The Important Work of Elders
The Lord’s plan is for a plurality of elders to exist within each local church. Acts 14:23 shows how Paul and Barnabas went back to the places they had previously preached and, “appointed elders in every church” (NKJV). Paul left Titus on the island of Crete so he could, “set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you” (Titus 1:5, NKJV). When Paul writes a letter to the church at Philippi, he addresses it, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Philippians 1:1, NKJV). Elders would be also referred to as bishops or overseers and pastors or shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-2).
Elders are important in a local church not just so a congregation can claim to be scripturally organized but they are important because of the important work they perform within a local church. Let’s think about some of the important work done by elders! Hopefully these thoughts will help us see how important it is for local churches to have men who are qualified and appointed to this important work.
Elders are individuals who are on guard for false teaching which may enter a flock both from without and from within. Paul addressing the elders of the church at Ephesus told them, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:28-31, NKJV). Elders are there to watch out for error and people who would attempt to lead disciples away from the truth of the gospel. Part of the qualifications of elders relate specifically to this particular work done by elders. In Titus 1:9 we are told elders are to be men, “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” (NKJV). Elders are not only to watch out for false teachers but when error is taught they need to be men who are capable of responding to the error in such a way as to stop the influence false teachers will have among brethren (Titus 1:10-11). False teaching and false teachers are an ever present threat to the people of God and as a result the Lord’s people constantly need the presence of elders to help combat this danger in every church.
Elders perform an important work of watching out for the souls of other Christians. Hebrews 13:17 instructs Christians to, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (NKJV). The work of an elder is compared to the work of a shepherd with sheep (1 Peter 5:1-2; Acts 20:28). A shepherd knows his sheep, is concerned for their safety, and help protect them from danger. Elders need to be familiar with people in the congregation so they can recognize when members are getting into dangerous territory and help them avoid falling into sin. Some Christians resent elders for “prying into their private lives” and yet the work of an elder means he needs to address sins in the lives of Christians. Instead of resenting the work done by concerned elders, Christians need to recognize the great benefit they receive by having spiritually mature individuals watching out for their souls. The devil is constantly seeking to devour Christians (1 Peter 5:8) and so local churches certainly need elders to help watch after the souls of Christians.
Elders perform an important work in setting a proper example for Christians to imitate. 1 Peter 5:2-3 describes how elders are to carry out their work, “not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (NKJV). Elders help remind us it is possible to be successful in living the Christian life and reaching spiritual maturity. Elders give us a visual representation of what a mature Christian ought to look like. Of course, our primary example is the Chief Shepherd, Jesus (1 Peter 5:4), and yet elders also provide a valuable example to Christians in the local churches where they serve as elders.
Let’s appreciate the valuable and important work done by elders within local churches of the Lord’s people!