Chapter 15: EACH
CONGREGATION IS OVERSEEN BY BIBLICAL ELDERS
by Rex A. Turner
With the passing of the
apostles from the church scene of action, the direction of the church was left
under the oversight of men who were variously designated as elders, bishops,
overseers, pastors or shepherds, and teachers. Each church was to be governed
and supervised by a plurality of such men, not by one man that wears the title,
PURPOSE FOR TITLES AND
Several titles or designations
-- such as, elders, bishops, overseers, pastors, shepherds, teachers -- are used
to shed greater light on the duties and responsibilities of these men of God.
They are called elders because they are to be men of advanced age and of
superior wisdom and experience. They are called bishops, or overseers, because
they are to watch over and superintend all matters pertaining to their
respective church. They are called pastors, or shepherds, because they are to
assume the responsibility for the spiritual care and well-being of every soul.
They are called teachers because they are to teach, instruct, and direct all of
the members in the way of sound doctrine.
The New Testament passages
which bear directly upon the office, work, and qualifications of the men who are
responsible for the direction or oversight of God's heritage are as follows:
Acts 20:28-30; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:17-19; Titus 1:5-16; and 1 Peter 5:1-4. The
specifications contained in these passages may be divided into two categories;
namely, Qualifications of Elders and Duties of Elders.
QUALIFICATIONS OF ELDERS
The qualifications of elders
naturally fall into two classifications. There are negative qualifications and
positive qualifications .
The negative qualifications of
an elder are as follows:
1. He must not be a novice --
or he must not be a new convert or a beginner.
2. He must not be soon angry --
or he must not be a vengeful, hotheaded, or an impetuous person.
3. He must not be self-willed
-- or he must not be one who drinks wine and other intoxicating beverages.
5. He must not be a brawler --
or he must not be one who is given to strife and debate, or disposed to fight in
a figurative sense.
6. He must not be a striker --
or he must not be one who is quarrelsome, pugnacious, and disposed to physical
combat or encounter.
7. He must not be greedy of
filthy lucre -- or he must not be one who gets money by base and dishonorable
8. He must not be covetous --
or he must not be one who is inordinately desirous of wealth, or not one who is
of an avaricious spirit.
The positive qualifications of
an elder are as follows:
1. He must be the husband of
one wife -- that is, he must be a married man, but not unlawfully divorced or a
2. He must have children that
believe and who are not accused of riot or unruly -- that is, they must be old
enough to be Christians on the one hand, and they must be faithful Christians on
the other hand.
3. He must be of good behavior
-- that is, he must be courteous and considerate of others, and not uncouth or
4. He must be vigilant -- that
is, he must be watchful, attentive and protective and not indifferent,
unobserving insensitive, and sluggish.
5. He must be sober -- that is,
he must be thoughtful and well balanced in judgment, and not frivolous,
impulsive, worldly, and given to extremes.
6. He must be patient -- that
is, he must be fore-bearing toward others, and not fretful, complaining, or
murmuring even in the face of provocations.
7. He must be temperate -- that
is, he must be marked by moderation and restraint in all areas of his life, and
not intemperate in desires, habits, and language.
8. He must be just -- that is,
he must be committed to that which is right, fair, and reasonable, and not
unjust or given to prejudice and passion in dealing with others.
9. He must be gentle -- that
is, he must be kind, sympathetic, and gentle by nature, and not bitter, unfair,
harsh, or inequitable.
10. He must be holy -- that is
he must be godly, spiritually pure, and committed to the principle of the
righteousness of God, and not lacking in full dedication and consecration to
11. He must be a lover of good
men -- that is, he must have an appreciation for good men and a strong desire to
see them persevere and succeed in their good works, and not an admirer of or a
participant with evil men.
12. He must be given to
hospitality -- that is, he must be keen to the needs and welfare of others,
particularly strangers, and not unsocial or unresponsive to others.
13. He must be qualified to
teach -- that is, he must have extensive knowledge of God's Word coupled with
the ability and desire to teach it, and thus not lacking in natural ability or
14. He must be able to exhort
and convince the gainsayers -- that is, he must have sufficient knowledge and
ability to defend the truth against the gainsayer, and not one so ignorant of
the sound doctrine as to be impotent in the protection of the flock against
false teachers who teach for gain.
15. He must be blameless --
that is, he must be one of unquestioned and upright character, and not one
against whom evil reports continue to circulate.
16. He must be of good report
among them without -- that is, he must have a good moral reputation for honesty
and integrity of character, and not one who is of evil report and sharp
criticism from those who are not Christians.
DUTIES OF ELDERS
Whereas the qualifications for
the Christian elder or bishop naturally divide into two categories -- negative
qualifications and positive qualifications -- the specifications relative to the
duties of elders also divide naturally into two categories. The two categories
of duties are the primary duties and the secondary duties. The primary duties
are those duties which relate to the elder himself. The secondary duties are
those duties that the elder must fulfill for the welfare of the church.
The primary duties of elders
1. The elder must take heed to
himself. He must be humble, dedicated, prayerful, gentle, and Christ-like.
2. The elder must rule well his
own house. Here lies an acid test for "If a man knows not how to rule his own
house, how shall he take care of the church of God?"
3. The elder must have
4. The elder must have his
children in subjection. Unruly children, regardless of unfortunate or nullifying
sinister influences, will prevent any man from serving successfully as an elder
in the church.
5. The elder must hold fast the
faithful word. He must respect the word, teach it, stand for it, and defend it
against all enemies.
6. The elder must be an
ensample to the flock. He must be above reproach in his manner of life, in his
dedication to Christ, and in his disposition toward all men.
The secondary duties of an
elder are those duties which relate to the flock -- that is, those duties and
obligations which an elder must take for the welfare of the flock.
The secondary duties of elders
1. The elder must take heed to
the flock. He must be concerned for the welfare of every member. He should have
no favorites, and he should show no partiality.
2. The elder must take the
oversight of the flock willingly. He must desire the work because of his sincere
interest in the souls of men. He must be an overseer of souls.
3. The elder must feed the
flock. He must instruct the flock in the sound doctrine. He must be a teacher of
that which is good. This responsibility requires diligent and continuous
4. The elder must rule well the
flock. He must rule the flock, the church, as a father would rule his family -
not in a permissive way and yet not as lording over God's heritage.
GREAT NEEDS OF THE CHURCH
There is no greater need in the
church today than the need for qualified and consecrated elders to rule and
oversee the congregations. Each congregation should be willing to submit to the
leadership of its elders. The church is not a democracy; rather, it is God's
heritage and is to be supervised by qualified men. No church can reach its
spiritual zenith without qualified men to serve as elders or overseers.
What qualifications must an
elder have that other Christian men may not necessarily have?
Discuss the wisdom of having a
congregation governed or directed by a plurality of well qualified men rather
than a government by one person.
Must an elder be characterized
by every qualification - whether negative or positive - in a reasonable degree?
Is there a danger in an
eldership's regarding themselves somewhat as a Board of Directors? Discuss.
Should elders regard themselves
as leaders, protectors, or both?