ELDERS

 

THEIR BIBLICAL QUALIFICATIONS  &  JOB DESCRIPTION

Copyright © 1993, by Timothy J. Arensmeier

 

It was during 1977 that my wife and I were serving a church in Atlanta; while there, I was asked to officiate at an ordination of four “elders” in a young church.  It was during this time that I again studied the concept of what an elder actually is, and how he becomes one.  It had first come into my thinking as a young boy of 13.  My family was a part of a church in Roseburg, Oregon, and while we loved our pastor, the bishop of that particular denomination “moved” him and his dear wife to another church, and sent us one whom . . . none of us really liked.

 

I had read through the bible at the time, due to the influence of my very godly parents.  I recalled that there were things said in scripture about elders, and decided to re-read the passages.  This resulted in a growing interest in what the eldership was all about.  Due to the pastor who had been sent to us, I determined that I never wanted to be one! 

 

With the passage of time and a wee tad bit of maturity, it increasingly became evident to me that while not wanting to be an elder/pastor, it would probably be a good idea to not be disqualified by some “default” due to my not bothering to know what those qualifications were all about.  Therefore, I started looking into the eldership with some seriousness based on the idea that whether or not God may want me to be one, I didn’t want to miss out by virtue of my own indifference.

 

It become increasing evident to me that whether one wanted to “aspire” to that office or not, it’s not a bad list for followers of Christ to be acquainted with, and word toward accomplishing.

 

Therefore, in 1993, when asked by a church in Colorado to help them with the issue of elders and the eldership, it came rather easily for me

 

Having read, reread and cogitated the passage for “eleventy-seven” years, I concluded the following:

 

I.    For starters, in dealing with the Elder from I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, taken from the original language, and compared, passage with passage, a "presbyter" or "episkopos" [episcopos] is all of the following:

 

      An Elder - as opposed to being a "younger," however, no specific age may be designated, but from the guidelines there are some implicit factors suggesting a bit older than just freshly out of university.

 

      A Bishop - implying responsibility for the management of a local reflection of the Church.  In this capacity, there are the administration of ordinances in the local church, as well as the discharge of such duties we normally deem unpleasant, like the discipline of unruly members of the flock of God's pasture.  - I Thessalonians 5:12,13 and Titus 1:9

 

      A Pastor - as distinct from a preacher (as anyone can preach a sermon, and often may do it quite well), in this facet of the presbyter, we see the sense of one who cares for the souls of the local flock/congregation.  A minister, or one who serves the flock of God. - I Peter 5:4

 

      An Overseer - while similar to Bishop, there is the greater sense of responsibility for actually being aware of the state of the flock, their care and feeding.  - Acts 20:28

     

      And, (my favorite) an "Under Shepherd of the Lord," Who is the Good Shepherd, or Chief Shepherd.  - I Peter 5:1-4

 

The apostle Paul uses a term to describe himself as a minister of the Lord which when translated fairly, renders "minister” as an "under-oarsman."  By way of mental picture, this is not reflective of a job with immense prestige.  Having said that, it is not accurate that the position is at the end of the boat as much as (think about this . . . ) in a three or four tiered galley ship, the “under oarsman” is under the other oarsmen, who sweat . . . or whatever during a four hour tour of duty.

 

Taken together, the position and responsibility are filled by the man qualified for them.  In filling that position (office) that individual, qualified for the job, is the person we think of as the pastor.  From Acts 20:28, we gather that the Holy Spirit, makes a man an elder, and it is the local church which has the privilege, responsibility and obligation to acknowledge what the Spirit has done, by recognizing that man as an elder.  That may be variously identified as:

 

      appointment,

      public acknowledgment,

      affirmation, or the more commonly understood,

      ordination.

 

Ordination being precisely the recognition of the gifts and capacities, as well as the willingness to serve the local congregation, in whatever capacity the ordination is issued.  Normally, individuals are "ordained" to a specific ministry, which may include, elder, deacon, evangelist, prophet or missionary.

