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, “the Pastor.”
PURPOSE FOR TITLES AND DESIGNATIONS
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 means.
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 polygamist.
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 boorish.
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 forebearing 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 Jehovah.
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 Bible knowledge.
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 are:
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 believing children.
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 example 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 are:
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
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 preparation .
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
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?