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Thinking About Elders

Posted by on Jul 5, 2010 in elders | 14 comments

Thinking About Elders

Last week, on my post “Honest Questions About Elders/Pastors“, I thought the comments were very good. In reply to two of the comments, I said the following:

As I see it, if a person is not acting as an elder before that person is recognized/appointed by the church as an elder, then that person should not be recognized/appointed. Of course, that means that the person is doing everything an elder should do BEFORE he is an elder…

I think of “elder” as a recognition by the church that someone is doing well (or at least consistently) everything that all believers should be doing.

These comments represent my view of elders over the last few years, but a huge change in my view from several years ago. I thought I would take the opportunity to explain some of the implications of this view of elders.

First, there is nothing in the scriptural description of elders that should not be a description of all believers. All believers should have blameless character. All believers should care for their families. All believers should treat other Christians and outsiders properly. All believers should teach and care for (shepherd) and watch out for (oversee) one another.

Second, the fact that all believers SHOULD live in a certain way does not mean that all believers ARE living that way. Thus, the church should recognize (appoint, if you prefer) those who are living more consistently in the way that all believers should live. These are elders.

Third, people are recognized as elders because of the way they are ALREADY living, not so that they will do something different once they are recognized. This requires that all believers be allowed and expected to operate and function together. (In other words, we can’t allow only certain people to teach. All must be allowed to teach so that those who are “able to teach” will be obvious to all.)

Finally, (and I suppose I could add many, many more things to this list) this view of elders requires that believers ALREADY KNOW the people they are recognizing (appointing) as elders. They have already lived with them. They have learned from their teaching. They have grown from their example. They have accepted their correction. They have observed their service.

So, what do you think about my view of elders? What would you add?


14 Comments

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  1. 7-5-2010

    Alan,

    I really like this. It may have seemed to the contrary in our discussion on your earlier post mentioned in the post, but as far as what elders are, I like this. I think it has huge implications for how a church selects and appoints a pastor/elder, but in a good way.

    What I like about it is that the focus is on teaching with one’s life before one’s degree or “calling”. I think your understanding of an elder puts a proper focus back on obedience and submission to Christ first, and maybe teaching second (if at all? considering our other discussion). In any case, proper teaching with contradictory living = a misrepresentation of the Gospel, and this view protects the Gospel well.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Andy

  2. 7-5-2010

    Andy,

    Thanks for the comment and for the discussion last week. Yes, living a life of obedience and submission to Christ is also part of teaching… a very important part of teaching.

    -Alan

  3. 7-5-2010

    Alan,

    I could not be more enthusiastic in saying “Amen!!” to that!

  4. 7-5-2010

    Alan,

    I agree with each of your four points. But taken together, they leave me wondering: what exactly is the purpose of officially “recognizing” an elder? The community will already recognize a qualified elder on sight.

    Worse, by making public recognition a desirable thing, we run the risk of turning an elder’s heavenly reward into an earthly one (Matthew 6:1-4).

  5. 7-6-2010

    Aussie John,

    Thanks!

    Rick,

    I think there are several good reasons for the church to recognize those who are more mature. I wrote about some of the reasons in a post called “Are pastors good for nothing?

    -Alan

  6. 7-6-2010

    Alan,

    In your post you list several ways in which the presence of elders can bless a church when the rest look to them as examples, but in each case official recognition seems to be beside the point.

    Put another way: if God chose to bless a gathering with several qualified elders, and the assembly looked to them as examples but did not officially appoint or otherwise recognize them, would the life of the gathering be significantly different? Are there good things the elders would somehow be hindered from doing?

  7. 7-6-2010

    Rick,

    I think I understand what you’re asking now. I’m not certain that “official recognition” is necessary.

    -Alan

  8. 7-6-2010

    Alan,

    Very good thoughts! You are gifted at communicating what should be so obvious to the church today (but years of religion and man-made worship has distorted).

    Following up on my last comment under “Honest Questions About Elders/Pastors”, yes, it is obvious that every believer is responsible for guarding each other and warning each other from false teaching … but, do you believe there is a need today for someone like a Paul or a Timothy? Perhaps someone recognized by the church that can can challenge them when they are headed the wrong direction?

    Of course, I’m not really referring to the present-day, “main-stream” pastor-led churches … because, how on earth could you even begin to fix it from the inside-out?!! But for a church that chooses to follow the true New Testament model, is there still a need for “apostle-type” individuals?

  9. 7-6-2010

    Jon,

    The church definitely needs all believers functioning as God gifts them and as he gives them opportunity. This would include apostles. It would also include those who can correct and rebuke when necessary.

    -Alan

  10. 7-6-2010

    great explanations – thanks as always! I still can’t get the blog to email me updates. I’ve tried subscribing by email and it’s not working. Even when I click on “please notify me of follow up” on each entry, it still doesn’t do it. wasup!? :)

  11. 7-6-2010

    Randi,

    I subscribed you manually. Please let me know if you get an email notice tomorrow.

    -Alan

  12. 7-7-2011

    So, they shouldn’t be business owners and men who understand the business world better than most? When you bring scripture into things I get so confused. :)

  13. 4-29-2012

    I would add that in getting to know them, know them very well. There was recently an incident in our church where a pastor was caught in serious sin (made the news, too). Even his best friend since college had no idea that this guy had this issue. (Thankfully, our church is more interested in restoring him and his family than kicking him to the curb.)

    I would also say, that in getting to know the person, examine certain details. The guy who seems to be “on top of things”, may turn out to be controlling and/or micro-managing – a condition which could be because of a past hurt which would need to be addressed. The person who works hard at living a righteous life may have dormant judgmental issues which might come out toward others.

    There are likely other things to watch for – the way mankind is these days, we really need to carefully examine people. Certainly not to weed through and pick the best of the litter, but primarily to help the individual live the abundant life Jesus promised, as well as become the leader(s)which show integrity (I would like to share a blog with you…2btrue.wordpress.com, the title is Integritas – Just some stuff the Lord showed me over the years). Our primary focus is to see success in the individual which will, in turn, give us the best leadership

    It is a balance between putting someone under a microscope, yet having grace. I think we need to avoid either extreme, but I do believe there is a balance.

  14. 4-30-2012

    John,

    I’ve found that it is helpful to know all of the brothers and sister that God puts in my life, not just those who may or may not be considered “elders.” In this way, it becomes much more obvious who are truly the mature followers of Jesus among us, instead of some test to determine “qualification.” I hope that makes sense.

    -Alan

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