 

Elders are pastors, bishops, overseers, under shepherds and of the number of men who are qualified and ordained, a local church may choose to remunerate one or more in a partially or totally supported manner, out of the tithes and offerings of the congregation.

 

The idea that a supported pastor is not biblical is reflective of idealism and poor scholarship.  I Timothy 5:17 & 18 specifically addresses the support of elders, when the Apostle Paul through the revelation/inspiration of the Holy Spirit writes, "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, 'Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,' and 'The worker deserves his wages.'" Paul was not at all meaning we give "two bows" on Sunday morning, as much as the manner in which "honor" is normally intended to reflect an economic weight of responsibility.

 

In the biblical record, and subsequent church history, churches were governed, or overseen by bishops (elders, pastors, overseers, etc.) and deacons.

 

          II.     The process of a church recognizing/ordaining an elder is essentially simple:

 

      The qualifications are acknowledged to be revealed from God, through the Spirit's inspiration of the Apostle Paul, and are seen in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

 

      In the original, there were two types of lists:  the general shopping list type, i.e., "On your way home from work, please pick up some bread, milk, butter, ice cream and bananas, or whatever else you want to bring home."

 

      The other list was an imperative list, and would today be understood in this manner, "We're having company.  I'm making cheese fondue this evening, and in order to do that we must have:  Emmanthaler and Gruyere cheese, cherry brandy, garlic, sauterne, nutmeg, and corn starch.  Don't forget the French bread either."  Implicit in this is that without all of the ingredients, you cannot make cheese fondue.

 

      The qualification list contained in I Timothy 3, is of the imperative list type, and would read for our understanding like this:

 

            The overseer must be:  above reproach

            The overseer must be:  the husband of but one wife

            The overseer must be:  temperate

            The overseer must be:  self-controlled . . .

 

      And on through the entire list.  In other words, each qualification "must be" present in the life of the individual who is to be ordained as an elder.  Interestingly, Timothy and/or anyone reading Paul's instructions in the first century didn't have any question as to what was intended, and directed.  They automatically understood the list to be imperative, and therefore all of the qualifications needed to be present.

 

The other matter which a mature church congregation needs to ascertain is whether or not the man is interested in being, or functioning as, an elder in the church.  If he is neither, then he should not be ordained, until the Spirit of God has done sufficient work in his life as to lead him to the conclusion that he must so serve for Christ's sake.

 

         III.     Back to "the list," with brief comments:

           

                  1.   Above reproach - does not imply "sinless perfection" as that is not possible, even with the Holy Spirit of God's assistance.  It means specifically that no one may "lay hands on" as a jailer or sheriff, to apprehend for wrong doing.  There are non-believers who live lives in society that are above reproach.  Their business and private lives are decent and orderly and provide no offense to anyone.

 

                  2.   The husband of but one wife, or the husband of one and only one wife.  Later in the list of qualifications the aspect of how a man governs, manages or leads in his own home is to be an issue of the observing church's evaluation of the individual's leadership style, therefore the "one and only one wife" is preferred for our understanding.  Much may be said about death, remarriage and/or divorce and remarriage, but suffice it to say the elder essentially ought to be a man who has only committed himself in totality to one living woman.  The Adam & Eve illustration needs to be viewed as prototypical.

 

                  3.   Temperate - technically meaning two things:

 

                        a.     total abstinence from all that is harmful, either in and of itself, or to the individual.  LSD rearranges your DNA template.  White Lead will kill you; and

 

                        b.     moderation in everything else.

 

                        The man who will not indulge in any alcoholic beverages with a self-righteous vengeance, but who simultaneously drinks 30 cups of coffee a day . . . is not temperate.

 

                  4.   Self-Controlled - as opposed to being controlled by his appetites, be they food, drink, sex, power, nicotine, money or any other addictive thing which governs the individual.  Some men have an impeccable level of "self-control" regarding the obvious, but regularly "loose their temper."  Disqualified.

