What Should Churches Do Who Have Elders?

churchTitus 1:5–9 and 1 Timothy 3:1–7 give a host of qualifications for potential elders. Additionally, they give indication as to what an elder is supposed to do—to instruct the flock in sound doctrine and protect the church from false teaching, immorality, and division.

Yet, what about the congregation? Does the Bible have anything to say to church members as to their relationship with the elders who shepherd them?

While no virtue list exists for congregations like that of potential elders, the New Testament does instruct church members to love, support, and even submit to their leaders. In fact, from the context of many passages related to church leadership we find at least a dozen ways Christians should relate to those who lead them.

Twelve Ways The Church Relates to its Leaders

Continue reading

What is an Elder Supposed to Do?


When Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders in every town (1:5), he immediately listed qualifications to find those men (vv. 6–9). What he spent little time on was the specific tasks they were supposed to do as elders.

From the remainder of the letter, it can be surmised that elders who oversee the church must silence false teachers (1:11), teach what accords with sound doctrine (2:1), model good works for others (2:7), exercise authority in matters of doctrine (2:15), and protect the flock from divisive persons (3:10). Yet, these are only some of the tasks mentioned in the New Testament. Today, I want to enumerate seven others, beginning with Jesus’ words to Peter in John 21..

Seven Tasks of an Elder Who Oversees the Flock

1. Feed the Flock.

It is arguable that the genesis of the pastoral office began on a seashore in Galilee. In John 21 Jesus went in search of Peter. Days before, on the night of Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied Christ three times. Crushed by his own disloyalty, Peter returned to fishing. However, as Jesus had called him to be a fisher of men before (Matt 4:19), he again came to restore Peter to Jesus’ ministry.

In verses 15–19 Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me more than these?” (Presumably motioning to the fish). Each time Peter responded, “You know I love you.” And each time, Jesus assigned him a pastoral task: “Feed my lambs” (v. 15); “tend my sheep” (v. 16); “feed my sheep” (v. 17). Using this pastoral metaphor, Jesus announced the primary duty of an elder (cf. 1 Pet 5:1)—to feed the flock of God with the food of God, i.e., God’s holy Word! Continue reading

Establish Elders for the Sake of Evangelism

evangelistThe saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

— 1 Timothy 3:1–7 —

I’ve gotten out of the habit of curating and quoting other blogs recently. But as our church continues to look at Titus 1 and the role of elders in the church, I find David Murray’s post on 1 Timothy 3:1–7 extremely enlightening—especially, his final point.

In numerical fashion, Murray lists ten realities about elders from 1 Timothy 3:1–7.

  1. The vital importance of these verses: This saying is trustworthy
  2. The huge responsibility in these verses: the position of an overseer
  3. The powerful and pure desire in these verses: If anyone aspires to the office…
  4. The worthy work in these verses: a noble task
  5. The uncompromising imperative in these verses: the elder must be
  6. The beautiful self-control in these verses: blameless
  7. The useful service in these verses: hospitable, able to teach
  8. The testing ground in these verses: manage his own household well
  9. The fearful danger in these verses: not a recent convert
  10. The evangelistic impact of these verses: well-thought of by outsiders

In his blog post, he explains each of these. They parallel a number of the points I made in yesterday’s sermon on Titus 1:5–9. However, it’s the last point that he makes that deserves our consideration. As to the evangelistic impact of elders, Murray writes,

Who we elect to office communicates so much to the world about what the church and the Gospel is all about, that it should be considered a major part of our evangelistic message to the world. The list of elders’ qualifications have two similar bookends: “above reproach” and “well-thought of by outsiders” underlining that electing elders is an evangelistic act.

“Electing elders is an evangelistic act.” I couldn’t agree more, and I think it is an under-appreciated truth.

The Vital Role of Elders in Evangelism, Church Growth, and Church Health

To many, church leadership structures are a secondary or tertiary matter. In recent days, I’ve had more than a few comments downplaying the importance of leadership structures.

Especially when a church is struggling or filled with strife, it is easy to think that revival or changed hearts is needed. There is no denying the need for repentance and reconciliation. But to dismiss the role elders (or the lack thereof) plays in church health misses much of what the Pastoral Epistles teach.

