Flashback Friday: Elders (Part 2)

We are picking from last week’s blog on elders.

The church is the vehicle for missions. That is why eldership matters. Healthy churches are part of the mission of God because part of the Great Commission means teaching others to obey everything Jesus commands (Matthew 28:19). The healthy church sends out people to share the gospel, and by God’s grace, people are saved. As people are saved, churches are formed. As people are taught and sanctified, healthy churches grow. This cycle continues and the Kingdom advances.

So, what does the Word of God have to say about elders? The Word teaches us, in addition to what we saw in the last post about the character and responsibilities of elders, the relationship between elders, the relationship between elders and the congregation, and the relationship between elders and Christ.

First, the Scripture speaks about the relationship between elders. We must recognize that, just like Jesus emphasized, small words matter (Matthew 22:29-31). Every use of the term “elder” in the New Testament is used in the plural. The “s” on the end of the word is God-breathed and profitable (2 Tim. 3:16). The only exceptions to this are in cases where a single elder is being referred to, such as in 1 Timothy 3, where they are describing the character that is required to be an elder. God desires a plurality of elders to lead the local church. A few texts that teach this are:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. – 1 Timothy 5:17

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you-Titus 1:5

Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him… Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. – Acts 20:17, 28

He desires this so that a plurality of elders may hold each other accountable. It also allows for each elder to use the specific gifts God has given him in various ministries. While the Scripture does not seem to teach a hierarchical authority among pastors, it does seem to imply a “first among equals” structure.  All have equal authority, but each has certain gifts and strengths that they can focus their time on. Thus, whether one is a “worship” pastor or an “executive” pastor, both have equal authority, but different emphasis.

Second, the Scripture speaks about the relationship between elders and the congregation. Hebrews 13:17 gives a straight forward command, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” We must submit to our elders. Why? They bear the heavy task to “keep watch over your souls.” By submitting to them, we “make their life a joy.” Don’t make their life hard. This means, at least implicitly, we should let them do their job. Let them lead, let them teach, let them shepherd. Members should submit to leaders, not leaders to the members. This means we may not always get our way, and this may be the best news in the world! Your local church pastors are a means of growth and grace in our life.

Third, the Scripture speaks about the relationship between elders and Christ. Hebrews 13:17 makes clear that leaders will “give an account” for how they have led. Every shepherd will give an account to the chief shepherd Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the sovereign Senior Pastor who both the pastors must answer to, but also the one who have given us our pastors. It is His plan, and authority that places leaders in their place. Thus, unless there is conduct that breaks the character becoming of an elder (1 Timothy 5:17-25), we should submit to our God-given leaders.

Will we obey our leaders? Will we allow our elders to lead? Will we live out a biblical understanding of membership? Our mission relies on healthy churches. God’s glory in the church is worth giving our whole lives toward buildings. Will we do it?

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