The Functioning of Eldership
“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17).
Hello once again, as we continue this particular series base upon the apostle. In our previous article, “Church Government,” we did focuse largely on the particular roles that elders play and we will linger on this subject a little longer here again today. Elders are vital components within the structure of the Church, including the restoration of the apostolic. Elders and the apostles must work together. NOT in a power struggle but in complete unison, consulting with one another - bringing stability and strength to the local Church.
Also in our previous article, we looked at the many qualifications of being an elder. Today we will look at some of these qualifications but more in depth. However it is true to say that as we begin to see the apostles and elders working together again like in the time of the early church, we are going to begin to see an unleashing of God’s power – restored to the Church - a power that this world will NOT be able to resist or refute! Authority and power – go hand in hand. When perfect order is restored (concerning authority in the local church) there will no longer be any shortage of power - in the Church of the living God.
So lets begin by looking at the early church, where elders seemed to have been responsible for groups of house-churches, (at that time there were no church buildings!) The elders were appointed to make sure these groups stayed on the right track spiritually. They exercised the greatest authority of all the members of a local church and they brought a sense of the Fatherhood of God to the local church, such as: faith, security, confidence and spiritual covering. Elders were also meant to establish and maintain a family atmosphere in a local church, which enabled the flow of love between members. This enabled the Holy Spirit to move in power and enabled new converts to be kept secure after any evangelistic effort. This meant they had to speak with people personally and not rule by notes in the church newsletter.
Elders were “overseers” who had spiritually responsibility for local church members. It has already been stated: it was the elders and NOT the apostles – that ruled the local churches in New Testament times. Trans-local ministries such as apostles and prophets did at times bring some correction or exhortation, but they mostly allowed the elders to carry out their task of overseeing and shepherding the local church unhindered.
From within a group of elders, God typically raises up a “set-elder” - a leader of leaders. This man is often the pastor, vicar, or full-time leader within a church. The elders may be of equal standing, but it would be very unusual for them all to be equal in leadership experience, gift and ability. The man who is called to lead the elders should enable eldership meetings by “chairing” them - in other words “managing” them and keeping them on the right track.
He is often also the spokesman for the eldership as well as being the main church teacher. Remember, every church member, including the elders, needs to submit to God and to any other person God raises up into a position of authority, e.g. an apostle bringing correction from God or a prophet bringing the “Word” of God. This submission to God and each other enables any church to be coordinated by God and fruitful as it seeks to carry out His will.
The scriptures do not reveal a clear job description for elders, but they do show us something of the way eldership functioned within the early church. Studying this can assist elders today in better understanding their significant role and what it is that God desires of them. The qualifications we see in scripture concerning those serving in eldership – reveal the sheer calibre and quality of such men - chosen and expected to be fit for their task! These men had to serve the church to which they where called in a Christ-like way and other members of the church needed to recognize some measure of spiritual gifting and spiritual maturity in them.
For example those recognized, as elders should: direct the affairs of the church they were entrusted with by God, i.e. they were God’s stewards (Titus 1:1f; 1 Timothy 5:17). The Greek word for “overseer” is episkopos and was used in the secular writings of the time to refer to a person with administrative and judicial functions. Therefore eldership is a governmental function, which has authority, and whose goal in the local church is to increase and maintain the rule of God; this affects each individual member, including their respective families, the church itself and the wider community.
Remember God never instituted “DEMOCRACY” as a means of governing His people. Rather He established “THEOCRACY” which means - government by God Himself. He enables His rule by rising up leadership - through whom He can rule (principally eldership in a local church setting). These men, therefore, must walk closely with God and wait on Him, so that they can hear His Word for the church for which they are responsible and obey His directives and take care of God’s church. They should also have a good reputation with those outside the church so that the church will be seen as a place of integrity, where non-Christians can come for help (1 Timothy 3:5,7). They also need to work hard, help the weak and remember that it is more blessed to give than receive (Acts 20:35).
They must be able to teach. The Greek word used here is didaktikos - better translated as “apt or skilled to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). However, 1 Timothy 5:17 suggests that only some had the labour (or toil) of preaching and teaching in the local church. This probably referred to those elders whose main function was preaching and teaching and perhaps even their full-time employment; hence the following verse about the worker deserving his wages (1 Timothy 5:18). All elders need to be able to teach and disciple (even if it is just in a one-to-one counselling situation), however only some are called to preach and teach in a corporate sense.
Elders, when they are asked, anoint with oil in the name of the Lord those who are sick. The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well, because the Lord will raise them up… (James 5:14-15) They also need to be on guard and watch over themselves and the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers/elders, because savage wolves will attempt to come in and will not spare the flock (Acts 20:28-31).
In closing, elders are willing shepherds of the flock, that God has placed under their care - serving as overseers and examples of Christ-likeness to their flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2-3). Their example should be Jesus Christ who is the shepherd and overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25; 1 John 2:6). Laying hands on and pray for those in their congregation, thus imparting spiritual gifts and prophecy (1 Timothy 4:14). Encourage (or exhort) those they oversee by sound doctrine and by holding firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, and refute (or convict) those who oppose it (Titus 1:9).
Finally elders are to discern the truth of God in a given situation and guide the church for which they are responsible in the light of that truth. The elders in Jerusalem did this with the apostles and therefore kept the church on the right path (Acts 15:1-31; Acts 16:4).
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Father Your entire system of authority is flawless and will never fail us if we trust in You. Help me to trust you as an individual and as part of the corporate Body at large. I want to see the restoration of all things as You promised in Your Word. I want to see the kind of power and authority that this modern world has not seen. Amen
CONFESSION OF THE DAY
Working with authority instead of resisting & rebelling against it – releases it’s power. ALL authority has power and it is my goal in life is to surrender to God’s authority. Immaturity does not understand the meaning of true authority. Yet I choose to measure all of these things - NOT against my own “moral-muscle” or “limited-human-understanding” but against the very Word of God.
THANK YOU FOR HELPING TO MAKE THIS MINISTRY POSSIBLE! WE LOVE YOU…!
Motto: ‘God Chooses, then the Spirit Tests, but You Must Respond!’
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