“The Elders We Need”
First Published: June 18, 2002
Last week in this column, we asked the question: “What kind of elders do we need?” And we said that this is a timely question, because of the imminent elder election, beginning on Sunday, June 30, 2002. We’ve already noted qualities to look for in potential elders: (1) they need to be men who want the work, not just the status of an elder, and (2) they need to be godly men – for character, godliness, holiness is God’s great qualification for an elder.
This week, we continue our review of the Bible’s qualifications for elders. A third thing is, we need elders who are able to teach, that is, who are able to convey God’s truth to disciples. The one gift qualification Paul lists, is that elders be able to teach He says in 1 Timothy 3:2 “An overseer, then, must be . . . able to teach.” Paul singles out but one responsibility: teaching. The elder must be able to teach. Titus 1:9 – “able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” He’s got to know Bible and doctrine well enough to explain and defend it. Isn’t it interesting, Paul does not require that they have first order leadership skills. He does not require that they come from a particular social or professional class. He does not require that they be men of prominence in the community. He requires that they be able to disciple. The only particular gift-abilities of an elder recorded by Paul are: (1) Able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Tit. 1:9) and (2) Keeps hold of the deep truths (Tit. 1:7). That is, he is orthodox in his theology in order to both teach and defend the truth. The elder is a man focused on (three things) teaching the Faith, living the faith and shepherding the flock. It makes sense that a class of men called to disciple the church and the nations, would need to be able to teach. This doesn’t mean that every elder must be great behind a podium, but every elder does need to be competent for and good at some form of teaching. You want to elect elders who not only want to teach, but who are able to teach the faith.
Fourth, we need elders with godly homes and families, and who are aiming for godly homes and families. Paul says of the elder in 1 Timothy 3:4-5 “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?).” Here Paul focuses upon what we might call family headship character qualities. He has already addressed marital fidelity, and now he adds that the elder is to be a “good manager of his own family” and that he “has obedient children.” This means that their overall behavior is a general gage of his maturity, attitude, values and parenting. As far as Paul is concerned, godliness in the church begins in the home. Discipleship in the church begins in the home. You want to elect elders whose home life and values accredit his fitness as a shepherd and reflect his commitment to Christian discipleship.
Fifth, we need elders who are spiritually mature and not recent converts (they are “old” in the faith, though not necessarily chronologically). Paul teaches us that elders must be mature in the faith, in view of the unique pressures and temptations they face, when he says “and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil,” in 1 Timothy 3:6. Now absolute time-frame is specified, but the principle is self-evident. A neophyte is uniquely susceptible to pride and should not be elected to this work. This requirement of Paul shows that doctrine and spiritual maturity must go hand in hand in the leadership of the church. You want to elect elders to whom you can confidently submit to their spiritual oversight, and that means mature men.
Well, we still have one more point to cover. We’ll get to it next week!