Church health—and by health I mean ability to protect, proclaim, and display the gospel—is necessarily retained and promoted by true elders. And when the structure of elders is missing or leaders in the church are less than what 1 Timothy 3 describes, it should not come as a surprise that evangelism, church growth, and church health are all in decline.

May God be pleased to raise up godly elders in your church and mine—not just for the sake of church leadership, but as David Murray reminds us, for the sake of evangelism too.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds


Seven Things to Know About Elders

eldersEarlier this week, I highlighted three things about elders in the New Testament: (1) the term ‘elder’ is interchangeable with pastor and overseer; (2) elders function as a plurality of leaders in the local church; and (3) elders may or may not be compensated, which is to say an elder may be vocational or non-vocational.

Today, I want to pick up where I left off and add to the picture of elder leadership in the New Testament. What follows are seven truths about elders—three concerning the title (presbuteros) and four concerning the function of elders in the New Testament church. Again, this list won’t cover everything, but it is intended to show what Scripture says about this vital office. Continue reading

What does the New Testament say about elders?

elders“Elder” (presbuteros) is not a very Baptist word. Or at least, it hasn’t been readily in our vocabulary since the nineteenth century, when the likes of J. L. Reynolds, pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, wrote, “The permanent officers of a Church are of two kinds: elders (who are also called pastors, teachers, ministers, overseers, or bishops) and deacons” (see his “Church Polity, or the Kingdom of Christ in its Internal and External Development,” in Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Lifeed. Mark Dever).

Nevertheless, “elder” is a term used 76 times in the NT. Nine times it is used to speak of those advanced in age; four times of Israel’s forefathers; twelve times to refer to the heavenly elders in John’s Apocalypse; and the Gospels and Acts apply the word to the religious leaders of Israel twenty-nine times. The remaining uses of the word “elder” (20x) refer to leadership in the local church. (See Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible, p. 54).

While we can’t consider every facet of eldership, let me offer three observations about elders and their function, as found in the New Testament. Continue reading

Acts 20:24-27: Biblical Leadership (pt. 2)

Scripture is filled with imagery that sharpens the mind and stirs the affections. In Acts 20, Paul employs six images to illuminate the pastor’s role and responsibilities in a local church. These images include: Accountant, Runner, Steward, Witness, Herald, and Watchman. The first three of six have already been considered (see Part 1). Today we will consider the remaining three. Like before, biblical commentator, Warren Wiersbe, highlights images in his commentary on Acts in The Bible Exposition Commentary.

4. A Witness: “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (v. 24d). The work of the ministry is a work of proclamation; the mission of the Christian is to make known the gracious gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. Matt. 28:18-20). In other words then, witnessing, testifying, and proclaiming the good news is not reserved for an elite class of preachers. Nevertheless, the pastoral leader must prioritize preaching the gospel of the kingdom (cf. Acts 20:25; 28:23, 31). This is not a matter of convenience, gifting, preference, or position; it is the essence of the ministry and we who are stewards of the gospel must pray for and work for opportunities to make plain the gospel of Jesus Christ.
5. A Herald: “I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom” (v. 25). What is the difference between witnessing and heralding? Wiersbe differentiates like this: “The witness tells what has happened to him, but the herald tells what the king tells him to declare. [The herald] is a man commissioned and sent with a message, and he must not change that message in any way” (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 [Colorado Springs: Victor, 1989], 486). Clearly, Paul in his preaching proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom (Acts 14, 17), but he also witnessed of his personal encounter with Jesus (Acts 22, 26). We must do both, one without the other skews the gospel. The faithful minister of Christ relates the authentic work of Jesus in his life as a witness. At the same time, he declares the redemptive-historic message of salvation offered by Jesus Christ, the king of glory who fulfilled the law and earned a right to be the righteous king, who died on the cross to redeem a people to populate his kingdom, and who rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God, where he reigns in glory today!
6. A Watchman: Referring to language in Ezekiel 11 and 36, Paul writes, “I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (v. 26b-27). In this final aspect of ministry, Paul summarizes all the preceding marks of ministry. He says that he is innocent of the people’s blood (i.e. the condition of their souls) because he himself faithfully “watched on the walls” by warning the Ephesian church of God’s coming judgment. Faithful ministers, by implication, must be those people who do not shrink in cowardice or waiver in certainty. They preach the whole counsel of God, centered in Jesus Christ, and they do this day-in and day-out, in public and with individuals, and they everyday until Christ returns or until their Maker calls them home.

