Everything rises or falls with leadership. In the local church, this kind of leadership begins with pastor/elders. As such, I believe that the fruitfulness of our churches is dependent upon men who exert strong, humble, and God-centered leadership. Godly leadership is informed by at least four critical assumptions:
- It must be anchored to the Bible.
- It must be guided by unshakeable convictions.
- It must be based on God’s blueprint – for he has an order for his church.
- It must be intensely spiritual.
Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne another fine selection in the 9 Marks Series, edited by Mark Dever. Rinne begins with some basic presuppositions which are designed to guide prospective elders down a path that is both biblical and practical.
The author outlines the qualifications for the office of elder as set forth in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5. The discussion is elementary but is nonetheless very helpful. In addition, the terms for elder are surveyed (pastor, elder, overseer, and bishop). There can be no misunderstanding that the terms are synonymous, a feature that seems to be misunderstood by many people.
Elders are called to shepherd the flock. Therefore, they are called to:
- Engage in relationships with the flock.
- Minister with the intent of growing the flock in Christian maturity.
Readers should not be surprised that elders should participate in the teaching ministry of the local church. This fact is the key factor in distinguishing between men who are called to serve as elders as opposed to deacons. The elder must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2). Rinne makes it clear that this teaching ministry is not limited to the public preaching of God’s Word. It may include biblical counseling, one-on-one discipleship, classroom instruction, or small group gatherings. The important take-away is that a qualified elder is able to teach God’s Word – which means he also has a good handle on God’s Word.
Additionally, elders are called to protect the doctrinal sideboards of a church family: “He must play both doctrinal offense and defense, ‘holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
Elders are to pay attention to the flock and hold God’s people accountable to their faith commitment as well as their membership commitment. They are charged with watching over the straying sheep. The author notes five kinds of straying sheep which include sinning sheep, wandering sheep, limping sheep, fighting sheep, and biting sheep.
Elders must be humble men. Rinne adds, “The simplest and most effective thing a church can do is to develop an intentional process for screening potential elders, and then be sure to select humble men.” Men must serve in plurality. There is no hint of a lone ranger eldership in the New Testament. The author rightly notes that elders always serve as a team – in plurality.
Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne is a terrific introduction to the subject of biblical eldership. Readers interested in a more comprehensive treatment may turn to Thabiti Anyabwile’s work, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons. For the best survey of this subject, I commend Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch.