In terms of the world, an elder is someone older than you, wiser than you, and with access to knowledge and abilities that you do not have. In terms of a tribe or village, the elders will be those people whose experience and consistency give them a voice.
In church, you do not automatically become an elder because you have managed to survive a long time. The is a Biblical model for appointing elders, there is a Biblical character essential for elders, and there are Biblical tasks for elders to do.
The first thing that must be understood in a local church that desires to be healthy and based on the Bible is that elders are appointed by pastors, not the other way around. In a number of churches the elders hire and fire pastors, and then the church is committee led. The elders are then either appointed by elders or appointed by the vote of the congregation. which means the most carnal and useless and unfruitful people in the entire church are choosing who should feed them. That’s as dumb as asking a three year old to choose what to have for dinner every night or when to go to bed or bath!
We had a lady in one of her churches who was convinced she was an elder in the church because she had contacted a para-church ministry which sold her a certificate saying she was an elder. It only cost £800, and she thought she was an elder. She was not because you cannot buy an eldership, you can only be appointed by a pastor. If you are an “elder” but have not been appointed by a pastor you are no more an elder than you are a helicopter. Stop believing and acting in ways that are not in the Bible. You might have got 98% of your church voting you into being an elder, that does not make you one.
Other times people have thought being an elder is transferrable, they were an elder in their last church, so they think they can be in Tree of Life. No, it doesn’t work like that. We don’t do things the way the church down the road does things. That’s not fair on them or us to give us the right to appoint people elders and then they go to other churches as elders. That could easily be abused and misused! It’s not God’s plan.
You go a church you are not an elder unless the pastor says you are. If he is a wise, godly pastor who cares about the Bible, he will know what an elder should look like, how an elder should behave and what an elder should be doing. We will look at that in other posts in this series, but today we need to settle on the fact that pastors appoint elders, not the other way around. There is no other way to be an elder.
Acts 14.23 tells us that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in the church. Notice elders were appointed – not selected, not elected, not voted in, not chosen by the throwing of lots, no one was asked their age. To be Biblical elders must be appointed. Now there is a difference here between elders and pastors! Some people think elders and pastors are the same, but that is not Biblical, although there is an overlap being their roles. A pastor, according to Ephesians 4.11, is appointed and chosen by Jesus Christ, not men. Men can recognize that appointment of Jesus, but men cannot appoint a pastor. Only Jesus can! But elders are appointed by men – specifically pastors.
Paul told Titus, a pastor, that his job was to set things in order and appoint elders (Titus 1.5). A good pastor will be known for setting things in order and appointing elders. Timothy took on the church at Ephesus where Paul had previously appointed elders when functioning as the pastor there, but Timothy was clearly told he could remove elders from their position and had the authority as the pastor to tell the elders what to teach. If an elder cannot teach what the pastor tells them to teach, they have zero business being an elder in that church.
Jesus chooses and appoints someone as a pastor then called them to a place to gather a flock and feed that flock. The verification of that calling is that people actually gather to them. A pastor needs people in his church who the church knows are godly people, with consistent character, with a track record of morality, with a desire and passion for discipling others. He needs people to share the task of discipling people and raising them up into maturity. Those people are the elders, and only the pastors can and should be appointing them.
That is the introduction to the role of the elder, in the next post we will look at a few of the character requirements.