Elders. For some, that word brings to mind a group of grumpy old men gathered together to either advise, or give orders to, a church’s pastor. And Biblically, they may be elders, but they aren’t the only ‘elders’ at your church. It’s easy to understand the confusion: 2000 years has passed, and church structures are simply different than they were in the early church – besides, the Bible is not entirely clear as to what model is best, or ‘Biblical’ (I lean towards the Presbyterian model, and think the Bible best supports that view, but others I admire greatly lean towards the Congregational model – like many Baptists – and some even the Episcopal model – like the Methodists and Anglicans). For some of us, it’s hard to figure out what the best modern corollary for ‘Elder’ would be. A number of heart-wrenching personal experiences – some of which directly affected me, and some which have affected others I know well – have burdened me to re-present a few Biblical truths that many church’s simply don’t seem to be willing to put into practice these days, particularly ‘charismatic’ ones. Where-as some of my articles here are a call to reformed Christian to reconsider the gifts of the Spirit and the modern-day work of God’s Spirit, this blog will be the opposite: a call for reformation, and for Charismatics in particular.
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, 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.”
– 1 Peter 5:1-3
Here we begin to get a Biblical picture of the Biblical picture of ‘Elder’: they are to govern or oversee (in fact, the word ‘Elder’ can also be translated as ‘Overseer’ or ‘Bishop’) the various ministries of a church, serving by example. Also, Ephesian 4:11, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:9 and 1 Timothy 5:17 all emphasize the ‘teaching’ role of a Biblical Elder. Apart from reading any more we can already see the picture coming together: in the Bible an ‘Elder’ is a Bible teacher who oversees a certain area of ministry within a church. The Biblical picture of an ‘Elder’ is far more in-line with what we now call a ‘pastor’ or ‘minister’ (or ‘reverend’, if you prefer), than what we currently have on many of our church’s elder-boards. That is not to say that our modern-day use of elders is bad – as I said earlier, I personally lean towards ‘Presbyterian’ church government, which strongly emphasizes the importance of the contemporary concept of church elders. We can, however, clearly see that the Biblical qualifications for Eldership apply fully to any minister of the church, who are, in God’s eyes, each elders/bishops/overseers over their area of ministry. Teaching Pastors, Music Ministers, Administrative Pastors, and even Youth Ministers are all, in the Biblical sense, also ‘elders’.
So, what should our ‘Elders’ (and ministers) look like? Though the subject is touched upon in other areas, there are two sections of the Bible that deal specifically with this.
“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. 4He 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 3:2-7
“…appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
– Titus 1:5b-9
In other words, anyone overseeing an a ministry must be above reproach (i.e. – not broadly known as a blatant sinner), have a good reputation among nonbelievers, and be a ‘one-woman’ man (i.e. – he should be thought of as a ‘player’, ‘womanizer’ – AND it suggests that he should be married). On top of that, he should not be hot-tempered, or prone to alcoholism (or any addictions, for that matter), violent, or at all interested in ‘getting wealthy’. Add to that list, self-discipline, gentleness, a good father (does this suggest that he should already have children?) to children who are believers, and living healthy, Godly lives (if you see an upstanding church leader, yet all of their children are walking in blatant sin, be very suspect, if for not other reason than that he didn’t step down from his position at the first sign of a problem and address his home-life first). Lastly, he must not be a recent convert, should hold to ‘sound doctrine’, and be a good Bible teacher.
Isn’t this list pretty clear – no, VERY CLEAR? Notice this, as well – the list, though tough, isn’t legalistic at it’s core: it’s not that if someone has at one time ‘sinned’ that they are disqualified from ever being an elder – the issue is whether they have developed ‘reputation’ of being a ‘sinner’, and whether or not they still garner respect from the nonbelievers they know, the congregation they feel called to, and even their own family. If they once had a reputation as a sinner, was there a radical, publicly recognized conversion, bearing long-term public fruit where all involved recognize that this is now a different person, so the non-believer will not struggle against charging your church with ‘hypocricy’ if they ever darken your doors?
I was recently discussing this issue with a charismatic friend of mine, who at one point interjected: “But what if God has a call on their life to ministry?” I said, “Then, in part, you will recognize that call to ministry by seeing these Biblical qualities in his life”. You see, God will NOT contradict God, and if the calling this person feels does not line-up with the character that God requires from anyone with that calling, he is either 1.) being challenged to change, bear long-term fruit, and eventually – when he has lived a life that leads even non-believers to recognize his Godliness – step into that role (i.e. – not quickly), or 2.) he is being deceived, either by his own flesh, or by the devil. It’s that simple.
If we paid closer attention to the Scriptures, particularly in recognizing the duties and qualifications of elders/overseers, we would have a very different church: an example would be set from the top as to what it looks like to be a servant minister – to care for your family at home MORE than you care for your ‘ministry’ – to be a walking example of what it means to live out the Bible, and not a time-bomb, waiting to go off.
I hope God revives, renews, and reformed the church in this area.