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by Bubba Jennings
What Is a Church Elder?
Who should lead a local church? The answer to this question is a hot-button issue and will be for quite some time, if not indefinitely.
According to the Bible, the church is to be led by qualified and called men as elders and qualified and called men and women as deacons. Today, we’ll cover the office of elder, what it is, what an elder does, and the importance of eldership in general.
Simply put, a church elder is a man called by God to be an overseer.
According to the Bible, elders are to be known for their prayer life (1 Tim. 2:8), modeling Christ-like service (Matt. 20:26–28; 1 Pet. 5:2), and being practically responsible in their homes, as well as in the workplace (1 Tim. 3:4–7).
Not just any man can serve as an elder—they must be qualified to do so.
The Qualifications of an Elder
First, these lists are primarily about men being good Christians. Second, these lists are in large part tied to a man’s role as a good pastor in his home with his family and in his world with his neighbors and coworkers.
Church Elders Are Overseers
Elders are synonymously called overseers. An overseer is one who pastors the church like a shepherd herds his flock (Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 5:2). An elder shepherds the flock under his care.
God Calls a Church Elder
Who should be trained as elders? Those called by God to serve as an elder (Acts 20:28). As the church, we simply confirm God’s call. This leads to my next point.
The Duties of an Elder
Elders are asked to do many things:
- Pray and study Scripture (Acts 6:4).
- Rule/lead the church (1 Tim. 5:17).
- Manage the church (1 Tim. 3:4–5).
- Care for people in the church (1 Pet. 5:2–5).
- Give account to God for the church (Heb. 13:17).
- Live exemplary lives (Heb. 13:7).
- Rightly use the authority God has given them (Acts 20:28).
- Teach the Bible correctly (Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:2).
- Preach (1 Tim. 5:17).
- Pray for the sick (James 5:13–15).
- Teach sound doctrine and refute false teachings (Titus 1:9).
- Work hard (1 Thess. 5:12).
- Rightly use money and power (1 Pet. 5:1–3).
- Protect the church from false teachers (Acts 20:17–31).
- Discipline unrepentant Christians (Matt. 18:15–17).
- Obey local, state, and federal laws (Rom. 13:1–7).
- Develop other leaders and teachers (Eph. 4:11–16; 2 Tim. 2:1–2).
Church Elders Should Be Trained and Examined
Church elders should be primarily trained through the local church to meet the qualifications and duties of an elder. Their training may involve formal theological training, but the Bible does not require this path. Those who are called to serve as an elder should be able to handle the Bible accurately. Through Resurgence, we have developed Re:Train as a means of providing theological and leadership training to those called to serve as an elder.
How We Examine Elders at Mars Hill Church
Everyone cannot be an elder. The men who perceive a call of God to fulfill this role must be examined.
At Mars Hill Church we believe that elders should be appointed slowly and removed quickly, if necessary. This means that we take our time in discerning the call of God upon someone’s life. Our eldership process normally takes 12 to 18 months.
We follow a very simple process: identify, assess, develop, and send.
At Mars Hill Church men nominate themselves in response to a perceived call from God. After the nomination process, we begin a formal process of testing this perceived call.
From this point, the candidate is assessed. This process includes examining his family, financial giving to the church, performance at work, relationship with people outside the church, service in the church, spiritual gifts, ministry passions, attitude toward authority, work ethic, leadership gifts, humility, and anything and everything else related to his conversion, calling, character, courage, and competency.
If a candidate is approved to pursue the eldership process, then they go through our formal, internal training process. This includes reading, writing, and the completion of Re:Train and/or attendance at our elder training.
After the development process a candidate is then brought before the church for others to have an opportunity to raise any concerns or questions. At the conclusion of this process the candidate is then voted in by the elders and installed as an elder by the laying on of hands by the other elders (Deut. 1:12–16; Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim. 2:6–7).
The Importance of Church Eldership
The issue of which men should lead the church as elders is of extreme seriousness. Why? Simple. The reputation of the gospel in the community and the health of the church are dependent upon godly, qualified men who keep in step with Jesus and who can lead the church to do likewise.
I encourage local churches to train the men called to serve as elders. If we fail as elders to train the next generation, then there won’t be a next generation. Your church will die if men are not trained to be responsible, loving leaders in their families and in the church.
If you are a member of Mars Hill Church and have had a burden by God to become an elder, then I encourage you to nominate yourself. All you need to do is tell the lead pastor or executive pastor at the location where you worship. For more information on becoming an elder at Mars Hill Church, see our page, “Leadership at Mars Hill Church.”
* If you wish to study the different positions on men and women in church leadership, I recommend this article on women and ministry, the sermon “Jesus Calls the Twelve,” and this comprehensive book from John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.