- Elders In The Church Role
- Are Elder Boards Biblical?
Elders In The Church Role – This post is part of a series looking at Building a Strong Church Leadership Structure and will look at what church elders are, as well as the role, responsibilities and their qualifications. You can find links to other parts of the series at the end of this post.
Rather than laying out what a church leadership structure should look like, the New Testament talks more about the roles of people – specifically, elders and deacons. Because elders are mentioned in the Bible, a Church should have them. But what are the elders of the church? What do they do? Are the elders in many churches the same as the elders in the New Testament?
Elders In The Church Role
When we read the Old Testament, we can see that the elders often seemed to be leadership figures in the cities, for example, Ruth 4:2. These elders were men of reputation, integrity, proven character, wisdom and life experience. They performed the role of magistrates, mediator and decide commercial and perhaps legal cases. This is important foundational knowledge to ensure that our understanding of the New Testament elders is sound.
Grace Bible Church: Boerne, Tx > The Plurality Of Biblical Eldership
With the Exile, the Jews could no longer worship and sacrifice in the Temple because they were no longer close to it. Even if they were, the Babylonians would have destroyed it. The synagogue took place during this time. The Jews used to gather to study the Scriptures and pray. This practice seems to have continued historically and now forms the foundation of many of our typical Sunday morning services.
Dr William H Marty, in ‘The World of Jesus’, explains that the common practice was that any community with ten Jewish men could organize a synagogue. Each synagogue was led by a council of elders, and it also had a ‘chief elder’. It served as the spiritual, cultural, social and educational center of the community, therefore the elders were the guardians and controllers of the traditions and spiritual health of the community.
When Paul is writing about the elders in the New Testament, this is the role and the people he has in mind in passages such as 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, which will we will look at them later.
There are two Greek words used in the NT to describe the role of a church elder – ‘episkopos’ and ‘presbyteros’.
Elders And Deacons: Lesson 2
Presbyteros is much more commonly used in the NT. In the gospels, it can mean spiritual fathers; Jewish spiritual leaders (most common in the Synoptic Gospels); or an elderly person. In Acts, it refers to senior spiritual leaders, Jews, and Christian spiritual leaders
Acts 14:23 describes elders in the plural to describe a group or team of elders. This suggests that the idea of church government and leadership being vested in one individual – a senior leader or senior pastor – is unbiblical. It also indicates that the elders are those responsible for the spiritual government, direction and general management of a congregation – they were not subject to any type of council, board or other body within the church. Perhaps, sometimes, the structure of our church is shaped more by the corporate world than by Scripture. We have a Pastor/CEO, and a management team of church staff. Something for us to think about.
Scripturally, the elders were appointed by the apostles (in this case Paul and Barnabas) and this was a decision considered with prayer.
Acts 16:4 shows that the elders made governmental decisions when they considered the interpretation and application of apostolic wisdom and doctrine. The role of a church elder is one of spiritual governance and not just administrative. 1 Timothy and Titus show us that an elder is an old and mature person who works as a spiritual leader in a Christian community. ‘Old’ does not instantly exclude people decades younger, because someone who is young to one is old to another! But there is a sense of having life experience and understanding that only comes from being pierced by the storms of life. Maturity that comes through experience is the key here – the elderly should not be ‘wet behind the ears’ or naive due to lack of life lessons and exposure.
How Does A Church Choose Elders And Deacons? — Ministers Club
1 Timothy 5:17 shows us that the elders rule. Some, but not all, teach and preach. There is, again, this sense of authoritative leadership and leading people in the things of God.
From this we can see that the New Testament understanding of church leadership structure is less about ‘what’ and more about ‘who’. This suggests that ‘that’ is primarily shaped by ‘who’, which is exactly how culture is generated and sustained. This aspect of culture creation summarizes the duties and role of a church elder.
With these things in mind, it leads us to the observation that in some churches, they have a church leadership structure already with the elders. But these elders do not describe the same role as the role in the New Testament, and can, for example, refer to the Church Board. This causes confusion and undermines what the elderly are actually meant to be and do. Maybe in some of our churches, it’s time for a name change!
Here are listed the qualifications for church elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Episkopos and Presbyteros are used interchangeably in these passages. As we have seen, both words are describing the same role.
What Is The Role Of Older Members In The Church?
Paul wrote to both Timothy and Titus and gave them very similar person qualifications for this role. He was clearly convinced in his thinking what a church with mature elders with the right qualifications would look like – and it didn’t look like it!
The primary qualification for a church elder is Christ-like character – not a gift, anointing or knowledge. None of these indicate the spiritual maturity essential for this leading role.
Some believe that God intends that only men should serve as elders. Others believe that eldership is a role open to both men and women. Both sides present scriptural arguments. As a church, you will need to work out your theological position on gender when it comes to elders and understand that there will be many who disagree – even in your own church!
Here are some practical tips to keep in mind when considering whether or not to appoint someone in seniority as a key part of your leadership structure.
Are Elder Boards Biblical?
When considering the elderly, go slow! Don’t rush, and take your time to appoint someone to the role. Here are some ‘red flags’ that warrant someone not being considered for the elderly at this time. If these are resolved, and time shows that they have genuinely been resolved, then consideration may be given.
In a similar way, people should be removed from the elders if they fall into grave moral sin in any of these areas.
These are the inverse of the biblical qualifications for elders of the church that goes before. Red flag areas include:
The New Testament uses two Greek words that are most commonly translated ‘elder’ in most Bible translations. Presbyteros literally means one who is old, elderly, who is elderly, or more advanced in years. It was used figuratively of council members – in fact, mature and wise members of a governing council or governing body. Episkopos literally means overseer. It refers to one who guards, such as an inspector, overseer, watchman or guard. The responsibilities of the elders of the Church can be summed up as they are the ones who guide, guard and govern the church. The primary qualification for a church elder is Christ-like character – not gift, anoink, skill, expertise or knowledge. None of these indicate the spiritual maturity essential for this leading role. Elders do not need to be employed by the church as staff. In fact there is value in them no!
Reflections On Eldership Insights From Practising Elders By Laurence Wareing
I work with a number of churches helping them clarify their church leadership structure both in terms of ‘who’ they have and ‘what they do. Get in touch today if you would like to find out more about how I can help your church develop its leadership team.
With over twenty-five years of ministry and leadership experience, I help people and churches achieve spiritual growth through increased church strength, the activation of five-fold ministries, and the – leadership development.
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I sat on the back seat. Two church leaders sat in the front. They thought they were talking to me. They were actually talking to each other.
Elders & The Church
At some point, they questioned my philosophy of church leadership. I answered: “Jesus Christ is the head of the church. And he exercises his authority through a plurality of men of God.” Those two sentences express my convictions about the biblical elders, without using the terminology.
The two leaders explained that some of their pastoral candidates believed in the elders. They were emphatic that Shiloh would not call a pastor who believed in elders.
I remained quiet. I was sure Shiloh wasn’t going to call me to be his
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