The Qualifications and Work of Elders
Last week the elders announced
their desire for the congregation to begin a process of considering whether
there are additional men who are willing and qualified to serve with them as
elders. This morning we begin the
first stage of this process— engaging in a study of what the New
Testament teaches about the qualifications and work of elders. We will focus on two texts which teach
us about this very important work in the local church and a few others which
add to our understanding of this position of leadership. It is our prayer and hope that all of
us will meditate seriously about this matter, and that our choices and actions
throughout this process will be pleasing and acceptable to the Lord.
I. Qualifications for Elders.
A. Paul’s instructions to Timothy (1
Timothy 3:1-7). The Holy Spirit
has given to us qualifications which set the criteria that one must meet to be
appointed as an elder, and which describe the nature of the work of an elder.
1. “Desires the position” (vs.
1). One must want to serve in this
capacity, it cannot be forced upon him.
“Blameless” (vs. 2a). Such a man must not be subject to
blame for some fault. This does
not mean sinless. Rather, it means that there remains no outstanding wrong that
has not been corrected.
husband of one wife” (vs. 2b). - This would exclude a bachelor, a
bigamist, or a divorcee. Clearly
this is to be a man who has followed God’s law for the family.
(vs. 2c). This has to do with sobriety.
In non-biblical literature this word is used to refer to wineless
offerings (Moulton & Milligan, p. 426). This shows that elders must be examples of abstinence from
all intoxicants. This is the
standard, which the congregation itself should follow.
(vs. 2d). The idea here is
Whereas the word before this refers to refraining from intoxicants this,
refers to one’s state of mind.
Age has not taken the mind from the man. Impulse or poor judgment does not impair his thinking.
good behavior” (vs. 2e). The word used here communicates the idea of
orderliness. It is the word used
elsewhere in reference to modesty.
An elder should carry himself in both his dress and manner of life in a
modest and orderly way.
(vs. 2f). The word used here literally means “love of
strangers”. It is used in
reference to one who opens his home to traveling strangers. This is not what we would think of as
the “social butterfly,” having parties in his home. Rather, it is one willing to open his
home when needed.
to teach” (vs. 2g). The KJV
and ASV put it “apt to teach.” This is not simply one who has the ability, but does not use
it. It is one who does teach
(privately or publicly). This is a
vital qualification because of the type of work an elder engages in.
9. “Not given to wine” (vs.
3a). This is a bit of a
restatement of the qualification in vs. 2 “temperate.” It literally means “beside
wine.” It often is used in reference to behavior the drunkard commits
(i.e. insult, violence, rage). The ASV renders this “no brawler.”
In other words, this man refrains from intoxicants and the kind of behavior
that it would produce.
10. “Not violent” (vs. 3b).
Jesus has taught against violence.
It would not be fitting for those who rule over the body of Christ to
exemplify what Christ taught against.
11. “Not greedy
for money” (vs. 3c). This is
one of two qualifications which relate to money. This is important because elders will have oversight of the
collection, and may be supported by the church (1 Timothy 5:17-19). Money should not be the reason the man
12. “But gentle” (vs. 3d).
Leadership that is not gentle becomes tyrannical. This doesn’t mean that an elder should be passive. Jesus taught things which demanded that people change behavior.
Yet, He did so with gentle persuasion. An elder must do the same.
quarrelsome” (vs. 3e). While “not violent” (vs. 3b). probably
refers to physical confrontations.
This refers to argumentation.
An elder must not be one who is “looking for a good fight”
(so to speak). They will be called
one to contend for sound faith, but they must not be the type of person who
goes looking for a quarrel.
14. “Not covetous” (vs. 3f).
- Elders are called on to lead
those who are prosperous or those in poverty. They must be the type of people
with a disposition that can lead without being covetous of those they lead.
15. “One who rules his own house well,
having his children in submission with all reverence” (vs. 4) “(for
if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the
church of God?)” (vs. 5) The role and work of elders is much like that
of a father ruling his household.
There is a relationship between the kind of household a
man produces and the kind of leader a father is. One who leads the church must have shown himself to be an
example of leading a godly family.
