Biblical Requisites for Eldership
1 Timothy 3:1-7
1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), 6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. NASB
6 If any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. 7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. NASB
Biblical Task of Elders
Acts 20:17, 28-30
17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for 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. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. NASB
NOTE: Verse 17 gives these leaders the title of ELDER (presbuteros = presbytery or elder) and then in verse 28 they have the two duties of overseeing (episkopos = bishop) and shepherding (poimaino = pastor). So the two duties of the office of elder is to oversee and shepherd. It is interesting that many churches have such clear distinctions between an elder and a pastor when here in Acts 20, it calls these lay-elders shepherds (the word which is also translated, pastors). We believe that the elders are pastors and the professional, full-time pastor is one among the rest. The only distinction between a lay-elder and a professional pastor is the amount of time invested in church ministry and therefore the type of compensation rendered. For purely pragmatic reasons, the Church has seen the necessity to take at least one of their elders out of their secular employment in order to free them to study and minister to the congregation. They therefore pay this elder so that he can invest all of his time and energies and attention into the life of the church. Lay-elders are not lower in stature nor do they have less authority, nor are they held to a lower standard then the professional pastor.
1 Peter 5:1-5
1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. NASB
NOTE: Again, as in Acts 20, we see the title of Elder and the two duties of shepherding (poimaino = pastor) and oversight (episkopeo = bishop).
1 Timothy 5:17
17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. NASB
NOTE: We see here a distinction between ruling elders and teaching elders. All elders serve both capacities, but each elder has an emphasis in his ministry. Some are called to emphasize the ruling aspect of the office, others are called to focus on the teaching aspect of the office.
BFC Faith and Order
204-2.1 In the New Testament church, Christ has provided men called elders, whom He has enabled and commissioned to govern with ministers in His church.
204-2.2 Men who bear this office share equally with the ministers the authority in and responsibility for the life of the church; but in contrast to ministers, whose primary authority and responsibility are in the Word and doctrine and secondarily in ruling, the primary authority and responsibility of elders are ruling and governing and secondarily in the Word and doctrine.
204-2.3 Those who fill this office should be examples to the flock of their sound faith, their blameless life and conduct, and their wisdom and discretion.
204-2.4 Elders, as leaders of the people, are chosen by the membership of the church on the basis of Scriptural qualifications.
204-2.5 Because of the qualifications and dignity of the office of Elder, each particular church shall give careful consideration to ensure that a man who has been divorced or who has married a divorced woman is presently characterized as above reproach, and if married, faithful to and exclusively committed to his wife.
The New Testament early Church does not have quote-unquote church staff. Instead, it has diverse lay ministers. When the local church is benefiting from a particular ministry to the point that the congregation desires more out of that minister than the minister can practically do while still having a secular job, they decide to pay the minister so that he can devote all his time to that ministry. No where in the New Testament is this rationale reserved for pastoral ministry alone, but is applicable to all the spiritual gifts. But most often, congregations do choose to employ ministers of this kind. Here are a few Scriptures related to vocational ministry:
“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.'” (1 Timothy 5:17-18, NASB). “Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? The plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:7,11,13-14, NASB).
The problem that is most common with employing one minister and not all the ministers is: the Church and the public gradually conclude that the vocational minister is THE Minister and the congregation is the recipients of ministry. Biblically, all Christians are ministers and the vocational minister is one among many ministers. We all are both recipients and dischargers of ministry. Listen to God’s Word:
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6, NASB). Another related problem is that many people esteem vocational ministers too high and do not esteem volunteer ministers high enough. Why do many churches not allow elders, deacons, or non-ordained leaders preside over communion? (There is no Scripture requiring vocational or ordained ministers to be the only ones to do this.) This and many other large and little issues are only an issue because too many people esteem ordained ministers too highly.
While there remain problems with the way we do ministry within the Church, the methodology of calling certain ministers to work fulltime in their particular gifted ministry is the best way to do ministry. If we did not hire ministers, everyone’s energy for ministry would be divided between putting bread on the table and feeding the spiritual needs of those they minister to.
Origin of the Office
1Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. 2So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. NASB
NOTE: Here we see the beginning of the office of deacon. It was born out of necessity to have a plurality of servant-leaders. Notice that the apostles recognized their role as teachers and prayers. It is not that they viewed themselves as above serving widows, but rather, they recognized that they could not do it all themselves. They recognized that God gifted all believers for ministry and so they publicly apportioned this particular ministry of service to these seven men. Also notice that the apostles told the congregation to pick seven men from among them. Here is the first time in the Church that God’s leaders were picked by the congregation and not directly by Himself. Of course, it could not have been any seven people, but “men full of the Spirit and wisdom” and “from among yourselves.” The word deacon (διακονια) in the Greek language means “servant.”
Biblical Requisites for the Office
1 Timothy 3:8-13
8Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, 9but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. 11Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. 13For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. NASB
NOTE: This is the only statement in the NT on requisites for the office of deacon. Not much is said in the Scriptures about the duties, except the general statement in Acts 6 that they should wait on tables. Again, the NT word means servant, so the duties can be different per church and per deacon.
A congregation is all the people who attend a local church. In one way, both saved and unsaved attenders are part of the congregation. In a more technical sense, only saved individuals are members of the congregation, as the Scriptures say “He is our God and we the people of His pasture, the sheep of His hand” (Psalm 95:7, NASB). In another technical sense, only saved individuals who have formally presented themselves to the elders and congregation are members of the congregation. Allow me to be entirely forthcoming… there is no Biblical mandate for church membership. Membership is not a measure of spiritual maturity, but it is a measure of covenant commitment to a local church. So, if we want to look at a congregation from a Biblical perspective, we need to recognize these three uses of the word. A congregation is those who come together in a worship gathering. A congregation is all believers in a particular place. A congregation is those believers who have made a covenant promise with each other to work together and worship together to the glory of God.