Faithlife Sermons

What Are Elders?

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As we turn our attention to God’s Word today, you need to know that this sermon is a bit out of ordinary for what we usually do here. 95% of the time we are walking through portions of Scripture chapter by chapter and verse by verse, mining the goodness of God’s Word.
Right now we are in a sermon series on what is called Ecclesiology, or the study of the church. We are seeking to establish a biblical form of church polity by examining the Scriptures together.
Today’s sermon is really, part lesson, part argument, part sermon. so bear with me through the lesson and argument and stay for the sermon.
I guess The good news is that we are all super well rested, right?
Well. There will be pictures to help us as we move, so no need to worry.
Last week I shared that this may be the most important sermon series I’ve ever preached. The more I think about it, the more I’ve come to consider that it might be true, because I’m praying that God uses this series to help set the trajectory for how Pillar Fellowship functions, and my hope and prayer is that we embrace a biblical structure, not because Pastor Kenn says this is whats right, but because we are convinced together that this is what the Bible teaches.
Here is how I’d like to approach our time together today. I’d like to go over the common ways that Church leadership structures are set up in our day and age. That’s the lesson or lecture.
Then I’d like to walk through some biblical texts to determine which, if any are the biblical approach. This is the argument.
Then I’d like to conclude by answering the question, What are Elders supposed to do? What is their role in the life of a church? And that’s where I get to preachin’
Common Church polity Structures.
First is called Episcopal.
The word Episcopal comes from the Greek word Episcopos that can be translated as Bishop or overseer.
In this model of governance, you might have a priest at the lower levels of the heriarachty, but as you move up you find bishops who are not only responsible for their own church, but also those under them, but they also answer to the bishop over them.
What does this sound like? Yes. This is the Catholic Structure. Also, Episcopal churches! Shocking I know! Episcopal churches have an episcopal form of government.
Next we have a Presbyterian form.
In this form of governance, instead of a single priest, each church has a multiple elders. Usually one elder from each church is selected to serve as elders over what is called the session. The session has authority over all the churches under it, and the elder from each church represent their church as they rule over the session. This comes into play when there are church disputes that cannot be solved at the local level, and things have to be elevated.
It should be obvious, but this the style of governance practiced in Presbyterian churches.
This doesn’t have to be practiced at the denominational level though. Local church can work this way independently from a denomination or session.
Its technically still called Presbyterian form of governance, even if there is no connection to any denomination and its a fully independent church.
Finally, there is the congregational form of government.
Independent churches are often congregational. There are slightly different forms of this, but there is usually a lot of voting. From the color of the choir robes, to the hiring or firing of the pastor, a congregational church is going to vote on most matters. Some churches are a hybrid model. So its a congregational church but there are a plurality of elders, but the authority is still vested in the members.
So those are the broad strokes of common structures. This is a very zoomed out generalizing of how things are often organizied.
What I’d like to do is zoom in a little now and consider how some of these flesh out in independent churches like our own.
Some independent churches function like this.
This is a single elder model. The blue guy is THE pastor. Underneath might be a team of deacons or trustees. This is very common in independent fundamentalist churches.
This might also be true of some mega churches that are built on one guy’s personality. He’s the CEO, and under him are the other staff positions that he has hired to do a job.
This is essentially an Episcopalian structure.
Other churches have a plurality of elders. They are often selected from the congregation as lay leaders. The pastor is hired to be brought in to teach the word, cast a vision, and lead the elders. Often in this structure, the pastor, though considered on the elder board, is still considered a notch above. Often the elders function like a board of a not for profit, or exist to execute the pastors vision. The pastor is the one who has been to seminary, after all so he has the skills and the training for the position.
Then there are the churches who hire in a pastor, who is one of the elders, but he is notch below. The elders have the authority, they call the shots, the pastor is an employee who is brought in as a speaker, but the elders set the agenda and direction of the church.
What all these last couple have in common is that, though they have a plurality of elders, there is still a major bifurcation between the lay elders and the senior pastor. Though the pastor is considered one of the elders, he is still viewed as separate from them at the same time.
Finally, there is the plurality model that sees every elder a pastor, and every pastor an elder. Sometimes one elder may be a staff elder, what many would call the senior pastor, and often the senior pastor is going to be the most trained and skilled man. But that doesn’t mean that the other elders have less responsibility for the well being of the church. All of them together are tasked with the shepherding responsibility. They may have different roles between them, but the essential function is the same.
What I’m going to argue from the Scriptures today is that this is the biblical model. In order to do that, I have to show from the Scripture three things:
That the terms we often use for leaders within the church such as pastor or elder are in reality the same office.
That a plurality of elders is preferred
that the essential function for pastor/elders is the guarding, teaching, and shepherding of the flock.
If you can’t tell, this is where I move from lesson to argument. Here is the biblical case.

