Proper biblical government by elders does strengthen the church, and the biblical norm for church leadership is a plurality of God-ordained elders. Furthermore, it is the only pattern for church leadership given in the New Testament. Nowhere in scripture do we find a local assembly ruled by majority opinion, or by one pastor. Biblically, the focal point of all church leadership is the elder. It is the elders who are charged with teaching, feeding and protecting the church, and it is the elders who are accountable to God on behalf of the church.
I Timothy 3 and Titus I identify the qualifications of an elder. The qualifications cited are taken for I Timothy 3:1-7.
The elder is to be “above reproach.” That is, he must be a leader who cannot be accused of anything sinful. This includes his marital life, his social life, his family life, his business life, and his spiritual life. He must be a “one woman man,” which does not simply mean that he is married to one woman. Rather, it means an elder is to be single minded in his devotion to his wife. But that does not necessarily mean an elder is to be someone who has never been divorced, although that would be a disqualification if his sin contributed to the divorce, or if the circumstances of the divorce bring reproach on him. If he is not married, he is not to be the flirtatious type. “Temperate” speaks of a balanced, moderate life. “Prudent” is another word for “wise.” “Respectable” means he has dignity and the respect of his peers. “Hospitable” means that he loves strangers. “Able to teach” means that he is “skilled in teaching.” In addition, he is not “addicted to wine;” and not “pugnacious” (not one who picks fights or is physically abusive) but “gentle,” “uncontentious,” and “free from the love of money.” All those must be proven qualities and abilities and the first place he must manifest them is in his home. He must manage his own household well, and keep his children under control with dignity. The qualifications of an elder go far beyond good moral characteristics. An elder must be skilled as a teacher and manager. If anything in his life signifies a weakness in those areas, he is disqualified. If he is in debt, if his children are rebellious, or if his business affairs are not above reproach, he cannot be an elder. Also, he cannot be a new convert. It takes time to mature in one’s faith. An elder must have an impeccable reputation with those outside the church as well as with those inside. In Titus 1:5-9 a similar list for elder qualifications is given.
How are elders to be ordained (appointed)?
The New Testament clearly indicates that elders were uniquely set apart or appointed to their office. (Acts 14:23) Initially, it was the apostles who selected and ordained elders. (Acts 14:23) After that, elders were appointed by those who were close to the apostles and involved in their ministry. For example, Paul specifically charged Titus with the ordaining of elders. (Titus 1:5) In the third phase, the elders themselves ordain other elders. (I Timothy 4:14) Always the ultimate responsibility for appointing elders was a part of the function of church leadership. Today there are no apostles but the biblical pattern still holds. Church leaders, whether they be called elder, bishop, pastor, missionary, evangelist, apostolic representative, or whatever, should have the responsibility of identifying and ordaining other elders. Those who would be elders must desire to serve in this capacity. (I Timothy 3:1) We are not to recruit elders. He will desire the office, pursue being set apart, and devote himself to the Word of God. No one will have to talk him into it; it is his heart’s passion. Furthermore, he serves voluntarily “according to the will of God.” His service as an elder is a calling form God. Act 20:28 affirms the Holy Spirit’s work in the selection of elders. In response to His call, God plants in a man’s heart a passion for the ministry, and then confirms it by the leading of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the leadership through prayer and fasting.
So elders are a group of specially called and ordained men with a great desire to lead and feed the flock of God. They are initiated by the Holy Spirit, confirmed by prayer, and qualified through the consistent testimony of a pure life in the eyes of all.
The elders relation to the congregation
To elders is given the responsibility of being examples to the flock, giving the church direction, church finances, teaching the people, and leading the congregation. Scripture implies that anyone at a lower level of leadership should be under the elder’s authority. Because they share unique responsibility and position in the church, elders are worthy of great respect. I Thess. 5:12-13 says, “We request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” We are to respect them because of the calling that they are fulfilling, not only because of their diligent labor and the tasks they have, but primarily because of the calling to which they’ve been called. Elders may be disciplined as any other believer in the church. I Timothy 5:19-21 says, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality.” An elder is not to receive preferential treatment. The testimony of the church is most visible in the lives of the elders. If they ignore the biblical mandate for holiness, the church will suffer, its effectiveness will be diminished, its priorities will be unbalanced, and ultimately its savor as the salt of the earth will be lost. Elders of NC3 will initially be appointed by the pastor. The pastor shall be called by the elders. He will serve at the pleasure of the elders. Additional elders are appointed by the elders as they see need and they must meet the qualifications outlined in I Timothy 3. Elders will serve a three year term. At the conclusion of their term, they may be reappointed, take a year sabbatical and be reappointed, or elect to discontinue. Should he elect to discontinue, a new elder will then be appointed by the elders.