Qualifications, Duties, Limitations, and Support of Elders
PART ONE: QUALIFICATIONS
For a man to be considered as a viable candidate for the office of elder, he must possess the following general character qualities:
1. Above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6-7)
- He has an unquestionable character.
- He has a credible reputation and is a good example to be followed.
- His life is so consistent that it does not provide opportunities for disgrace or blame to be attached to it.
2. Husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6)
- He is a one woman kind of man.
- His moral character and sexual purity are unquestionable.
- He is discreet in his contacts with women.
- He is devoted to his wife, nurturing and cherishing her.
- He is exemplary in his love and faithfulness to his wife.
3. Proper management of his family (1 Tim. 3:4-5; Tit. 1:6)
- He is clearly the head of his home, the one in charge of his family.
- If he has children, he spends time with them and lovingly disciplines them.
- His children are under his control, not insubordinate or wild.
- He exercises a loving rule over his wife and children.
- His wife and children respect him and follow his lead.
- He manages his resources in a God honouring fashion.
4. Not self willed (Tit. 1:7)
- He is flexible when dealing with people, and with ideas not clearly revealed in Scripture.
- He is not stubborn and insistent on getting his own way in matters of judgment and personal preference.
- He is not so wrapped up in his own ideas that he is insensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others.
5. Not hot headed (Tit. 1:7)
- He is not easily angered but is slow tempered.
- He is not touchy and quick to defend his own rights.
- He does not blow up over the abuses and thoughtless words and/or actions of others.
- He does not resort to unnecessary physical violence.
6. Not a quarrelsome fighter (1 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 1:7)
- He does not welcome a fight, but seeks to make peace.
- He is cooperative in working with others, not quarrelsome and competitive.
- He is not easily drawn into an argument.
7. Free from the love of money (1 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 1:7)
- Material possessions are not the ambition of his life.
- He refuses to pursue financial gain above eternal things.
- Family and spiritual life are not sacrificed on the "altar" of his job.
- He is not greedy or covetous, but quick to give to people in need.
8. Not addicted to wine (1 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 1:7)
- He refrains from excessive use of alcoholic beverages.
- He is not marked out as a man "who needs a drink".
9. Hospitable (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8)
- He is friendly.
- He opens his home to friends and people in need.
- He shows a willingness to share with others whatever God has given to him.
10. Gentle (1 Tim. 3:3)
- He is approachable.
- He is kind and patient when dealing with others.
- He is sensitive to the feelings of others so that his words and actions reflect tenderness and promote healing.
11. Self controlled (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8)
- He is not mastered by anything other than by Christ.
- He is not controlled by his senses, appetites and desires, but rules over them.
- He is well balanced, moderate and free from excesses in his ideas, food, time, money and energies.
12. Sensible (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8)
- He is wise in all his dealings, level headed, not flighty.
- He practices prudence in the light of Scripture, recognizing Biblical principles when making decisions.
- He has a sanctified common sense (wisdom of Proverbs is observable in his life).
13. Well ordered (1 Tim. 3:2)
- His life is disciplined and orderly, not slip shod, scatter brained or disorganized.
- He is responsible and able to get things done on time.
14. Just (Tit. 1:8)
- He is equitable in his decisions and counsel.
- He is fair in all his dealings.
15. Holy / Devout (Tit. 1:8)
- The Scriptures are his standard for living.
- He has an obvious desire to be like Jesus Christ.
- He fights against sin and seeks to please God.
16. A lover of good (Tit. 1:8)
- He takes delight in the good things in which God delights.
- He willingly avoids things which have an evil influence over him or his family.
- He is known not only for the evils he is against, but also for the good he is for.
17. Committed to the Scriptures (Tit. 1:9)
- He holds fast to the faithful Word.
- He possesses that holy stubbornness that is not moved from the Scriptures, nor is wishy-washy... he is committed to teach "thus saith the Lord" no matter what happens.
- He shows an understanding of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and an ability to explain clearly the doctrines taught therein.
18. Proven ability to teach the word (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:9)
- He has a good grasp on the contents of the whole Bible and the doctrines set forth therein.
- He applies himself to the discipline of studying the Scriptures. and is able to take that knowledge and relate it to the flock for its edification and growth in grace.
- You and others really profit from listening to him... he speaks on your level.
- He is able to hold your attention by presenting the Word in an interesting manner.
- When he is finished, you have a better understanding of the passage he dealt with, and you can see how it applies to you.
- His teaching is consistent with his life.
19. Able to defend the truth (Tit. 1:9)
- He is able to expose erroneous doctrine with meekness and firmness.
- He is able to show from the Scriptures why a teaching is false and cannot be accepted.
- He is able, in a loving and gentle manner, to exhort or confront someone whose life does not conform to Scripture.
20. Time-tested Christian experience (1 Tim. 3:6)
- He is not a recent convert.
- He has been saved long enough to have faced some spiritual tests that have proved his faith is genuine.
- There is no reason to believe that his eldership would cause him to be puffed up with pride.
21. Good reputation among the lost (1 Tim. 3:7)
- Those outside the church respect him for his consistency of life and conduct.
- He has a good reputation with neighbours, relatives and work associates.
- He pays his bills on time
- He honours his promises even if they are unwritten.