 

                  5.   Respectable - or from the King James Version, "well-behaved" which essentially reflects upon the man's capacity to "fit in" and put others at ease; as opposed to a man who does quite nicely with high schoolers, but behaves the same way when around the mayor and city councilmen.  Or, the obverse:  a man who behaves quite nicely with dignitaries, but doesn't even try to communicate with the kids in the high school department. - Philippians 2:3, 4

 

                  6.   Hospitable - here, the apostle technically uses a term of mild humor, and it should be translated:  Addicted to Hospitality.  In our day, the word "addicted" carries little humor, and therefore we would misunderstand.  It merely means that there are quite normally people around this man.  He apparently lives the kind of lifestyle that is winsome and attracting to others.

 

                  7.   Able to teach - carries more than the capacity to teach.  It indicates that the man is essentially always learning, and doing it in such a way that it is applicable, or transferable.  It further means that people find themselves drawn to this man because they know that they will learn something that they can put into practice themselves.  He helps people to become ". . . doers of the Word, and not hearers only deceiving themselves." - James 1:22

 

                  8.   Not addicted to much wine - Paul is not saying that the elder may not ever drink wine.  He is saying that the "self-controlled" individual may drink a little wine, provided there is not an addiction to it.  In qualification "6" above, the elder is "addicted" to hospitality, but in this one, the elder is not "addicted" to much wine.  By implication, he's not addicted to a little wine either.

 

                  9.   Not violent, but gentle - "pugnacious" is the word used in earlier translations, and means that the elder is not prone to "punching people out."  He is more of a diplomat, or negotiator, rather than a brawler, as it pertains to conflict resolution.  At this point, the "principled man" or one who will die for a principle, any principle, is probably not qualified.  Principle in this sense being details which more accurately fit in Paul's list of things that Timothy should not engage in, i.e., discussions about genealogies, etc., which don't matter, and cause arguments. - II Timothy 2:23-26

 

                  10. Not quarrelsome - we have all met people who may be depended upon to "pick apart" any position and take issue with just about anything, in an apparent attempt to be seen, and or heard having "last word."  Again, that man doesn't qualify.

 

                  11. Not a lover of money - in no way indicating that a wealthy man may not be an elder.  "Lover" in this usage denotes an attitude of absolute commitment to pursue and obtain for one's own the object of their desire.  The opposite of this is seen in God the Father, Who so "loved" the world, that He gave His only Son, so that anyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.  God certainly went after the world, wholeheartedly.  We are not to "go after" money, wholeheartedly.  By the same token, the elder as a "self-controlled" individual will not squander money foolishly, but will behave toward it as a good steward, knowing that he will answer to God for his handling and stewardship of the Lord's money.

 

                  12. He must manage (lead, govern, control) his own family well, and insure that his children are obedient, and properly respect him.  A man will not obtain the respect of his children by demanding it of them.  That is not proper respect.  That's fear.  There is a parenthetical comment here in which Paul asks a rhetorical question, "If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how [in the world] can he take care of God's church?[!]  The Titus reference here uses a term which when misunderstood may be taken to indicate that the elder's children are believers in and followers of Christ.  That's not fair.  The word means "faithful" or "dependable" not necessarily "believing in Jesus Christ."  We've all seen children who  could be depended upon to do what they were either told to do on the spot, or what they knew they were supposed to do.  We've also seen children who when told to do something did precisely the opposite, or we knew that the parent was going to have to repeat themselves until the right pitch of volume and apparent anger had been reached.

 

                  13. He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.  In falling under the "same judgment as the devil" there is an awesome implication of rejection of God, and by God.  This man should have spent some time "in the trenches" doing battle with God, against the Enemy of our souls.

 

                  14. He must have a good reputation with the "outsiders" so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.  A good reputation is gained primarily by "working for a living" in the world.  Again, there is an implication of age here, of maturity which gains the respect of the non-believing world.  How else might this man lead in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ?  The "falling into the devil's trap" may be seen in the young "pastors" or otherwise unqualified "elders" who somehow feel themselves above the normal strictures, and therefore think that they can stand, and proceed to fall. - I Corinthians 10:12

 

                  15. Not overbearing - we have all met persons who seem to think that by raising their voices, and clouding the issue with verbiage and intricate "reasoning," they can, and/or do manage to get their way, in spite of the fact that their "opponent" has merely acquiesced, but not truly been lead to re-think their own position.  There are people whom we've all met with whom it's just plain too painful to disagree.

