This article is part of the 10 Things You Should Know series.
1. Elders are shepherds.
Both the Old and New Testaments repeatedly employ the metaphor of "shepherding" to describe the spiritual leadership of God's people. Not surprisingly, the New Testament views elders as shepherds as well (e.g. Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4). The elders' mission is to lead, teach, protect and love their church members the way shepherds care for the sheep in a flock, so that the church members will grow up into spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:11-13).
2. Elders are pastors.
This second point restates the first, but it bears repeating. The word "pastor" means "shepherd." We often call paid preachers "pastors" and lay leaders "elders." This distinction can subtly shape our thinking so that we view pastors as the professional ministers and elders as the church's board of directors who support the ministers. But a pastor is an elder, and an elder is a pastor. Elders should do those things in a local church that they assume a pastor would do, even if they spend fewer hours per week than the paid pastor.
Elders should do those things in a local church that they assume a pastor would do, even if they spend fewer hours per week than the paid pastor.
3. Elders are plural.
We always find elders (plural) in New Testament churches (e.g. Acts 15:4; 20:17; Titus 1:5). Each congregation should have a team of shepherds.
4. Elders must be godly.
The New Testament job descriptions for elders focus largely on character qualities (e.g. 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Elders must be self-controlled, sensible, holy, and hospitable. They can't be drunkards or bullies or money-grubbers. Elders must be "above reproach."
5. Elders should model godliness.
The elders' character matters because the elders model Christian maturity for the church (1 Peter 5:3; Hebrews 13:7). Church members should be able to see in their elders inspiring, albeit imperfect, examples of the character of Jesus.
6. Elders should teach.
Elders must be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2) so that they can build up the church in sound doctrine and refute false teachers (Titus 1:9; cf. Acts 20:30-31). Elder teaching can take lots of shapes: one-to-one instruction, small groups, classes, or preaching. An elder doesn't need a PhD in biblical studies, but he does need to be able to faithfully explain biblical truth.
7. Elders must lead.
Elders have a measure of authority over the local church. That's why the New Testament also calls them "overseers." The elders' authority is not absolute or unquestionable, nor should it be exercised in a domineering manner. Yet God calls his shepherds to provide leadership for the flock, and, in general, God expects the church to submit to that leadership (Hebrews 13:17).
8. Elder leadership starts at home.
If married, an elder should be "a one-woman man" (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6), which at the very least means that he is a faithful husband. If he has children, he must parent them well so they're not out of control (1 Timothy 3:4). You should demonstrate able leadership of your own household before you presume to lead God's household.
9. Elders must be men.
Male-only eldership is a hotly contested issue. And yet the Bible seems extremely straight-forward: an elder must be a "one-woman man." Just as God calls men to be the heads of their households, so he calls faithful men to lead his church.
10. Elders are not Jesus.
Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, and elders are merely his temporary helpers (1 Peter 5:4). At their best, elders model Jesus' character, teach Jesus' word, and lead the church by pointing it toward Jesus and his mission. Good elders never lose that awareness that they themselves are still sheep, utterly dependent on the grace of the Good Shepherd.