; being ready in season and out of season; reproving, rebuking, and exhorting, with complete patience and teaching (cf. 1 Timothy 4:8-16). This is similar to what he told him in 1 Timothy 4:13 to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. God gives churches elders to teach and focus on the Bible. It should never become solely about the men who would serve as elders. It’s about the glory of God as the Word is taught and obeyed in a church under the guidance of under-shepherds who love God and the church. One of their concerns is the order or structure of the church as well (1 Corinthians 14:40; Colossians 2:5; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 13:7). As a church we want prioritize the ministry of the Word and prayer to the end that we designate men to the study, teaching, and preaching of the Word in both full-time (hence, in the pay of the church; Galatians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 9:9-14; 1 Timothy 5:17-18) and lay capacities. We want to look for men like this who would be our elders.
In addition to Acts 6, James 5:14 exhorts members of the churches to specifically go to the elders for prayer: “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.” An elder is no closer to God than any other member, and an elder doesn’t have power to heal, but God does! Elders are specifically tasked to give themselves to pray for their congregations, and to lead their congregations in prayer to the one true and living God who answers the requests of His people.
3. Three Titles for One Office
The Bible uses three terms interchangeably to refer to elders – (1) pastor or shepherd [poimen], (2) elder or presbyters [presbuterous], and (3) overseers or bishop [episkopous]:
So I exhort the elders [presbuterous] among you, as a fellow elder [supresbuteros] and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd [pastor or poimnion] the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight [bishoping or episkopountes], not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock [poimnion]. And when the chief Shepherd [pastor or archipoimenos – referring to Christ] appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:1-4, cf. Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5-7)
Almost every time elders are mentioned in the New Testament regarding their role in a local church it’s in a plurality:
When they had appointed elders in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” (Acts 14:23)
Notice, elders (plural), in every church (singular). We could consider more passages as well (Acts 15:4, 6; 16:4; 20:17; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:5; James 5:14, etc.). Note too, that in Scripture churches existed before they had elders, but it didn’t take long to appoint them. Even as we consider elders, we are asking God to give us multiple men.
Elders are male (see 1 Timothy 2:8-3:7). And they aren’t just the men who have been around the longest, who exhibit some leadership skills, or even who are committed and faithful (all good things!). They are men who must be particularly qualified:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
The reason I left you in Crete was to set right what was left undone and, as I directed you, to appoint elders in every town: one who is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of wildness or rebellion. For an overseer, as God’s administrator, must be blameless, not arrogant, not hot-tempered, not addicted to wine, not a bully, not greedy for money, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled, holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:5-9, HCSB)
You might read this and think, “Who could possibly qualify as an elder?” Even elders are sinners; aside from Christ, there is no such thing as a perfect man in this world. The point is that we should carefully consider a man’s life before we simply affirm and install him as an elder. God didn’t give instructions through the Apostles for elders only to create a hypothetical unfillable office. These lists are meant to be practical and useful. They paint a picture of the kind of character God desires to grow in each of us, but that actual men exhibit in our midst.
Elders in a church will be held to a higher account:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1)
God’s judgment is ever before the eyes of an elder (Romans 2:16). First, in how the elder will fare in the face of God’s judgment. We see this in Paul’s charge to Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2) If elders seek to use unfaithful materials to build up a local church Paul describes:
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)
Second, God’s judgment of his hearers is always before an elders eyes, “save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” (Jude 1:23) Both of these concerns color how an elder sees his ministry, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16) Elders are accountable to God, so they conduct their ministry with fear and trembling for the pleasure of the Lord (Galatians 1:10). They are also accountable to the congregation even as Jesus said to take matters to the church in decisions about membership and church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:4-5).
7. Serve To a Particular End
Elders are God’s gifts to a local church to help it grow in its love for Christ, each other (John 13:35), and the means through which God equips believers for the work of gospel ministry. Ephesians 4:11-14 describes that elders are gifts to a local church to the end that a congregation is equipped for the work of the ministry, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God. God gives churches elders as gifts to drive the church to unity in their doctrine and unity in trusting in Jesus Christ in His substitutionary death and justifying resurrection from the dead (see Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17:20-23). Elders are one of the main ways a congregation is not carried away by those in error, and one of the primary ways it grows in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (cf. 2 Peter 3:17-18)
After deacons were appointed so the apostles could devote themselves to the ministry of the Word and prayer Acts 6:7 says, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” When a church has men who are qualified and set apart to labor for the growth of a congregation in their faith in Christ, the church is able to grow healthily – because the Word grows. God uses the local church as His plan to reach our communities, our city, region, and the nations with the gospel. And elders in the local church are part of God’s ordained structure to accomplish this. This doesn’t mean that this is the secret to numerical growth in a church, but it is part of the way that a healthy church grows, because where there are biblically qualified elders that means that God’s Word is emphasized, and God bears fruit through His Word (Isaiah 55:11; 1 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12). Pray that God would give us elders, so that we might grow more in our love of Christ, of His Word, and see more come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is quoted from the English Standard Version
** Photo Credit: http://bit.ly/1ON6wWB