Summary: This message looks into exactly how the Bible describes an elder.
God is concerned about leadership. Consider some of the great leaders from the Old Testament. One of the first names that come to mind is Moses. God’s hand was on him from the time of his birth. God put Moses through a rigorous eighty year training course before calling him to lead His people. Moses was revered by the Jewish people as being their greatest leader. However, contained within the pages of the Old Testament are many great leaders whose names we do not have. These men provided the communities of God’s people with steady leadership and guidance. These men often were found sitting at the city gates sharing wisdom and managing the affairs of the people. They witnessed legal transactions, announced God’s blessings and sometimes they announced His warnings. These men were well seasoned and were representatives from the community. Who were these unnamed leaders? These great civic leaders were known as elders or shepherds. So we should not be surprised that when we get to the New Testament that God calls the leaders of His church by the same name. Today we are going to look closely at exactly what an elder is and how they function. This will help us in our continuing quest to more fully understand God’s plan for leadership in the church.
I. Understanding what an elder is.
A. Elders are shepherds.
1. Shepherds in Bible times were not someone who showed up in a strangers pasture, put in eight hours and then went home.
2. There was a genuine relationship between the shepherd and his sheep. Through the long time spent together and the frequent touching the shepherds smelled like sheep.
3. Elders are not merely some stranger plugged into a position of authority or job; they are those who have developed a heart for the sheep through frequent contact.
4. The best elders are those who already have a flock that has developed because of their genuineness, service and concern for people.
5. Shepherding is not about making decisions or running the church. Shepherding is about developing relationships and caring for sheep.
B. Elders are mentors.
1. Elders are those men who have walked the trail ahead of us for a long time pointing us in the right direction to go.
2. We are attracted to good mentors by the way they live their lives. Their lives provide a positive message which shows us they way to go.
3. When we are tempted to throw in the towel they give us courage to go on because they have kept on, in spite of everything.
4. Someone once eloquently put it this way, “You write a sermon a chapter a day by the deeds that you do and the words that you say. Men read what you write whether false or true, so what is the Gospel according to you?
C. Elders are equippers.
1. Elders prepare people for service through one on one time and other teaching opportunities. They help individuals discover their God given gifts.
2. They guide individuals to areas of ministry that match their gifts and passions and provide them with the tools and skills that they need to carry it out effectively.
3. Never forget, whether shepherding, mentoring or equipping; elders do their best work through relationships.
4. An elder is to be known by the credibility of his walk with God, the genuineness of his service and the authenticity of his relationship with the sheep.
5. Elders cannot help but to smell like sheep.
II. The Biblical definition of an elder.
A. Elders are men rich in spiritual experience.
1. Here in Acts 20 Paul uses three terms that define an elder. In fact Peter uses these same terms as well.
2. To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5:1-4—NIV)
3. We should take note of the fact that the Ephesian church had a plurality of elders.
4. The first term is presbuteroi which refers to older ones who lead by experience.
5. This does not simply refer to life experience but it also encompasses the area of spiritual experience.
6. This would fall into line with what Paul states in 1 Timothy, “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” (I Timothy 3:6—NIV)