|Vol. 14 No. 2 February 2012||
Does each elder within a congregation have to meet every qualification? Is a man qualified to serve as an elder as long as he meets most of the qualifications? Are the qualifications for elders to be followed strictly or are they mere suggestions? If all the qualifications are met by the sum of all the elders, is that sufficient?
Before we answer these questions and look at the individual qualifications for elders, consider the following passages outlining the Lord’s purpose and duty of elders within His church.
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:1-3)
From these verses, we learn that the elders are to feed the church. The food represented is not physical food but a spiritual diet of God’s Word. Associated with feeding the members, are watching out for the souls of the individuals comprising the congregation. The elders must be familiar with the life of each member that God has entrusted to them, for they will answer to the Lord for the care and the response of each member. Elders cannot feed the congregation a proper spiritual diet if they do not feed themselves a wholesome diet of God’s Word. When men meet the qualifications for elders as described in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, it is evident that they have consumed and continue to nourish themselves on a diet consisting of the whole of God’s Word.
The apostle Paul penned the qualifications of elders to the young preachers Timothy and Titus as recorded in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. Please note that in Titus 2:1-15, Paul outlined the characteristics of aged men, aged women, young men, young women and servants who claim to be followers of God. Paul made a distinction between aged men and elders. Elders must attain a higher standard than other men have reached (although they should be diligently training their lives to reach that standard) before God gives them the responsibility of watching over His children.
The qualifications for elders can be divided into positive and negative categories. J.W. McGarvey observed, “They are distributable into six natural divisions… They are distinguished as they relate respectively to experience, reputation, domestic relations, character, habits, and ability to teach and rule” (McGarvey).
Let us look at the individual qualifications broken into the divisions listed by J.W. McGarvey, the first one being experience. First Timothy 3:6 states, “not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.” Thus, an elder cannot be a new Christian. He must have enough experience to prove himself and not be filled with pride in his new position of authority.
The second division is reputation. First Timothy 3:7 reads, “Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” An elder must have a good reputation within the community. His character is such that evil accusations will not be made toward him (warranted or unwarranted).
Third in our list are family relations. An elder must be married as both Timothy and Titus announce “the husband of one wife” as a qualification. Furthermore, he must have believing children who are obedient and well behaved (1 Timothy 3:4; Titus 1:6). By meeting these qualities, a man has proven that he knows how to rule his household with instruction and authority. Since the church is God’s family, it is only natural that a man who has raised responsible, faithful, obedient children will be able to lead properly God’s children, the church, to heaven as well.
The next two categories are closely tied together and deal with the man. Character is what makes an individual who he is, and his habits are those qualities put into practice. The qualities assigned to character are “blameless,” “temperate,” “of good behavior,” “gentle,” “just,” “holy,” “not quarrelsome,” “not violent,” “not covetous,” “not greedy for money” and “hospitable.” An elder must conduct his life in such a way that he will not be accused of misbehavior. He will be gentle in his dealings with others, putting the need of others before his personal desires, and when difficulties arise, his actions will be gentle, not argumentative. However, he will firmly hold to God’s truths. An elder will not be covetous, jealously longing for the possessions and status of others. An elder will not have an unhealthy relationship with money, always looking how to earn more and never wanting to spend what he has gained. Hospitality is a requirement for an elder. He must love the stranger and friend alike and enjoy the opportunities to entertain them. This should be in the home as well as other locations. The best way for an elder to truly know those entrusted to his care is to welcome them into his home in a casual setting.
“Vigilance,” “watchfulness,” “soberness” and “not given to wine” are the qualifications for elders that are evidence of the habits of these men of God. An elder must be vigilant and watchful that he lives his life in accordance with God’s Word and that he conscientiously observes the behavior of the members of the congregation over which he rules, giving instruction when needed. “Not given to wine” is not only a prohibition to alcoholic beverages but forbids one from behaving as though he were intoxicated (which also would preclude the use of what produces the condition).
The last of the qualifications deal with the ability to teach and rule. Paul told Timothy that an elder must be able to teach, and he gave further instruction to Titus: “holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). An elder must be capable of verbally teaching in the private and in the public sector. An elder has the responsibility to stop one from teaching false doctrine and explain the truth of God’s Word. If one cannot teach verbally, he cannot stop those who teach false doctrine. Yes, we teach by example, but this passage is referring to verbal communication, and only verbal communication can stop those who teach falsehoods verbally as they are doing so.
In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Paul began the list with, “If a man.” This indicates that each man serving as an elder (bishop) must meet the rest of the qualifications listed through verse seven. “Desires the position” means to “reach out after (long for)” (Strong’s). A man who must be coerced or begged into serving as an elder is not qualified!
Yes, each man who serves the Lord as an elder must meet each and every qualification before he can serve the church as an elder. This position is not one of prominence and power, but it is a position for the humble servant, striving to be all God wants him to be.
Assuming the position of an elder is a grave undertaking and should not be taken lightly. The soul of each individual over which an elder serves is his responsibility, and he will give an account to God for his part in the final destination of that soul. Throughout the Lord’s church, there are many godly elders faithfully serving to the best of their abilities. Sadly, there are men serving as elders that though doing their best, they fall short of fulfilling the requirements God commanded. They were appointed, even though they do not meet the qualifications, thus doing more harm than good. Still other men are serving as unqualified elders, destroying the church with their selfish desires. These are the ones who try to minimize the qualifications of elders so that they and others like them can have what they deem as prominence and power.
Mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, elders, preachers and Bible class teachers, I beg you to encourage the young boys and girls with whom you associate to begin now to train their lives to one day serve God as qualified elders and elders wives. Statistics show that the Lord’s church is declining. In order to turn the trend around, we must have qualified men leading God’s children. I remember seeing on a classroom door leading into a cradle roll class the words “future elders, deacons, elders’ wives and deacons’ wives” with the pictures of each student displayed underneath it. This congregation understands the great need of qualified leaders within the Lord’s church. May each congregation throughout the world adopt this attitude so that we can reverse the trend of God’s children looking for “greener pastures” elsewhere.
Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, 2006.
McGarvey, J.W. A Treatise on the Eldership. Murfreesboro: DeHoff, 1982.