Who should lead a local church? The answer to this question is a hot-button issue and will be for quite some time, if not indefinitely. According to the Bible, the church is to be led by qualified and called men as elders and qualified and called men and women as deacons. Today, we’ll cover the office of elder, what it is, what an elder does, and the importance of eldership in general.
Simply put, a church elder is a man called by God to be an overseer. According to the Bible, elders are to be known for their prayer life (1 Tim. 2:8), modeling Christ-like service (Matt. 20:26–28; 1 Pet. 5:2), and being practically responsible in their homes, as well as in the workplace (1 Tim. 3:4–7). Not just any man can serve as an elder—they must be qualified to do so.
The Qualifications of an Elder
First, these lists are primarily about men being good Christians. Second, these lists are in large part tied to a man’s role as a good pastor in his home with his family and in his world with his neighbors and coworkers.
Church Elders Are Overseers
Elders are synonymously called overseers. An overseer is one who pastors the church like a shepherd herds his flock (Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 5:2). An elder shepherds the flock under his care.
God Calls a Church Elder
Who should be trained as elders? Those called by God to serve as an elder (Acts 20:28). As the church, we simply confirm God’s call. This leads to my next point.
The Duties of an Elder
Elders are asked to do many things:
- Pray and study Scripture (Acts 6:4).
- Rule/lead the church (1 Tim. 5:17).
- Manage the church (1 Tim. 3:4–5).
- Care for people in the church (1 Pet. 5:2–5).
- Give account to God for the church (Heb. 13:17).
- Live exemplary lives (Heb. 13:7).
- Rightly use the authority God has given them (Acts 20:28).
- Teach the Bible correctly (Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:2).
- Preach (1 Tim. 5:17).
- Pray for the sick (James 5:13–15).
- Teach sound doctrine and refute false teachings (Titus 1:9).
- Work hard (1 Thess. 5:12).
- Rightly use money and power (1 Pet. 5:1–3).
- Protect the church from false teachers (Acts 20:17–31).
- Discipline unrepentant Christians (Matt. 18:15–17).
- Obey local, state, and federal laws (Rom. 13:1–7).
- Develop other leaders and teachers (Eph. 4:11–16; 2 Tim. 2:1–2).
Church Elders Should Be Trained and Examined
Church elders should be primarily trained through the local church to meet the qualifications and duties of an elder. Their training may involve formal theological training, but the Bible does not require this path. Those who are called to serve as an elder should be able to handle the Bible accurately. Everyone cannot be an elder. The men who perceive a call of God to fulfill this role must be examined.
The Importance of Church Eldership
The issue of which men should lead the church as elders is of extreme seriousness. Why? Simple. The reputation of the gospel in the community and the health of the church are dependent upon godly, qualified men who keep in step with Jesus and who can lead the church to do likewise.
I encourage local churches to train the men called to serve as elders. If we fail as elders to train the next generation, then there won’t be a next generation. Your church will die if men are not trained to be responsible, loving leaders in their families and in the church.
This post was taken and adapted from The Resurgence.
* If you wish to study the different positions on men and women in church leadership, we recommend this comprehensive book from John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.