A. Elders are Pastors and Pastors are Elders

Different Terms, Same Office
There are three words that are used in Scripture to describe what I believe is one office in the church. There is the word pastor, the word elder, and the word overseer.
The word for pastor is the word ποιμένας (poimenas) and can literally be translated as shepherd. Scripture speaks of the church of God as being a flock, with individuals being sheep. Pastors are to shepherd the flock. This speaks of a tender care for the spiritual needs of the sheep, but also the need to guard against wolves.
The word for elder is πρεσβυτέρο ς“presbuteros” which is the word that “Presbyterian” comes from. The concept stems of the Jewish elder concept. Those who were recognized leaders in the community because of the character and wisdom would be called elders. Not all elders are older, but they ought to men of character and wisdom.
The word for “overseer” comes from ἐπισκοπoς “episcopos”, which is where we get the word episcopal. This word has more of a stress on the functional oversight responsibility that the leaders of the church have. They are to oversee the work, to administrate it and care for it.
Our american church culture often gets these three words wrong by dividing up the functions of the three words into two or three offices. Many view the “Pastor” as one office and the “elder” as another.
But the biblical picture is that these three words are often used interchangeably of the same men in the same office and the word that is used in a given context is selected for particular emphasis.
Here are some examples.
In Acts 20:17 We see Paul calling the elders of the church as he is about to give them some final instruction to them before going to Jerusalem, where he knows he will be imprisoned.
Acts 20:17 (ESV)
17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.
Then, down in verse 28, Paul, who is still speaking to the same men, the elders, the presbuterous
Acts 20:28 (ESV)
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
The elders, presbuterous, are overseers, episcopos, who are to care, poimaino, which is the verb form of ποιμένας, meaning, to shepherd. All three words used in the same context.
We see something similar in 1 Pet 5:1-3
1 Peter 5:1–3 (ESV)
1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
Elders, presbuteros, are to shepherd, poinmenos, exercsiing oversight, episcopos.
They are the same men, in the same office. We should not be dividing up the office of pastor and elder. Elders are to Shepherd, or pastor. Pastors are to be overseers. Its the same men function in specific ways.
Now. Some might say. Okay. The pastor is an elder and the elder is a pastor. But it should be just one. A single pastor/elder.
And so, we move on to the second point,

B. Plurality is Preferred

The reality is that there is ample evidence that leads us to conclude that there ought to be a plurality of bilbically qualified men serving in leadership as pastors/elders/overseers.
Consider these passages:
Acts 14:23 (ESV)
23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
plural elders, singular church.
Acts 20:17 (ESV)
17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.
The church at Ephesus has more than one elder.
Titus 1:5 (ESV)
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—
Titus’ job was to appoint a plurality of elders in each town, with each church.
One more:
James 5:14 (ESV)
14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
These aren’t even all the texts. There are more that could be considered, but I consider these to be the strongest.
Now, does that mean that churches who only have one elder are unbiblical? Maybe, but not necessarily.
It may be that a church genuinely does not have qualified men to serve in the capacity. Paul is clear that it is better not to have elders than to have unqualified men in that capacity. It becomes the responsibility to leadership that does exist to identify leaders, to train them up to be spiritually mature such that the are qualified, and then to install them into the office.
This is a lengthy process, as it should be. It is an important process. If these men are to be responsible for the souls of those within the church, everyone should want to see biblically qualified men in that role.
Paul talks a lot about the qualifications of these men. We don’t have time to go into those qualifications today, but for your benefit, you can find them 1 tim 3, titus 1, and 1 peter 5. (repeat)
Let us now consider this final portion of our time together today. What are elders to do? What is their role?
And this is the part of the sermon where I begin preaching. I’m preaching for my own instruction, as a pastor here. I’m preaching for the benefit of every man who might ever hear this who may desire the office of elder, and I’m preaching for the benefit of our whole church to know what the biblical standard is for our leaders. This is what you should expect from your leaders. This is what you need to hold me accountable to.
It is the responsibility of all pastor/elders, whether paid or laymen, to 1. guard the flock, 2. feed and equip the sheep, and 3. shepherd their souls

