About Us (part III)
After determining in last week's edition that elders throughout the history presented in the Bible, in both Old and New Testament periods, have consistent responsibilities (i.e. leadership and teaching), we turn our focus exclusively to the role as it is spelled out in the New Testament by the apostles Paul and Peter. Together, they more fully, but consistently, define the role of elders in the new covenant context by giving us the what', 'why' and 'how' elders do what they do.
Paul's most definitive statement on the 'what' and 'why' of elders can be found in Acts 20:28-35, where he is bidding the elders of the church in Ephesus a tearful good-bye for the last time, knowing that he will be handed over by the Jews for trial merely for preaching that their long awaited hope of a savior had arrived. In that passage, we read that the elders are to be engaged in five things:
- Watching over the flock for they have been made overseers (vs. 28).
- Shepherding the church of God, which implies care in addition to oversight. This also implies they do not own the church but Jesus, who paid for it, is its owner (vs. 28).
- Guarding the flock from false doctrine, both from within and without. Teaching the flock true doctrine is thereby expected (vss. 29-31).
- Yielding to the Holy Spirit and scripture, which provides for true doctrine to edify themselves and their church family (vs. 32).
- Helping the weak, both by ensuring that the physical needs of those incapable of meeting their own are met and by praying over those who sick [see Ja. 5:14] (vs. 35).
Paul, in his final word to us on church leadership, lists more completely than anywhere else in scripture much of the same job description elders had always had, but with greater detail accompanied by the rationale for each point.
In Peter's first letter, he writes as an elder to fellow elders in chapter 5:1-4 on how they should lead. Here he exhorts them to:
- Eagerly shepherd the flock of God and exercise oversight willingly; not for gain (material or otherwise). Peter echoes some of the responsibilities which Paul mentions, but also gets to the heart that an elder must have (vs. 2).
- Not be domineering over the flock, but lead humbly instead (vs. 3), again recognizing that in the church they are but under-shepherds until "the chief shepherd appears" (vs. 4).
Taken together, these two passages outline the scope of the "noble task" but also addresses the attitudes with which an elder must bring to it. Without an honest eagerness to humbly lead, elders are not true shepherds. Next week, with the task of selecting qualified men to begin and/or continue to lead before the congregation soon, we will turn our attention to the essential qualities of the man who "aspires to the office" (1 Ti. 3:1).