- He is submissive to authority in the church, at work and in civil government.
- His name is without genuine blemish in his community.
Such a list does not suggest that a man is perfect in all these areas. It is a given that maturity will vary in each area based on Christian experience, the work of the Spirit and even the influences of family and culture. It is to be expected, however, that no man will be considered a valid candidate where there are glaring omissions of violations in one or more of these areas. Hence, the church must exercise the greatest of patience and heartfelt, earnest prayer in the choosing of her leaders.
PART TWO: THE AUTHORITY OF CHURCH LEADERS
The sphere of an elder's authority in the church is defined in this way:
- It is divinely-delegated authority. Thus, elders are answerable to God for the exercise of this authority (Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:17). Therefore, elders are obligated to discharge all of the duties specified by God in the Scriptures (particularly in such passages as Acts 20:17, 28ff; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; and Heb. 13:17).
- When they exercise this authority by requiring obedience to themselves, they must seek to gain the consciences of God's people through the ministry of the Word (Eph. 4:11c; 1 Tim. 3:2c; 2 Tim. 4:1-2; Heb. 13:17).
- The authority of the elders does not include the right to make certain decisions unilaterally. In major decisions of church life (such as those having to do with corrective discipline, recognition of officers, and the sale of a church building), the local church as a whole has a voice (Acts 6:2-6; 9:26; 1 Cor. 5:4-5; 13; 2 Cor. 2:6). Yet the elders' must provide definitive leadership to the church in the making of such decisions.
- The authority of the elders is limited to the sphere of the local church. Thus, they will not require punishments for sin beyond those of biblical church discipline, will not invade the biblically-defined spheres of other divinely- ordained human authorities (husbands, fathers, civil rulers, and employers), and will not command God's people regarding matters not specified in Scripture except to order the house of God by the application of His Word (Matt. 22:21; Luke 12:13-14; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:3a; Rom. 13:1-7; Eph. 5:22-6:9; 1 Cor. 7:25-28; 35-40).
- The authority of elders is conditioned by the fact that they are themselves members of the local church. While elders are shepherds over the flock, they are also members of the flock. Therefore, each individual elder is entitled to the same privileges, is obligated by the same responsibilities, and is subject to the same discipline as are all the other members of the church. Thus, each individual elder is both under the oversight of his fellow elders and accountable to the church as a whole (Matt. 18:17; 23:9; 26:31; 2 Cor. 11:19-20; Gal. 2:11; 3 John 1, 9, 10).
- The authority of every elder (or pastor) is the same. Thus, every elder has equal rule in the church. Though gifts possessed and functions performed will vary from elder to elder, this diversity must not undermine real parity among the elders (Acts 20:28 (cf:. 17); Gal 2:11; 1 Pet. 5:1-2; 1 Tim. 5:17).
- Finally, the authority of the elders is very real authority. God's people are, therefore, required to submit when it is biblically exercised (Heb. 13:17; note also the Scriptural titles and functions of the office).
PART THREE: WHEN TO FINANCIALLY SUPPORT AN ELDER
Full Support of Elders
1. Though all elders are equal as to the authority of their office, not all elders possess qualifications warranting full financial support in the office. The Bible teaches that special ability in ruling the church and, more especially, in public teaching and preaching are gifts worthy of full financial support (Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Cor. 9:1-14). Thus, before it undertakes his full support, the church must recognize that an elder or nominee to the eldership possesses special ministerial gifts and that he is excelling in the employment of those gifts for the benefit of the church, in ways appropriate to his opportunities. Special caution should be exercised in giving full support to an elder for the following reasons:
- Full support necessitates his removal from a secular vocation, which, in the interests of Christ's Kingdom and of his family, might be a more advantageous position for him to occupy;
- A major portion of the church's financial stewardship is involved, for which its Head will hold it accountable; and
- A fully supported elder has a greater influence upon the church, for good or ill. The provisions of this Section apply to any proportion of financial support required by an increase of ministry that would hinder an elder's full-time employment in a secular vocation.
2. The elders may recommend to the church that an existing elder or a nominee to the eldership be fully supported.
- In the case of a nominee, full support may be considered in conjunction with the consideration of his qualifications for the eldership. In such a case, the elders will inform the church of their recommendation when the business meeting for this purpose is announced. A distinct discussion and vote for both election to the office and full support in the office is not necessary.
- In the case of an existing elder who is being recommended for full support, a church meeting to consider this recommendation shall be announced on four consecutive Lord's Days prior to its being held. Such a recommendation may be considered in conjunction with the review of the elder involved. A distinct discussion and vote for both confirmation in the office and full support in the office is not necessary.
3. During any meeting where full support is being considered, special attention shall be given to the relevant teaching of Scripture (Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Cor. 9:1-14). During the discussion the man under consideration and members of his immediate family shall leave the presence of the church until the written ballot is taken. Such discussion must at all times reflect the fear of God, the claims of truth, and the gravity of the matter. Any vote upon full support requires three-fourths of those ballots cast for approval.
4. The full support of elders as well as their continuation in office will be subject to review. Normally a review of full support will take place in conjunction with the review of an elder's qualification for office, whether at regular intervals or at special review meetings. However, circumstances may arise in which an elder's full support may need to be reviewed as an issue separate from his continuation in office.