What is an Elder?

Written by Josiah Nichols

May 10, 2024

Free Flock Sheep photo and picture

Introduction

What is an elder? On the Rapp Report, Andrew Rappaport recently concluded a podcast series on elders, biblical qualifications for an elder, hiring pastors, and encouraging pastors. His goal is to encourage churches to start looking at this role biblically, as opposed to the CEO/business model found in most churches. This brings up the question as to what does the Bible say about elders.

What is an Elder according to Scripture?

The office of elder is mentioned throughout the New Testament by Peter and Paul.[1]  One of the clearest texts about an elder is mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (ESV).

The position is first described as an office. An office is a role in the church with an official authoritative capacity. The office of overseer/elder is a good one to strive for. Yet, it is an office which requires the gifting of the Holy Spirit. The person must be a man, can be married, and a mature convert to Christ. In other words, he must be a mature man, able to teach the Word of God to the church.

What are the Qualifications of an Elder?

As the text above says, the man must be of a good character, “above reproach.” The primary proof of the gospel is the fact there is a change in those who believe. As James says,

“14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:4-17, ESV).

Just as works show faith is real living faith, so the character of the overseer reveals he is a right man to lead a church in the application of God’s Word. Therefore, being of good character is the number one priority.

What is Good Character?

Husband of one Wife

The list that describes good character is seen in the statements which follow. He is to be presently committed to one wife; this means he is not to be in an adulterous relationship, given to sexual immorality, or a bigamist. As Christ is married to one bride, so must be the overseer who leads his church. This does not mean an elder can not be single. Paul was single. Yet, marriage is often the proving ground for character, showing he can care for those under his charge.

What if he gets divorced? It depends on the divorce. If the woman does not believe and leaves, then Paul said to let her leave (1 Corinthians 7:15). If she has committed adultery and refuses to repent, then he also has a right to divorce her. Many believe that this does not disqualify him from being an elder.

Sober-minded and Self-controlled

His spiritual maturity is also seen in the fact he can regulate his mind and actions. This does not mean that he does not occasionally sin. Christians are still able to sin and fall into temptation. Peter sinned by not eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-21, ESV). Paul even sinned when he spoke eviliy of the high priest (Acts 23:3). Yet, this should not be the character of the pastor. Elders need to be able to control their minds and actions better. The term elder could come from the idea of elders sitting in the gateways of walled cities and judging between cases and transactions (Ruth 4:1-12). They had been around the block a few times. They had shown they were men who saw the challenges of the day and lived long enough to impart wisdom to the younger generation. It would also be seen in the way they conducted their lives.

Able to Teach

The elder must be able to teach the Scriptures. Paul made it clear to Timothy the Scriptures must be taught and applied to the church to keep them from false teachers and make them complete to do God’s works.

“15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 3:15-4:4, ESV).

This does not mean that the man has to have a seminary degree. It does mean the man is able to accurately study the Word of God, correctly interpret the Scriptures, draw principles from the text, and apply it to people’s lives. In other words, he must be a master of Hermeneutics.[2] He should also be able to present that information in a compelling, winsome, and urgent way. Usually in the form of expository preaching, preaching from the Word of God accurately.

Manage Household Well and Be Well Thought of

An elder also needs to demonstrate spiritual maturity in how he manages his children as well as his wife. His wife should be a woman of character, and his children should understand the faith. It does not mean his wife and children will automatically be saved, that is a work of the Lord. Yet, even unbelievers have children who listen and submit to them. Such superficial behavior should be expected in a Christian household as well, but they should also know the Bible and the gospel message well. If one becomes a Christian late in life and has children who are out of the house, then it is to be expected they will not submit to him. He does not need to worry about that qualification; though he should share the gospel with them on a regular basis.

The idea of being well thought of by outsiders does not mean the pastor has to be Joel Osteen and not offend anyone. It does mean the elder must not be a violent, argumentative, abusive person. People should be able to look at him and say, “That is a nice guy. Too bad he is a religious nut.” Christians in the first century were considered anything but people to be admired. They were accused of being prudes, cannibals, suicidal, and enemies of the state. Believers only had their holy lives as a testimony against those lies. So if an elder is also hated for preaching on the streets, as long as he does it in a way which glorifies God, it does not disqualify him from his position.

Conclusion

What is an elder? An elder is a person of good character who can teach. He is not a social justice warrior, a CEO, businessman, influencer, or a best friend. He is one who is called to lead the church in following and submitting to the Word of God. He is to preach the Word of God, pray for the church, share the gospel, and live a godly life. Churches need to look for men, hopefully within their church, who have these characteristics. If one is hiring a pastor, one needs to do it in a way that demonstrates his character, theology, and teaching skills. Therefore, it would be wise to read the theology statement on his resume.

As one can see, that is a hard job. All too often pastors are underpaid, work long hours, and have little time for their families. I know a pastor who works three jobs just to pay the bills in addition to feeding his wife and four children. So, pray for your pastor. Encourage your pastor by listening to him, telling him what he is doing right, remembering pastor appreciation month in October, taking him out to eat, buying him books on Logos, encouraging his wife, and being kind to his children.

More From Striving for Eternity

If you want more information on studying the Bible and how to interpret it correctly, check out the store section at strivingforeternity.org/store. There are tons of resources to help you get started on your journey to interpreting the Bible better. Also, invite Andrew Rappaport and Aaron M. Brewster to come to your church and teach you biblical interpretation with their Biblical Interpretation Made Easy Seminar. Andrew Rappaport, Aaron M. Brewster, and other guests on Apologetics live would also enjoy answering your questions on the live show on Thursdays from 7pm–9pm CST with the link to the stream yard at strivingforeternity.org/apologeticslive. Lord bless you and strive to make today and eternal day for Christ Jesus.

 

[1] See previous article on “What is a Pastor?”

[2] One way to do that is to go to our store section and check out the School of Biblical Hermeneutics. Also check out my book When My Ox Gores My Neighbor: Using Hermeneutics to Travel from Mt. Sinai to Mt. Zion.

You May Also Like…

0 Comments