I said in the first post in this series (https://benjaminconway.net/2014/05/19/pastors-and-elders-ii-the-elders-conference/) that we would find out what Paul taught the elders at Miletus. And I give you my word that before this series is over we will look at Acts 20. But due to emails and questions that have arisen from the first post, I am going to answer some more questions first, laying a foundation to what we will say later. In Acts 14.23, it says that Paul ordained elders in the churches. Part of being a healthy New Testament church is having elders ordained by a pastor or apostle. In fact I would go as far as to say that if you do not have ordained elders, then you are not going to a church. Certainly the apostle Paul did not know a church without pastorally ordained elders! So elders are vital to any discussion of church health and leadership.
Today, I want to answer the question what is an elder. Great question – glad you asked, and glad the answer is in the Bible! Every church should have several elders. In James 5.14, sick people are told to call the elders (more than one – notice the “s” at the end) of the church (just one church, notice the lack of “es” at the end!). So a church should have some elders, and everyone in the church should know who they are. Eldership should not be a secret! Titus was told to ordain elders in the church as well. If you read Acts 15.1-2 you find out that the early church had apostles and elders. There was a plurality of elders in Jerusalem and they worked with the apostles. They had a discussion on the role of the law in the church – and Peter was the spokesman for all the apostles (see v. 7) but James (see v. 13) was the spokesman for the elders. Apostles – along with prophets, teachers and evangelists – are travelling ministries. Elders – along with pastors – are local ministries. James, functioning as the chief elder, was the pastor of the Jerusalem church. Later in history, you find James takes the title of pastor of the church of Jerusalem. And we can see that role developing here in Acts 15, and in Acts 21.18 when Paul visits Jerusalem with the phrase “James and all the elders”. That’s how a church should be run with “Pastor, and all the elders”. To meet Paul, James brought all the elders. They were all elders, but James was in a different role and office: James was the pastor – ruling over and shepherding the elders. Pastors are appointed by Jesus (Ephesians 4.11) but elders are appointed by pastors or apostles. Elders are to help the pastor oversee the church and love and disciple people.
The Bible tells us: Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. (Hebrews 13.7). The elders are supposed to rule over the people – not in an arrogant hard-hitting way, but in the way of leading them to the Word, helping them be disciples, inspiring them to dream and challenging them to life the dream. They are supposed to teach in their house groups and they are supposed to both teach the Word, based on the apostle’s or pastor’s teaching, and then set an example for the faith. That is the role of an elder in one verse:
- Rule – through love and grace, make disciples.
- Teach the Word of God to people, based on what the apostles and pastors are teaching
- Set an example of faith for people to follow
That is what a Biblical elder should look like. They are not necessarily preaching – that is the role of the pastor and the 5-fold – they are not necessarily running the show, but they are looking after people in their house on a regular basis, showing love, setting an example, ruling in love and teaching the Word.
Next week: what are the requirements of being an elder