“Aren’t the elders supposed to . . .?” is a question that people throw into church conversations a good bit. Feel free to fill in the blank with whatever interest you see fit.
- “Aren’t the elders supposed to be the ones to follow up with anyone at any time?”
- “Aren’t the elders supposed to be the ones who pray?”
- “Aren’t the elders supposed to do all the counseling?”
- “Aren’t the elders supposed to know what is best for everyone?”
- “Aren’t the elders supposed to help me with date night locations?”
The answer to any of these questions might be, “Yes,” but we could also ask, “Well, doesn’t it depend?” The elder responsibility is both something you do and someone you are. We’ll look at two tasks and then turn to character.
Crucial Tasks of Eldering: Care and Prayer
Elders caring for people in the flock sounds important. In fact, Peter himself—a man who forgot he knew Jesus for a little while there in the Gospels—says as much in one of his epistles:
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. -1 Peter 5:1-3
This is the man Jesus said he would use to build his church (Matt 16:18).
Caring for the flock ranks right up there as one of the essential elder tasks. Speaking to the Ephesian elders, Paul charges them to pay careful attention to the flock over which Christ made them overseers (Acts 20:28).
Elders are to care for the flock and are to know the flock. However, does this truth mean that elders are the only ones who know the flock? Does it mean that they will always know the flock the best? Do we see how quickly a general command (“shepherd” or “pay careful attention”) becomes specific (“Do all cold calling and follow-up and be aware of 100% of what is going on)? We all care, even if elders shoulder a unique kind of care.
Prayer, too, is a crucial part of “eldering.”
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 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. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. –James 5:13-16
If anything, knowledge of the flock and prayer for the flock are essential. At Genesis, we have the members (and a few others) broken up into “shepherding lists.” This is a simple strategy to know the flock and pray for the flock. It works (for now) and might be adjusted in the future, but it is a way to live out things we know are important. (Note: These, clearly, aren’t the only tasks of elders, but they are some of the most important ones.)
At the same time, you (the non-elder who might be reading this) care for people at the church and you pray for them. Care and prayer aren’t “elder-only” tasks—they are incumbent upon all of us. It is probably true that right now you know more about people at Genesis (or your own local church, if someone else might be reading) than the elders do. It might be true that someone has confessed sin to you in your community group this week and you are helping them walk more openly with the Lord and others. You might’ve prayed for a friend on the phone this morning.
Consider this: How many commands in the New Testament are applied only to elders? Elders only get a handful of passages with requirements or commands—Acts 20; 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1; and 1 Peter 5. Some might also argue 2 Tim 2:24-25. But the entire church gets many ways to operate together. We, together, have gifts given (1 Cor 12:7). We, together, gather and encourage one another (Heb 10:24-25). We, together, bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2). We, together, pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:17).
Crucial Qualification: Character
What then, do elders do? That might actually be the wrong question. The question that Scripture puts forth first is what kind of people elders are. This idea is important for any level of our spiritual development: being comes before doing. Let’s look at one passage from Titus and see what it says:
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—6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 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. -Titus 1:5-9
How many of those qualifications are direct commands regarding the eldering task? You can assume some commands (“Give instruction,” or, “Hold to the faith,” for example, or, “Don’t be a jerk to people”) but, on the whole, elder qualifications are about a kind of person and not about a kind of task. When you focus solely on types of tasks, you might miss the character.
Elders, above all, are stewards (see Titus 1:7) and examples (see 1 Pet 5:3). They steward (care for, take charge of) a unique, particularized flock (see again Acts 20:28) and they set an example in character and conduct for the church.
But this example elders set does not mean that other Christians should put an artificial ceiling on their pursuit of holiness or maturity. If so, we abdicate what God has made available to us—the Scriptures, the Spirit, and one another.
Two Hopes Going Forward
With these ideas in mind, there are two considerations we can take up—together:
- Be fully present: Genesis needs how God has made and gifted you. Your elders need the help of the entire membership to care for the church. We often underestimate what God has given us to help our fellow brothers and sisters grow in the Lord. Be for your church all of what God has made you to be.
- Pray for your elders: Whether you are at Genesis or another church, pray for your elders. Pray for their hearts, their character, their family (if married), and their faithfulness. Make a regular time to do this and we will all benefit from it.
And, for all of us, we need to remember who we are before we run to what we should do. That truth alone starts us in the right direction.
Hans and Bart talk more about this post on the Genesis Daily Podcast