Elders and the Eldership by Ivie Powell

     The qualifications of those desiring the work of an elder are clearly set forth by the Holy Spirit in the Bible. (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1; 1 Peter 5: Acts 20:28).

Male Leadership

     In the very outset, the inspired Paul makes it very clear that only men (males) can serve in this capacity. 1 Timothy 3:1 states, “This is a true saying, if a man desire the office…”

     Man in this case is the masculine (aner). Paul did not use the Greek word anthropos which includes male or female, but he specified males by using the Greek word aner.

     In addition to this, the one desiring the work of an elder must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2).

Names of Description

     There are three names designating those who are to serve as elders. These names have great significance and are indeed weighty and inherently set forth the attitude and motivation of those serving in this capacity.

An “Elder”

     The first name is presbuteros that is presbyter or elder (Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 3:1, 1 Peter 5:1). He is one that is advanced in life, an elder, a senior.

     The church has suffered greatly by putting men in the eldership who were not seasoned. By the very definition elders are men who are advanced in years.  Young men are not fitted to “perform the work” of an elder.

An “Overseer”

     The second name is episkopos, bishop or overseer (Acts 20:28; Titus 1:7; Philippians 1:1). He is one that is charged with the duty of seeing that things are to be done by others: a curator, guardian or superintendent in carrying out the affairs of the Lord’s church.

A “Shepherd”

     The third name is poimen which means a pastor or shepherd (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-2).  He is a herdsman, a shepherd (Matthew 9:36; 25:32; John 10:2,12) to whose care and control others have committed themselves, and whose precepts they follow (John 10:11, 14). Thus, elders are pastors that shepherd the flock, the church.

     All three of these words are used interchangeably (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5,7; 1 Peter 5:1-2) and apply to all of those occupying this esteemed position. The Bible does not set forth distinctions to rank elders.

Obey and Submit to Elders

     In conjunction to the words (presbuteros, episkopos, poimen), please take note of the word “obey” (peitho), “rule” (hegeomai), and “submit (hupeiko) in Hebrews 13:17.

     To “obey” is to yield, to follow. Elders “rule,” that is, preside, over the flock; and members are to “submit” or to give way or yield to the authority of the elders.  Regarding the authority of elders, brother Roy Deaver wrote the following:

“Elders are to oversee, rule, shepherd the flock. Their duties inherently involve the authority necessary in accomplishing that which is enjoined.  Elders do not have the right to make laws in the sense that God makes laws. There is original authority. There is delegated authority.  Elders do not have original authority. They do have that authority which God through His word has given them” (The Authority of Elders, Roy Deaver).

A Serious Responsibility

     Godly elders take seriously their responsibility of shepherding the flock.  They are God’s “watchmen” and they will receive opposition from those who “love not the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:10).  They will be accused of assuming too much authority as in Numbers 16:1-35.

     As pointed out by brother Deaver, “Here is a vivid Old Testament incident involving rebellion against God’s delegated authority, and a clear illustration of what God thinks of such rebellion.”

Disagreement Does Not Always  Involve a Rebellion

     However, because someone disagrees with the elders over matters of judgment or makes suggestions does not necessarily mean they are being rebellious. When elders ignore or resent any and all input from the members, they will not be highly esteemed (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

     If not careful, elders can become “thinned skinned” and quickly assume a reactionary posture.  When this takes place, their “rule” can be perceived as that of being dictators, bullies and tyrants.

     Peter addressed this very matter when he wrote: “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).

Lording Over the Flock

     If one or more men serving as an elder becomes “intoxicated” with his power, he will be looked upon as a modern day Diotrephes (3 John 9)! Those of this disposition quickly escalate into micro-managers (bosses) and operate behind “closed doors”.

     The input of members is taken as “bossing the elders” or infringing upon their authority. One thing is for certain, when this takes place, those elders have forgotten or misunderstand their role and responsibility as shepherds.

     Godly elders realize they, like all Christians, are servants of Christ, and will keep the lines of communication open, thus creating an atmosphere of being approachable. When this takes place, faithful brethren will uphold the hands of their shepherds, highly esteem them (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13), and lovingly submit to their rule.