Elders: Shepherds of God’s Flock

Who leads Christ’s church?  Well, the answer is stated in the question, isn’t it? If it is Christ’s church, then Christ is the leader. That is precisely what the Bible declares when it refers to Jesus as the head of the church (Colossians 1:18). The Bible also declares that Jesus is the shepherd of the church; He is both the good shepherd (John 10) and the chief shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). 


But how does Jesus Christ lead His church now since He has ascended to the right hand of the Father? Again, the Bible is clear. In Ephesians 4:11-13, we are told that the ascended Christ has granted gifts to His church in ministers of the Word (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) for the purpose of equipping the church for the work of ministry in order to build it up until we attain spiritual maturity toward Christlikeness. In other words, the ascended Christ leads His church through these ministers of the Word called pastors (elders)/teachers. This truth is confirmed in 1 Peter 5:1-5 when the elders are exhorted to shepherd the flock of God under their care faithfully . . . and when the chief Shepherd (Jesus) appears they will be rewarded.  But who are these elders, and how does the church recognize them?


Who can be an elder (pastor)?

Men.  It sounds chauvinistic in our “enlightened” and “gender-liberated” culture to say that only men can be elders (pastors), but the biblical prescription is both clear and logical (1 Timothy 2:12-15). The Bible roots male/female equality in the fact that both bear God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28). Nevertheless, the man and the woman have distinct roles (Genesis 2:15-25). The man is to lead, protect and provide for the woman, and the woman is to follow the man’s leadership and help him accomplish his God-given vocation (Genesis 2:18). It is not accidental that this very pattern of male leadership, protection and provision is called for in the church. The practice of male elders/pastors in the church serves to instruct and model God’s pattern of manhood and womanhood ordained in creation.


Faithful Men.  But it’s not just any man who is to serve. The Bible instructs us that only those men who are above reproach qualify for service as elders/pastors. Clearly, no one is perfect, except Christ.  However, Christ-followers are expected to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ and be characterized by certain fruit: righteousness, love for the brethren, love for truth. It is such men who qualify for the office of elder/pastor. 


Personally, I take “above reproach” to be the one, primary qualification of an elder/pastor, but the Bible exhorts us in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, to consider various areas in which an elder/pastor must be above reproach. An elder/pastor must be above reproach in his personal life (character—3:2-3), his home life (how he loves his wife if married—3:2; manages his children if he has any—3:4-5), his spiritual and doctrinal life (able to teach, not a new convert—3:2, 6), and his public life (a man of good reputation—3:7).


Faithful Men Who Are Able to Teach. All men, in fact, all Christians, are to live above reproach (Ephesians 4:1). There is nothing remarkable about the character qualifications of an elder. So, what marks out an elder or pastor out among the faithful men of the congregation? He must be apt to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). An elder is a faithful man who is capable of teaching God’s Word to others, both to instruct and to correct (Titus 1:9).  It’s no accident that at the end of his life, Paul charges Timothy to entrust what he has heard from Paul to “faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).


How does the church recognize and affirm its elders/pastors?

When Paul calls the elders of the church in Ephesus to himself in Miletus, he reminds them that the Holy Spirit has set them apart for this task (Acts 20:28). So, there is an internal call. The Holy Spirit calls men to serve as elders. But it’s not enough for an individual to claim, “I’ve been called by the Holy Spirit, so make me an elder.” No. Throughout the New Testament, we see that there is an external recognition and affirmation of the individual’s internal call. Paul laid hands on Timothy (2 Timothy 1:6), and he warns Timothy not to lay hands on anyone too quickly (1 Timothy 5:22) because some people’s sins are obvious, while others will be found out over time. It’s the same for good works (1 Timothy 5:24-25). For this reason, it is wise to have an extended period of observation.


So, at High Pointe, elder/pastor candidates undergo a period of testing and observation (1 Timothy 5:24-25). This happens both informally (as we get to know one another and observe one another in ministry) and formally (through an elder candidate process). Those men who are deemed to qualify for the office of elder are presented to the congregation for affirmation (1 Timothy 5:22). In affirming its elders, the congregation communicates that it wants to be led by such men: faithful men who are capable of teaching God’s Word. How should the congregation relate to the elders? By all means, hold the elders accountable (1 Timothy 5:20-21), but also be sure to pray for them, protect them from false charges (1 Timothy 5:19), and follow their leadership (Hebrews 13:17). That will be a joy for the elders, and it will be a blessing for you.