1. Guard the Flock

Turn with me over to Acts 20. We already were here earlier. Once again, Paul is on his way to Jesusalem where he knows he will be arrested. He gives his final exhortation to the pastor/elders of the church.
Let’s pick it up in verse 28 once again
Acts 20:28–31 ESV
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
The elders are to care for the church, by paying careful attention to themselves and all the flock. He says fierce wolves would come in.
I don’t know if you realize this, but there are people in this world that want you, and I don’t mean in a nice warm fuzzy find of way. They want to prey on you. They want your money. They want you under their control. And they seek to gain this through speaking twisted things, as Paul says here.
Twisted things. This is false doctrine, but false doctrine is not always easy to spot. So often its truth that has just been twisted just a little bit. So pastor/elders are to be on the alert. Pay attention to the lies being taught.
This is why one of the qualificaitons for the office in Titus 1:9 is this:
Titus 1:9 ESV
9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
The pastor/elder MUST known Scriptures such that he can teach it rightly, and also to correct those who contradict.
I remember shortly after I had graduated with my bachelors degree I was at a prayer meeting at my alma mater. There was a student there on campus at the time who was involved in different things. We got into a discussion about some things of theology, and through the discussion it comes out that this dude believes that all religions lead to the same place, and that Christians, Jews, Muslim, Hindus, etc, all worship the same god but with different emphasis.
This was shocking to hear from a student at a rather conservative bible college. He needed to be rebuked! We need to be corrected from the word of God. I challenged him on his doctrine, but I don’t know whatever happened to him. Per school policy he ought to been expelled. Twitted things.
The pastor/elder must Guard the flock

2. Feed and Equip the Saints

Flip over with me to 2 Tim 4.
The context of this passage. This is Paul’s last canonical letter before his death. He has just explained how powerful Scripture is at the end of chapter three. It breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, for what purpose? that we might be complete, equipped for every good work.
Therefore, on the basis of this information, Paul gives these words to Timothy
2 Timothy 4:1–2 ESV
1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
Pillar Fellowship, if there is ever a time when I stand in this pulpit and fail to bring you food from the word of God, you have two options. Admonish me to bring you food, and if I don’t then you fire me.
A pastor/elder must preach the word of God!
Not self-help ted talks. Not pastor story hour. Not the whims of the culture.
PREACH THE WORD.
Reprove: means to bring things to light. Show the people from the Scriptures
Rebuke: means to call out false teaching or behavior from the word
Exhort: means to make an appeal to live according to the Word.
and the pastor/elder is to do this with patience, knowing that we are all in different stages of our Christian walk.
I would be remiss if I did not at least mention Eph 4 with this point.
In this text Paul says that pastors are to equip the saints, so that the saints can do minsitry.
This is what the word of God is supposed to accomplish. Through exhortation from the Word, you are equipped so that you may then in turn minister to others.
The pastor/elder must feed and equip the Saints
Finally.

3. Shepherd Their Souls

Turn back over to 1 Peter 5.
We read this passage earlier as well. I just want to note a few things.
1 Peter 5:2–3 ESV
2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
Notice what this shepherding is supposed to look like:
It’s not under compulsion. ugh. I hate this. but if no one else will do it, I guess I will.
No. the pastor/elder should desire to be a shepherd. To care for others.
It’s not a shameful gain. There are so-called pastors out there who got into the game to make money. Turn on TBN on tv and you’ll see them. They fleece the flock. They milk them for every last cent they can get out of them. It’s shameful.
shepherds shouldn’t be trying to get rich. They should be eager to serve.
As they lead, they shouldn’t be domineering. This has the idea of forcing others to submit to you because, by golly, I’m the pastor here. no no. lead by example.
There are other texts that we could examine. But for the sake of time we’ll stop there. Pastor/elders are to shepherd the souls of the flock.
In our Core Values we have the core value of Life-on-life discipleship, with two sub-point. The second sub-point says this.
Life-On-Life Discipleship.
We intentionally invest in developing leaders for the home and church. 1 Cor 11:3; Eph 4:11-16; Eph 5:22-33, 6:4; Col 3:19, 21; 1 Tim 3:1-13; 2 Tim 2:2; Tit 1:5-9; 1 Pet 3:7
My prayer and desire is that we would see more godly men raised up in Pillar Fellowship to lead, feed, and shepherd this flock to the glory of God.
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