These ministerial aspects are grueling. They require more than good intentions and good training. They require a Spirit-filled life that rests securely on the word of God for all strength and sufficiency. Simply memorizing a list will not suffice. Spiritual leadership is more than reciting a list of cognitive truths; it is pleading that the image of Christ might be born in our lives and abiding in the word of God until it is. Ministry that is effective is the kind that sows the seed in season and out of season, and that perseveres in prayer for those seeds to bear fruit that lasts. These six images serve as biblical images to spur us on towards love and good deeds. May we meditate on them and pray that they are true of our ministries, as we labor for the sake of Christ’s blood-bought church (Acts 20:28).

Sola Deo Gloria,

Acts 20:24-27: Biblical Leadership (pt. 1)

In Acts 20, Paul makes plans for his “farewell tour.” Beginning in Macedonia, moving through Achaia, he lands in Miletus where he calls the elders of Ephesus. Those beloved men, with whom he spent three years, were dear to his heart and he had a final message for them to spur them on in their pastoral duties.

In addressing the Ephesian elders, Paul reflects on his past ministry among them and he warns them of future dangers, and in the midst of his emotional charge, he employs six images that define and depict the minister’s responsibility for God’s flock. Master of alliteration, Warren Wiersbe, captures these in his commentary on Acts in The Bible Exposition Commentary. Taken together these Pauline images of leadership are noteworthy meditations for the minister of the gospel who shepherds, or who intends to shepherd, God’s flock (Acts 20:28). Consider them with me:

1. An Accountant, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself” (v. 24a). Like the king who counts the cost of going to war and the businessman who considers the cost/benefit analysis before constructing a buildingr (cf. Luke 14:22-33), Paul was one who ministered soberly and with full knowledge of the dramatic toll he would pay for such service! He did not pick up the mantle of ministry haphazardly. He served the Lord acknowledging and accepting the call, knowing from the beginning he would suffer (Acts 9:16), and that in the end he would give the ultimate down payment—his own life–for the sake of the kingdom (Acts 20:23; 26:21; cf. Matt. 10:38-39). So it is with us who aspire to the ministry (1 Tim. 3:1) and are called to the work; we must count the cost as a sober accountant and joyfully bankrupt ourselves as we invest our talents in the kingdom that is to come (cf. Matt. 6:19-21; 25:14ff).

2. A Runner: “if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus” (v. 24b). Athletic imagery fills the pages of Paul’s letters. In 1 Corinthians 9:26-27, he says that he disciplines his body, in order to finish his course. In 2 Timothy 2:5, he speaks of the necessity to complete the ministry according to the rules, meaning that the steadfast minister is he who serves according to God’s royal law and not his own self-assumed authority. Moreover, in Philippians 3:12-14, Paul presses forward towards the prize in Jesus Christ. He sees himself running towards the finish line and imploring others to follow him (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1). This kind of forward-leaning and faithful service is evident in his final assessment of his ministry: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). Like Paul we must train ourselves in the ministry, we must complete our assigned tasks according to God’s sufficient instruction, and we must press on towards the finish line, refusing to quit until the Lord takes us off the playing field.

3. A Steward: “received of the Lord” (v. 24c). Paul recognized that his ministry was not his own. He was merely stewarding that which was given to him. Humble and yet regarding what he has received as unsurpassed in significance, Paul captures a valuable lesson in Christian ministry. True ministry is received! John the Baptist received his ministry from the Lord (John 3:27). Archippus was implored to complete the ministry that he had received from the Lord (Col. 4:17); and here Paul considers that his ministry was given to him from the Lord. What about you? Do you see your ministry, your church, your location of service as a divinely bestowed assignment, or a self-made position of influence. Ministry that is genuine and honorable is received from the Lord, and thus it should be regarded as a stewardship. For in truth, all who have been received a ministry (of any kind and of any “size”) will give an account at the end of the age (cf. Matthew 25:14ff).

As we meditate on the first three of six Pauline images for leadership, may pray, plan, and perspire to be more sober accountants, more energetic athletes, and more faithful stewards in the service of our Lord Jesus, for the sake of his church and the glory of his name!

Sola Deo Gloria, dss