I used to hold the view that the plural
“children” here, would prohibit a man with only one child. However,
Genesis 21:7 shows that the Holy Spirit can use the term “children”
(pl.) even when only one child is being mentioned.
16. “Not a novice” (vs. 6). An
elder must not be a young convert, but one who has lived long in Christ.
17. “A good testimony among those who
are outside” (vs. 7). The hope of the church is to bring those who are
outside of Christ, into the church.
If the reputation of a person outside of the church is poor how can we
expect him to draw people into the church?
B. Paul’s instructions to Titus
“Blameless, the husband of one wife” (vs. 6a-b),
as in First Timothy.
“Having faithful children, not accused of dissipation or
insubordination” (vs. 6c). This is a different emphasis than what is
found in First Timothy. Here the
faithfulness of the children is what is considered. A scriptural elder must have children who are faithful to
Christ. The elder’s family
serves as an example to the church, thus they must be faithful.
“Blameless, as a steward of God” (vs. 7a). Why is blameless restated? Note:
“as a steward of God.” Not only must it be that there is no
outstanding charge which can be made against the man in general, but he must
also be blameless in his work for the Lord. The task of an elder is that of a
steward. They are “entrusted
with God’s work” (NIV).
“Not self-willed” (vs. 7b). One who is self-willed
is interested in his own desires.
This could be honoring personal wishes to the exclusion of the wishes of
others, or to the exclusion of God’s wishes.
“Not quick-tempered” (vs. 7c). Not only must an elder be gentle but he
should also be slow to wrath.
“Not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,
but hospitable” (vs. 7d-8a). Four qualities restated from First Timothy.
“A lover of what is good” (vs. 8b). KJV says
“lover of good men.” This may be in response to a word play in the
Greek of back to back compound words philoxenon “a lover of strangers” and philagathon “a lover of good.” Most take it in the
general sense of loving good. This
should be a characteristic of all Christians, but especially of those who
lead. Remember what 2
Thessalonians 2:10 says must be within us if we are to accept the truth—a
love of the truth!
“Sober-minded” (vs. 8c) and
“self-controlled” (vs. 8e) as stated in First Timothy. But he
“Just” (vs. 8d). Doing what is right, doing what
is fair. An elder shouldn’t
show partiality to some and be harsh to others.
“Holy” (vs. 8f). He must show forth behavior set apart unto God.
“Holding fast the faithful word...able to...exhort and
convict those who contradict” (vs. 9). The elder must be one who knows
sound doctrine and upholds it. He
must have the ability, and disposition to exhort, correct, and rebuke those in
error. One who could never look someone in the eye and lovingly tell them they
are doing wrong, should not serve as an elder.
C. Qualifications of His Wife (1 Tim.
3:11). This text comes in the context of the qualifications for deacons, but
probably applies to “wives” of both categories of leaders. Note:
“their” is supplied by the
translators, but this is not talking about women deacons—that would
contradict the qualification to be “husbands of one wife” (vs. 12).
If this is not talking about the wives of both, why would the Holy Spirit have
made the qualifications for an elder more strict than a deacon, but a
deacon’s wife more strict than an elder’s wife? In my judgment this is talking about
the wives of both elders and deacons.
“Reverent” (vs. 11a).
NASB “dignified”—KJV & ASV “grave.”
She must be a woman who is able to be serious when it is time to be
serious. A woman who shows respect
and is worthy of respect.
“Not slanderers” (vs. 11b). An elder is often put in a position of
having to handle sensitive matters.
Matters than must remain confidential. An elder’s wife must be one who can keep confidential
information in confidence. She must not be a gossip or one who “bad
“Temperate” (vs. 11c). This is the same word as vs. 2 which refers to abstinence
from all intoxicants. Again this
is the example set before the congregation which the congregation should
“Faithful in all things” (vs. 11d). Faithful to the Lord. Faithful to her husband. Faithful to her children.
II. Names Associated with this Position. The names used in reference to
those who perform this work tell us a great deal about their work. There are three words used, which are
each translated two different ways.
