There are numerous Old Testament references to the term “elders” who were older men looked upon as leaders among God’s people (e.g., Num. 11:16-17; Deu. 27:1). The concept for the leadership of God’s people in the New Testament era is based on that in the Old Testament. Today, God’s elders in the church are chosen from among men with years of exemplary Christian living who meet biblically specified qualifications (1 Tim. 3; Tit. 1; 1 Pet. 5).
Other terms are used for “elders” in the New Testament indicating different aspects of their duties: pastors (Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 5:1-2, to feed or tend), bishops (Acts 20:28; Phi. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1; to oversee). The term “elder” (presbuteros) indicates “the mature spiritual experience and understanding of those described” as pastors and bishops (W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, p. 120).
Men who serve congregations as elders, in too many instances, seem not to grasp the seriousness and immense of their charge. Elders must give an account at judgment of their stewardship as leaders of God’s people (1 Cor. 4:2; Tit. 1:7; Heb. 13:17). God has placed elders in the church to be “watchmen” against the danger of false teachers and error creeping in and destroying souls that are misled (Acts 20:28-31; Heb. 13:17).
The current widespread digression and outright apostasy within the brotherhood would not be occurring presently if the elders in those congregations would have carried out their responsibilities as watchmen of their flocks. Today, elders are to be serving in the role of God’s watchmen of old; and, therefore, should heed the warnings of the prophet Ezekiel to purge the membership of every sin (Eze. 3:17-21). The apostle Paul put it this way: “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump” (1 Cor. 5 6-7).
Too many elderships see themselves as a board of directors meeting behind closed doors and handing down edicts to be adhered to by the congregation. They fail to take the time to be intimately sociable with the membership. They sociably isolate themselves from the members, and thus they are ineffective at knowing their flocks and cannot “tend” to the many real needs of individuals. Busy secular lives prevent too many elders from deep and intense study of the Book, and they are ill prepared to “feed” the flock and to “exhort and convince the gainsayers” (Tit. 1:9). Therefore, pulpits are being filled with false brethren who are leading whole congregations down the primrose path into apostasy.
Having been an elder several years, this writer learned that the most significant aspect of the servitude as an elder is that of pastor, i.e., shepherd. If every man who serves a congregation as one of its elders would emphasize the role of a good shepherd who knows the flock and who is known by them, he would find his efforts to be of optimum effectiveness. When an elder is hospitable and continually has families in his home and likewise is regularly in their homes, he finds that most all other aspects of the “work” pretty well falls in line. By adopting the attributes of the good shepherd, as pictured by Jesus in John chapter 10, his service as an elder is greatly enhanced.
A man must meet the God ordained specifications in order to be Holy Spirit “made,” or qualified, to serve as an elder (Acts 20:28). Too, one must continue meeting the qualifications in order to remain a Holy Spirit made overseer. Some falsely hold the view that “once an elder, always an elder.” When a man no longer meets the God-ordained qualifications, he then ceases to be God’s elder. It is his meeting the qualifications presently, that determines his being approved by God to serve as an elder: not that he once met them.
No greater need exists today in the church than that of qualified elders sacrificing themselves in serving congregations of the Lord’s people. May God “raise up” men to serve His people as dedicated, sacrificing servants to shepherd His church in these troubling times.