The elders of the church have a great responsibility to perform. Their task is perpetual and daily with the local congregation over which they rule.
An elder is not one who is an elder in name only. Neither is one a Christian who is a Christian in name only.
The elders have not been selected and appointed to “let someone else” do the work of overseeing and tending the flock, but they must take the lead and set the example for carrying on the work of the church. In some localities the bishops have committed all the responsibility of the work into the hands of the local minister. This is not God’s plan.
When studying the duties of elders, we can see divine wisdom in setting a standard of qualifications for a man to meet in order to become an elder. His duties depend upon his qualifications. These duties are not to be taken lightly, but with the same seriousness that all other commands of Christ are taken.
Take Heed to Yourself
Paul instructed the elders of the church at Ephesus in Acts 20:28, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves…”
An elder must be careful about his own life, able to see his own faults. He is liable to impose error upon the church if his own mistakes are not before him. He is required to watch carefully and continually his own life, that he may keep it as an example for good. He must “pray without ceasing” and be sure that he is right before leading others.
Take Heed to the Flock
Paul said, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
It is not enough for an elder to look out for his own conduct. He must constantly look out for the conduct of each member of the church where he is an elder.
For this reason it is essential that the elders know the flock and to know their spiritual needs so that they can feed them. The elders must constantly study the needs of the church and supply them with wisdom. No other man can take heed to the flock for the elders any more than he can worship for them.
Feed the Flock
Peter said in 1 Peter 5:1-2: “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.”
Spiritual food is as essential to our souls as the food which we eat is to our mortal bodies. Parents do not permit their children to eat out of garbage cans. Elders must keep the children of God from eating out of the garbage cans of the doctrines of men.
“But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). It is the responsibility of elders to see that the flock receives the “milk of the word.” “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). The feeding does not always have to be done by the elder himself, but he must oversee it.
Oversee the Flock
He is to take the oversight willingly, not being compelled or forced. Peter said, “Taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.”
One man said that he had never really had his heart into being an elder because, “They just forced the eldership upon me.” He should have never accepted the appointment.
The elders, having the oversight of the congregation, have the responsibility when some begin to stray from the truth into the path of sin to lead them gently and kindly back to the path of righteousness and the fold of God.
However, there are times that having the oversight means that the elders must deal sternly and severely with stubborn and rebellious individuals who will not repent and must, at times, lead the congregation in withdrawing fellowship from those who “walk disorderly.”
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6).
Be an Example to the Flock
Peter said in 1 Peter 5:3 “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.”
“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).
Good elders must be a pattern for the church to follow. They cannot “lord” it over the church as big bosses, but they must lead the church in such a way that others will follow.
Watch for Grievous Wolves
Paul admonished the Ephesian elders: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:29-31).
To watch for grievous wolves is to watch for persons claiming to be teachers of God, who, in reality, are teachers of evil doctrines. Vigilance will enable the elders to see the first signs of coming trouble. A false doctrine has its weakest influence when it first appears. This is when it must be attacked.
It is necessary for the elders to know the Bible class teachers and what is being taught in the Bible classes. This is where much of the trouble in the church has had its beginning.
Stop the Mouths of Vain Talkers and Deceivers
Titus 1:11 teaches that such mouths “must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.”
Many will not respond to sound teaching of the gospel. They will not submit to the rule of the eldership of the church. These must be dwelt with in a scriptural manner. Their mouths must be stopped. Their unruly attitudes must be exposed. The elders have the authority and the means to do this. When preachers or teachers are found not preaching sound doctrine it is the elders’ duty to stop them.
Support the Weak
It is the duty of the elders to support the weak (Acts 20:35). Just as a father must care and provide for those in his family who are not able to do for themselves, the elders must care for those in God’s family who are not able to do for themselves.
The elders should lead the church in looking after the necessities of the poor and needy. Many are also weak spiritually and need encouraging.
Pray and Care for the Sick
“Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord….The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:14, 16).
Elders must do something for the benefit of the sick. They cannot hire a preacher to do their visiting for them. James said, “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church.” Elders cannot heal the sick in a miraculous way, but because of their righteousness their prayers will avail much.
Decide Matters of Difference in the Church
No greater responsibility is enjoined upon mortal man than that of settling the difficulties arising among the people of God.
In Acts 15 a great controversy on circumcision arose in the church. The apostles and elders were called on to settle the matter. We do not have the apostles now, but we do have the elders.
Such an awesome duty as this requires the qualifications of wisdom, patience, gravity, experience, justice, ability to rule their children and houses, soberness, vigilance, love for truth, and temperance.
Select and Appoint Teachers and Preachers
Elders must be sure the preachers and teachers are sound and faithful in the work of the Lord. Elders must demand that they “preach the word….in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). Elders must not be deceived by the “good words and fair speeches” of those who come in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves (Matthew 7:15).
Watch for the Souls of the Church
“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
Elders have been given these various duties because they are ultimately charged with watching after our souls. Each of these duties ultimately affects the way they watch over our souls.
To think of having to give an account of all the souls in the congregation over which you rule is the most sobering thought one could have. As Ezekiel was made a watchman over Israel (Ezekiel 3:7-16), so the elders are the watchmen over the Lord’s church.
Since the elders have the job of watching for your soul and mine, we should make their job as easy as possible, “that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”