Where does the Bible first mention the office of elder?
I’m sure you guessed correctly… the answer is Numbers chapter 24. Moses realizes the work to which God has called him is greater than one man can do alone. So other men are called to assist him in shepherding the people of Israel. This sets a precedent for the kind of leadership we see more completely developed in the New Testament-namely, that God rules his people not by one man but through a plurality of men, called elders.
How many kinds of elders are there?
There are two types of elders in the New Testament: Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders.
Where do we find this in the Bible?
In I Tim 5:18 we have the most clear reference to Teaching Elders. Here Paul says “those who give themselves to the work of preaching and teaching are worthy of ‘double honor.’” ‘Worthy of double honor’ is a reference to Teaching Elders, men who make their living by teaching God’s Word in the church. At Trinity Park right now, Andy and I are your two Teaching Elders.
Ruling Elders are men who are called to shepherd God’s people in God’s Word alongside Teaching Elders. The qualifications and responsibilities of Ruling and Teaching Elders are the same. The difference is that Ruling Elders serve the church, not as paid staff but alongside other important vocational work God has called them to do.
What are the Biblical qualifications for the office of elder?
I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 list 17 qualifications. Take time to read those passages before you nominate someone for the office of elder or deacon.
Of the 17 qualities listed, 15 deal with character and 2 deal with theological understanding or teaching ability. As Timothy and Titus were planting the first churches, they were looking for men who’s character was being shaped by the Gospel. This means character is EXTREMELY important as you consider who God may be raising up to be our next elders. Before you nominate, look for men of spiritual character-character that’s obvious in their personal, home, work and public life.
Also, look for men who understand the doctrines of the Bible well and who are capable of teaching that doctrine to others. Whether you are a new believer or you’ve been a Christian for some time, we must hold fast to the teachings of Scripture if we’re going to continue to grow in grace and godliness. Anyone who’s nominated for the office of elder (or deacon) must study and be examined regarding their Christian Life, Bible and Theology so we can be sure they’ll shepherd us well in this vital area.
One VERY common error to be aware of when you’re considering who you should nominate for the office of elder: Some people think if you are a capable, successful business man, then you’re qualified to be an elder. Being successful in business doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be an elder, but at the same time it also doesn’t mean you should be an elder. Don’t look for successful businessmen, look for men who love Jesus and who love to teach others about him.
The elders of the church aren’t a board, we’re a fellowship of elected spiritual leaders. To be an elder is a spiritual office, not a social or corporate office.
So, here are three questions to ask yourself when nominating someone for the office of elder:
- Is this person is called to shepherd (spiritually care for) the people of Trinity Park Church?
- Do you believe this person is called to teach God’s Word to God’s people?
- Would you send this person into a difficult family or personal situation to counsel someone-to listen well to them and then speak God’s Word into their life?