(1 Peter 5:1,2). Note: 1. Elder, 2. Shepherd, 3.
A. Bishop (Overseer). 1
Timothy 3:1 and Titus 1:7 both use the word “bishop”. In Greek this is the word episcopos
“overseer.” The NKJV in 1 Peter 5:2 renders this
is not the idea that we might often associate with the term
“overseer.” We might think of the slave master as an
“overseer.” Instead, this is one who watches for the souls of the
flock (1 Peter 5:3,4).
Timothy 3:1 uses a form of this word, episcopes in reference to this “position” or “office” of
a bishop or overseer.
B. Elder (Presbyter). This is
the word presbyteros referring to an elderly person. 1 Timothy 4:14 uses the phrase
“presbytery” referring to the eldership as a whole. Elders are not to be young Christians. They are to be those who have lived a
faithful life in Christ as an example to the flock.
C. Shepherd (Pastor). This
is the word poimen meaning shepherd or feeder. The NKJV in Ephesians 4:11 translates
this word “pastor.” The religious world falsely uses this word to
refer to a preacher’s work.
Though a preacher may be an elder, a preacher who is not an elder is not
“the pastor.” The
elders are pastors, they are
shepherds. They feed the flock and
watch for them.
III. The Work of an Elder. Let’s look at a few passages
which show us some things about the work of elders.
“Shepherd the church of God” (Acts 20:17,
28-32). Note: The role is primarily spiritual. The elders are charged with the task of
keeping the saints faithful, true to sound doctrine, and true to the word of
“Being examples to the flock” (1 Peter
5:2-3). Note: Three “not
as...but by” statements.
· Not “by
compulsion”—“but willingly.” An elder does not simply
command, but motivates willing action on the part of the members.
“for dishonest gain”—“but eagarly.” This probably
addresses the elder’s motive for service. It is not for material
purposes. It is not to gain from access to the funds the church uses.
“as being lords”—“but being examples.” Yes, the
elders have the right to instruct. We’ll see in a moment that the
membership is to “obey” them. However, the primary way that elders
lead is by example. This means that the behavior that should be true of elders
should be followed by the members.
B. “They watch out for your
souls” (Hebrews 13:17).
Note: They watch for the
souls. Elders must “give an
account.” Elders are going to have to answer to God for those who become
unfaithful, those who fall away, and turn from the truth. That is a serious responsibility!
have taken a dangerous view in their understanding of the work of elders,
deacons, and preachers. They have
assigned to elders primarily maintenance and bookkeeping tasks, given preachers
the spiritual oversight that belongs to elders, and left deacons with little or
no real responsibilities. That is
not what Scripture outlines.
Conclusion. Let’s end our
study with a few final considerations.
A. “Choosing elders is an appointment not
an election. It is not a popularity
contest. It is not a matter of winning the support of a majority of members. If
a man is qualified and willing to serve, the congregation should submit
themselves to his leadership.
B. “Serving as an elder is a spiritual
work. It might be easy to view the
eldership like a management position in business. That is not a perfect
parallel. It is leadership but it is not unilateral. An elder cannot lead like
a manager or CEO. It is leadership by example, persuasion, teaching, and an
interest in the spiritual well-being of those under them. Because of this, when
considering men who are qualified for this work, it might be that one who works
in management in a secular job could serve as an elder, or perhaps he could
not. That means that someone in “blue collar” work in his secular
work might be just as qualified if not more so (in some cases) than a brother
in management in a secular job. The spiritual maturity of the brother is the
issue—not what they do for a living.
C. “Those who serve as elders have a
tremendous impact on the welfare of the church. (3 John 9-11). This text tells us about a man named Diotrephes. We are not
told if this man was an elder, but it does tell us that in his behavior he was
either acting with authority, or as if he had authority. His behavior had a
tremendous impact on the church. He put some “out of the church”
when they received those approved by John. Men who serve as elders set a tone
for a congregation. They can by their leadership steer a church in the way it
ought to go, or into division, strife, apostasy, and error. May God give us
wisdom as we contemplate this choice, understanding that the choices made today
will have an impact on the Lord’s church in the years to come.