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Chapter 4      Elders

The concept of leadership in the church is best typified by Joshua as he stood before the people of Israel and reminded them of God's faithfulness. He took a personal stand for God. He said, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Within the nation of Israel, there were many different kinds of leaders. In the Old Testament, the governmental dominion over the people of God changed continuously.

The one constant throughout the history of the people of God in the Old Testament and the Gospel period is the Elder. An Elder in the Old Testament was a head of a household. He was the organizer and respected spokesman for the family.

It is no accident that the body of Christ is called the "family of God" and that all the churches in the New Testament are "household churches."

In the Old Testament a tribe was made up of many households. Each household had their Elder. Each tribe had an Elder that was called a "head."

Jesus Christ is the head. Each household church has an Elder. Jesus Christ the "Head" leads by love and example. An Elder leads by love and example.

There is a stark contrast between the world's concept of leadership and the way of an Elder. The world's way is understood in the Greek word katakurieuontes which is translated "ruler" and means to "exercise dominion" over a group of lesser individuals.

The way of an Elder is that of a loving head of the household, and is understood in the Greek word proistemi. Proistemi is also translated rule, but means to "care for" or "maintain." An Elder lovingly looks over and cares for his household. He does not exercise dominion over them, but instead, by love, leads by example.

In the New Testament the Elder is also called a shepherd and the household a flock.

There are several passages in the New Testament that define the role of an Elder. The first that we are going to look at is in Acts 20. Paul calls the Elders of the household churches, in the area of Ephesus, together to say good-bye and to exhort them to continue to stand for God. His instructions to Elders are: "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

A close examination of this verse is very revealing. Let's look at some of the key words:

    Overseer   episkopos   to see over

    To feed      poimaino     to shepherd

    Flock          poimnion     flock of sheep

    Over           en                in

    Made         etheto          placed

An Elder is a shepherd. He is to do the work of a shepherd and feed and care for the flock that the Holy Spirit has placed him in.

Peter also gave instructions to the Elders: "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." I Peter 5:1-3

Let's once again look at some key words:

    Elders       presbuteros       Elder (old)

    Feed          poimaino            to shepherd

    Among        en                      in
    Oversight    episkopos         overseeing

    Lords           katakurieuo     exercise dominion

    Being           ginomai             becoming

    Ensamples   tupos                 pattern

With an understanding of the key words in Acts 20:28 and I Peter 5:1-3, we can see that they way of an Elder is not the way of the world: "The Elders that are among you, Shepherd the flock which you are in, overseeing willingly, not by constraint; not exercising dominion over them, but becoming a pattern for the flock." This is how an elder leads. By example.

Another particularly revealing Bible passage is I Timothy 5:17,18: "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward." I Timothy 5:17,18

Key words in these verses are:

    Elders                  presbuteros    Elders, older

    Rule                     proistemi         maintain, care for

    Counted Worthy  axioo               to deem entitled
    Honour                  time                value, money paid

    Especially              malista           particularly

    Doctrine                didaskalia       teaching

After examining these three passages of scripture we can understand the role of an Elder in the church. By biblical definition, an Elder is a head of a household. Each local fellowship is a household in the family of God. This is why in I Timothy 3:5, the word tells us that "if a man know not how to care for his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?"

The Elder is exhorted to shepherd the flock that the Holy Spirit has placed him in. A shepherd does not rule by coercion or force, but instead, leads by loving example, caring for the flock.  What is a shepherd (Elder) to feed his flock? The word of God. He must teach. Be it by formal teaching methods or by example of godly living, he is always teaching.

A shepherd protects the flock from "wolves" that are sent to divide, rip, tear, and destroy the household. He is to constantly oversee the church to be aware of needs, and opportunities to help someone to grow and produce fruit.

An Elder is to be respected by the flock. He is entitled to drink the milk of the flock that he shepherds. An Elder that labors in the word should be deemed entitled to double pay. (Financial support from the flock that he shepherds. The ox that treads out the corn is not muzzled, but is allowed to eat of the grain that it works to produce. That ox is not allowed to wander over to the next household and eat out of their granary. The ox must be fed from the household he serves. A muzzled ox will soon starve to death, and produce no profit.

In the word of God the word "elder" is synonymous with "bishop, "overseer", and "shepherd". Each of these words is descriptive of the functions of the Elder.

Jesus Christ is the head of the body which is the family of God. Each household that is a part of the family has at least one Elder that functions as the head of the household. Each member of the household should be a bond slave to God, and be busy ministering the gift to one another.

Link to Chapter 5

    By Neil Tolman

Neil's House