Two years ago, I wrote a seven part series on Elders (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, and part 7). Unfortunately, I think many Christians understand elders/pastors/bishop more from their cultural definitions than from scriptural definitions and examples. Below I’ve re-published the conclusion of this series, along with links to the other posts in the series.
In this series, I’ve suggested that Scripture does not hold elders to a higher standard of character, leadership, teaching, shepherding, or oversight. Also, I’ve suggested that Scripture does not add any responsibilities to elders in these areas above the responsibilities of all believers. Instead, I’ve suggested that, according to Scripture, all believers have the same responsibilities in these areas.
Does this mean that elders are unscriptural? Does this mean that elders are unimportant?
No. Elders are both scriptural and important. Scripture teaches that the church in Jerusalem had elders. Scripture teaches that Paul appointed elders in the cities that he visited. Scripture teaches that Paul told Timothy and Titus how to recognize elders. James and Peter both expected elders in the various churches to whom they wrote.
Elders are scriptural and important. When we recognize elders, we should recognize those who best exemplify the character, leadership, teaching, shepherding, and oversight required of all followers of Jesus Christ. When we think of people who are best following Jesus Christ and who are best serving other people, elders are the ones we should think about. When we want to see a flesh-and-blood example of what it means to live for Christ here and now, elders should be our best examples. These are the people who point us toward maturity in Jesus Christ – not toward themselves. When we need help in understanding something, or when we need assistance, or when we need comfort, or when we need exhortation, or even when we need correction, we should think of elders – not because they alone are responsible in these areas, but because we have observed how they live in obedience to Christ in these areas.
Again, this does not mean that elders are more responsible. It means that elders have demonstrated that they are more faithful in obeying Christ the way that all believers should obey Christ. However, elders who recognize that it is important for all followers of Jesus Christ to live this kind of obedient life will not always respond to requests for help from other believers. Instead, they will recognize that it is necessary that other believers have opportunities to demonstrate their character, to lead, to teach, to shepherd, and to oversee. Thus, elders who are interested in maturing all believers toward Christ will often defer an opportunity to serve to other believers, because those elders know that it is more important for the other believers to grow in maturity than it is for the elders themselves to do something, even if the elders might do it better.
In many contexts, people believe that elders lead best when they are visible and vocal. However, this is not necessarily true. Yes, there are times when mature believers (any mature believer, not just elders) should make themselves seen and heard in order to protect the gospel (not to protect our pet doctrines, but to protect the gospel). I have personally never been in one of these situations. I believe that they are rare, but the situation could come up. However, for the most part, I believe that elders demonstrate their maturity and Christlikeness most when they are not seen and not heard but are instead serving in obscurity by leading, teaching, shepherding, and overseeing in ways that demonstrate the humility and gentleness of the Spirit of Christ. If someone must be “in the limelight” – if they must be noticed – if they must be the main speaker – if they must make their opinion known – then it could be that this person is not demonstrating the character of Christ – who humbled himself taking the form of a servant – and reliance upon God, but is instead revealing a character of pride and self-dependence.
I recognize that there are serious implications of my views concerning elders. I hope to discuss many of these implications. However, I also want to give you an opportunity to discuss these implications. So, for the conclusion of this series, I am asking you – my readers – to help us understand the implications. Later, I will publish another post in order to discuss these various implications. Here are my questions for you:
1. Am I missing something in my understanding of elders?
2. What are the implications of this view of elders?
Series on Elders
1. Elders (Part 1) – Introduction
2. Elders (Part 2) – Character
3. Elders (Part 3) – Leadership
4. Elders (Part 4) – Teaching
5. Elders (Part 5) – Shepherding
6. Elders (Part 6) – Overseeing
7. Elders (Part 7) – Conclusion