Elders: God’s Plan For Leadership In The Church

By Harold Byers

We should not be shocked today when we speak of the need for leadership among God’s people. God has always selected or had someone selected to lead his people. The very nature of man demands that someone be selected to direct our pathway. This applies both in spiritual and civil matters.

When God determined to bring ‘Israel out of Egypt, he selected Moses to lead his people across Jordan into the Land of Canaan. In Joshua 1:2, Moses sought the wisdom of elderly men as to how to handle certain matters.

In these individuals, God knew the background and qualifications and it was not necessary for God to state their qualifications. These were men who trusted in Jehovah God as the giver and sustainer of life.

In the past Judges and Kings were pointed to lead Israel in religious and civil matters. The prophets spoke of those who were leaders and being good, doing that which was right in God’s sight or those who did evil. We understand today that the leadership in civil and spiritual matters has changed. When we speak of God’s leadership today in the spiritual realm, we are speaking of the eldership in the local church.

There is a need for men to lead God’s people in the local church. When one considers the qualifications of elders as set forth by Paul in 1 Timothy and Titus, he learns that an elder must be a man married and in control of his house. Much has been stated about these qualifications, but leadership lies within the mature man’s ability to lead, based upon his knowledge of Jesus. Maybe one could possess physical qualifications and not be able to express his ability to lead others. The desire to assume responsibility and serve as an elder is a qualification of necessary leadership, but unless an individual expresses it to others, it may go unnoticed. This is a humble qualification when viewed in light of being a shepherd of men’s souls on earth.

Men who possess leadership in the world are men who have been trained and who have developed to a degree of being able to carry out instructions. Why should we think of men in the eldership as being any different?

We must look at the divine wisdom of God in not establishing a worldwide organization through which all churches could be guided. The only functioning unit is the local church, made up of pastors, elders, bishops, overseers, or shepherds. By understanding the meaning and use of these designated terms, we should now direct our attention to an aspect of the work of those who serve local congregations. All the above terms describing elders imply leadership in feeding the flock (Eph. 4:11; Acts 20:17; 1 Pet. 5:2).

Let’s examine the use of the literal word “shepherd.” He is one who has counted his sheep and knows them by sight; leads them where it is safe; secures an area where there is food; watches to make sure that none go astray; and he can call them and lead them to better pasture. In using the word shepherd, men in New Testament times understood its meaning.

When viewing elders’ leadership, one sees that it requires wisdom based on knowledge. James said, “If a man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God.” Elders certainly are to have wisdom. Luke 21:15 says, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom.” A shepherd uses his knowledge of what is best for his flock, always having them in the center of his heart, and leads them toward better things. An elder’s leadership is in direct proportion to his understanding of God.

God’s order is for men to lead his children away from sin and toward God. Men in leadership should move carefully in their actions so as not to offend the Lord. Elders must listen to the Chief Shepherd, which is Christ. Spiritual leadership demands that one listen to the one who has authority and then carry out the instructions.

Those who serve in the leadership of the church are always looking for green pastures. Shepherds of a congregation should always be seeking better methods of feeding the members of the church to insure more spiritual growth. They must not deviate from the divine food, but they should have some vision to cross traditional methods of instruction when it is in the best interest of the local church.

There are two realms of authority that can be administered: (1) The making of laws; this belongs to God; and (2) The carrying out of those laws. Human judgment must be used in carrying out the laws of God.

Elders are responsible for carrying out the mission of the church and members are,commanded to submit and obey those who rule over them (Heb. 13:17; 1 Tim. 5:17). This being true, leadership is essential in order for someone to follow this requirement. In carrying out the mission of the church, elders are responsibile for a place to worship, teaching program, proper discipline,and taking care of those who are in need.

Elders exercise authority in ruling (1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Thess. 5:12) and the writer of Hebrews refers to them as rulers (Heb. 13:7-24). Can you imagine having a ruler in an earthly kingdom who does not possess the ability to lead his subjects.

The Lord used terms that all can understand and the abuse of power by elders who are charged with leadership should not cause us to go to the other extreme in elders rule.

Many times elders have not been a good example to those whom they rule over. In 1 Peter 5:3, Peter said elders must be an example to the flock. What we say and do has great value to those who have been asked to submit to overseers.

The word “overseer” in Acts 20:28 means to look over and to superintend. For one to be placed in this position suggests the work he is to do. Elders: (1) Lead the church to proper food (Acts 20:28). (2) They guard the church from false teachers (Acts 20:29-31). (3) They rule in all matters of judgment (Rom. 12:8; 1 Tim. 5:17), not as lords, but as an example to the church (1 Pet. 5:3). (4) They tend to the flock, taking the oversight (1 Pet. 5:2). This causes each member to develop in Christ. (5) They watch in behalf of souls (Heb. 13:17).

Men who desire to be elders in a local church should possess the qualifications set forth by Timothy. Elders are under the authority of Jesus, not to add to or subtract from what the Lord wishes to be done. Qualified,men have a great fear of violating God’s law, for there are I severe consd, quences of doing things without authority. Luke said in Acts 20:30 that men of the eldership would arise, teaching perverse things. Woe be unto that man, for not only will he lose his soul but all of those who follow him.

It is hard to imagine a qualified elder, who has volunw tarily agreed to this work, to state that there is no pattern for us to follow today. Elders in the church who assume authority not delegated to them are guility of sin, and it is no different in principle for a man to say, “I’m the Pope” for he claims to speak for God.

The New Testament church had a plurality of elders and in judgment matters there must be agreement to have an eldership decision. This protects the church from having a head elder. When decisions have been reached by qualified men, who are endeavoring to follow the law, then the church can be requested to follow their decision as they superintend the local church. The lack of Bible knowledge among men who have been selected to be elders seem to be a problem. Many times we only look at the external qualifications, such as being married, how many children he has, etc. I do not want to minimize these qualifications for they are necessary but, having serving as an elder with a number of elders, most all the problems I’ve experienced have arisen out of men not understanding what the Scriptures teach about elders in leadership. Secondly, those who knew the Scripture and from all noticeable points of qualification., seem to be qualified, just lack plain backbone to take charge for fear of being liked less. The negative form of leadership has pushed preachers into taking the lead simply because of neglect of the elders.

When elders can remove a preacher or teacher because he is not doing the work he has been assigned to do and place someone else in or take the pulpit themselves, explaining all the scriptural reasons for their action, then those elders are overseers in leadership.

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 1, pp. 1, 23
January 5, 1989