By Larry Highley
The Bible has certain requirements for being an Elder. An Elder, by definition, can be the Pastor, Overseer, and in some denominations, Deacons are akin to Elders in their churches. These Biblical requirements can be read in Titus 1:5 – 9, 1 Timothy 3:1 – 7, and 1 Peter 5:1 – 4. They speak to the qualities and character that Elders are expected to mimic. Realistically though, I would submit that every disciple of Christ should be striving towards these attributes. There are four specific functions that Elders are responsible for in the churches that they serve.
The first thing Elders are responsible for is establishing policies. One of the great things about being an Elder is seeing how God uses men to further His kingdom. The Eldership at Riverlawn operates on a consensus basis. This means that unless every Elder is in agreement about a decision, that decision is tabled until we have full agreement. Trust me, it takes the Holy Spirit to get all of us there most times, but we trust one another. If one of us is an expert on a topic, we will defer to their expertise and trust that the Spirit is moving in that situation. This is the most time-consuming activity that we do in my opinion, and it may be the one aspect that many of us loathe simply because it is the one area where we do not directly engage those we are shepherding. That does not detract from its importance though. Policies allow the church to function with proper order and mission-driven purpose.
Second, Elders will be praying for the flock and skilled at preaching/teaching. Teaching the Word of God is a great privilege for anyone who is gifted in that way. It is also a great responsibility. James 3:1 warns teachers that we will incur stricter judgment based on the aptitude of our teaching. This is a place where you get to see growth in those you serve, so it is very fulfilling to be used in this way. Disciples cannot make disciples if they are not taught how to do that. Preaching and teaching go a long way towards building disciple-makers.
Third, Elders are full time Apologists. That does not mean we go around saying we are sorry. Apologetics is the “Defense of the Faith.”
From the perspective of an Elder, we protect the flock from false doctrine. We are like shepherds who keep the ravenous wolves at bay.
This analogy is explained in Acts 29 as Paul prepares the church at Ephesus. Jesus also warned about false teachers in Matthew 7:15 using similar language. The church is constantly in a spiritual war. Your Elders are vigilantly standing guard in the full armor of God to thwart the enemy’s attacks. I hope and pray that each reader is putting on that same armor (See Ephesians 6:10 – 20) daily to help in your personal and familial protection.
Finally, Elders are called to care for the pastoral staff. The average person cannot understand how difficult it is for pastors to handle the daily grind of ministry. They rarely complain about the trials ministry brings into their lives and they bear the burdens of everyone in their sphere of influence. Often, because of their mandate for confidentiality, they have no way to expunge the things that weigh on them emotionally, physically, and spiritually. As Elders, we devote ourselves to being their cheerleaders and encouragers. If you have read this far, please take a minute to pray for your pastors. They all could use it. Ministry is not a job that really affords “time off.” At Riverlawn we are blessed to have a group of pastors who willingly give of their time and resources in a sacrificial manner.
To summarize, Biblical Eldership is a whole lot of things; some of those things are mentioned in this blog and some there was not time or space to address. Alexander Strauch wrote a book titled, “Biblical Eldership.” I would recommend it to anyone, but it is a “must read” for anyone who feels Eldership may be in their future. It is a calling and does come with challenges and difficulties, but the blessings far outweigh any perceived burdens.