 

                  16. Not quick tempered - similar to the "self-controlled" man above, but here the tendency to a "short fuse" of the temper is singled out in Paul's letter to Titus.

 

                  17. Not pursuing dishonest gain - again, similar to not being a lover of money, but here the emphasis is on those monies which have dubious legitimacy.  Bribery is implicit.

 

                  18. One who loves what is good - a specific direction of the man's life is oriented to those pursuits which everyone may acknowledge as wholesome.

 

                  19. Upright - A man who knows that his righteousness is in Jesus Christ, not one who is "self-righteous" and/or pompous about "his" righteousness.  This is very similar to "1.," above, in that the issue is the manner of living.  This man may be "followed" by anyone and no one will be able to charge him with wrong doing.  Or, should his children choose to follow his example, they will end up following Christ, as that is what he is doing.

 

                  20. Holy - One who has such a relationship with God the Father through faith in Jesus Christ, that while truly capable of "having fun" and enjoying life, he is usually very conscious of the presence of the Savior in his life through the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.  As opposed to what is all too often the norm:  we are so busy, that we can go hours, to days, not even thinking of our relationship with Christ.

 

                  21. Disciplined - while similar to "self-controlled" this carries a bit more baggage.  This speaks to the man who has chosen to be a disciple (one enrolled in the pursuit of learning) of Jesus Christ, in such a way that certain habits may be found in his life.  Not legalistic habits, as much as that he may be depended upon to consistently be "in the Word," consistently "in prayer," consistently "serving the Body of Christ," and consistently "reaching out to the lost" somehow.

 

                  22. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine, and refute those who oppose it.  Sincerity doesn't count here, as much as "right doctrine."  The elder "must be" capable of articulating right doctrine, handling the Word of God rightly (II Timothy 2:15), and interpreting it to himself, and others for their edification and assistance (Ezra 7:10) in being "doers of the Word."  This is not a task for a person without an interest and inclination to be involved in a lifetime study of the Word of God.

 

         IV.     Job Description of an Elder.

 

                  From a variety of passages, primarily I Peter 5:1-4, we learn that Peter, an elder addressing other elders, submits minimal motivations for an elder to serve in the church as an overseer:

 

                  a.   not because you must, but willingly, as God wants you to be, and

 

                  b.   not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not "lording" it over those "entrusted" to you, but being examples to "the flock."

 

                  Then Peter says a curious thing, "So that when the Chief Shepherd appears, you may receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."

 

                  It is from this specific wording that we are intended to understand that an elder is an "under shepherd" of the Lord.  Therefore, if we want to understand what the job description of an "under shepherd" is, we would do well to look at what the Chief Shepherd, or Good Shepherd does perfectly in Psalm 23.

 

                  In other words, whatever the Good or Chief Shepherd is revealed as doing perfectly in the Psalm 23, any God made Elder should be capable of doing substantially, meaning truly, though not perfectly.

 

          V.     Briefly then, an Elder (Under Shepherd) will:

 

                  1.   Lead, tenderly and attempt to provide members of the local flock of God's “sheep” in such a manner that their spiritual appetites are whetted and met, and

 

                  2.   he will so uplift the Good Shepherd, that the flock, or the individual, will perceive that they have been "lead to and beside the green pastures and still waters" of the Lord's presence.  As opposed to the "preacher" who leaves you feeling like you've been bludgeoned by the "club of the Spirit!"

 

                  3.   An elder will guide the Lord's people in paths of righteousness for Christ's sake.  He will, by example and precept, provide insights into how to live lives honoring Christ, or worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27).  It won't be for the purpose of advancing his own career.

