by Dr Rod Nielsen
In 37 years serving as the preaching minister at Agape Christian Church I have worked with many Jesus-loving men serving as Elders. We have had our share of difficulties and disagreements but our church has consistently survived and been strengthened. I attribute this to the faithful service of qualified Elders.
Alexander Strauch, in Biblical Eldership, quotes the church father Jerome in a letter to an Elder named Nepotian dated 394AD: “Many build churches nowadays; their walls and pillars of glowing marble, their ceilings glittering with gold, their altars studded with jewels. Yet to the choice of Christ’s ministers no heed is paid.” Sadly, this is too often true in our own century as well. It is possible for a church to build a beautiful, functional building and apply the latest church-growth techniques, thus filling chairs (or pews) with bodies, yet failing to grow true disciples of Christ because they have not assured that the church is led by biblically-qualified Elders. Such churches are often called a mile wide but an inch deep.
This can be avoided by choosing only qualified men to serve as Elders. Men are sometimes chosen for business acumen, or because they are simply influential people. This leaves the church open to finding itself with Elders who are ego-driven or agenda-driven; or men who make decisions from a pragmatic or business perspective but not a biblical perspective.
The lists of qualifications that are necessary for men to serve as Elders (translation of the Greek words “presbuteros” and/or “episkopos”) are absolute if not exclusive. Why must Elders demonstrate these qualifications? They are necessary because Elders serve as examples of Christian character; they create the culture of the church; they establish the direction and ministry of the church. Elders who are not becoming more like Jesus in character, who are not themselves good Bible students, cannot lead the church from a truly biblicalperspective.
The Elders’ primary responsibility of “shepherding the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers” (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2) includes teaching, protecting against divisive behavior, protecting from false teachers and from false teaching, seeking the lost, caring for practical needs, judging doctrinal issues, and general leading; such needs can only be met by men who possess the biblical qualifications laid out by Peter and Paul.
It takes careful study of Scripture and commitment to follow the New Testament example of leadership in order for a church to develop consistently-qualified Elders. Once a church has established that only men who are already biblically qualified may serve as Elders, the congregation can confidently submit to their Elders’ leadership as in Hebrews 13:7 and 13:17:
Remember your leaders who taught you the Word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith.
Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be to your benefit.
Such a church will be Spirit-led, biblically consistent, and servant-hearted.
It doesn’t make sense to me that God would invest Himself in a church that fails to follow His prescribed model of leadership. Nor does it make sense to me that anyone would want to be a member of a church that pursues a man-made leadership structure instead of what God Himself gave us in His Word.
There is certainly no one specific “look” that every church must reflect, but the New Testament is abundantly clear: Elders must possess the qualities given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4. A church with biblically-qualified Elders will avoid many of the pitfalls that hinder effectiveness, and what problems do arise will be handled with grace and love.