 

                  4.   When going through the "valley of the shadow of death," it is true that if we're called upon to go through it alone, Christ, through His Spirit, will comfort us.  Having gone through that valley alone, and having gone through it with a real live elder on whose shoulder I could cry, the latter is better, and I believe that the Lord as our Good Shepherd is desirous that we all have "under shepherd's" to assist us, and model for us, and comfort us with their arm of flesh which we can touch.  - Jeremiah 3:15

           

                  5.   The rod and staff of the Good Shepherd may be used by an under shepherd in much the same way as a shepherd uses those instruments in third world countries today -- to ward off enemies of the flock, as well as retrieve strays that have wandered out of safety.  It does not denote some sort of club which is used to strike the sheep, thereby "prodding them" into action.  Sheep follow a loving shepherd who tenderly provides for them.

 

                  6.   The balance of Psalm 23, speaks to the provision of the needs of the sheep, even in enemy territory; the anointing of the head with oil, further addresses a shepherd's careful attention to the detail care of the sheep.  Much like Proverbs 27:23, which states, "Be sure that you know the condition of your flocks, and give careful attention to your herds."

 

                  7.   The benediction in verse 6 is an acknowledgment that we are so truly loved that we are confident of our eternal destiny and eagerly anticipate it, due to the loving leadership we have received and been trained by, for most of our lives on this earth.

 

         VI.     What are elders to do, and under what authority?

 

                  They are to loving lead by example, and precept.  They are to oversee the spiritual welfare and well-being of the congregation.  They are to set the pace for living as redeemed ones in a fallen world.  They are to set the example of being teachable, servant-leaders.  They are to prayerfully help design programs which will assist the congregation in growing in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  They are to so equip themselves with a growing knowledge of the Word of God, as to be able to guide others into the discovery of the truths of God's Word; and they are to model submission to Christ, by voluntarily submitting, for Christ's sake, to each other.

____________

 

                  In closing, I want to state a position I have been lead to as a result of studying these qualifications for over 50 years.  As an elder, I have chosen, based on the above criteria to take the following position regarding the ordination of various classes of people:

 

                  1.  I will not participate in the ordination of women to the eldership.

 

                  2.   I hasten to add . . . nor will I participate in the ordination to the eldership of a single man, or a divorced man who was a “Christian” at the time of his divorce.

 

                  3.   Nor will I participate in the ordination of a married man who has no children, or whose children are so young, that we, the observing church, cannot observe how that man will govern in his own home, i.e., will it be in a dictatorial fashion?  Will it be so passively that he's really not in charge at all?  Will little Johnny and Sally totally rule the place?  You see, we don't know yet, do we?  It may develop that he will actually lead his family lovingly and gracefully.  Let's not rush it.  Time is on our side.

           

                  The above highlighted in red has been a problem for some time.  In recent months, I have had to re-evaluate my thinking and am now willing to see the above as reflective of an ideal which may still have validity, were the world an ideal place not infested with this problem of sin.  However, as with Deborah of old, I believe that God intended that a man lead Israel as a judge, but where none were willing to so serve, He selected someone who was, hence the woman judge. 

 

                  Church after church is today being served by women who are godly, living out the life as intended by our Heavenly Father as examples to the rest of us.  To limit them from serving, based strictly on a hard or inflexible application of a standard would be to rob the church of people willing to serve, when some others in the church either have proven unwilling or unqualified.  Therefore, I no longer see the above sentences in red as the position which I take.  This change has been added to the balance of this paper on December 2, 2007.

 

                        This paper was initially prepared in Colorado, at the request of a church where I had been invited to help resolve some problems dealing with these issues.  It is not offered as the last or final word on the subject, but rather as my current understanding.

 

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

                                                                

____________                                                                                                                       

 

Rev. Arensmeier is currently the pastor of the Sonoma Valley Community Church (Reformed Church in America), 181 Chase Street, Sonoma, California 95476.  707-938-8100.   Tim and his wife Jan celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary on May 30, 2007, and enjoy living in Sonoma.  They have four grown daughters, all of whom are married.  They also enjoy their four sons-in-law, ten grandsons and two granddaughters.

 

Web posted:  1994

Updated:  December 2, 2007

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