This is a concise summary statement of what the Bible teaches about elders. For an exposition of the biblical texts for this, see the “What Is Biblical Eldership?” section of this website.
The two preeminent apostles, Paul and Peter, directly exhort the local church elders to shepherd (or pastor) God’s flock. They assign the task of shepherding/pastoring the local church to no other group or single person, but to the elders. As keepers of sheep, shepherd elders protect, feed, lead, and care for God’s flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-2). Thus we can confidently affirm that the Scriptures teach that the pastoral oversight of the local church is the responsibility of the church elders.
Jesus Christ gave the church plurality of leadership. Jesus Christ our Lord did not appoint one man to lead his Church, but a team of twelve men to lead and teach his Church.
The New Testament Scriptures also reveal plural leadership in all the first churches (Acts 11:30; 14:23; Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Tim. 5:17-18; Titus 1:5; James 5:14-15; 1 Peter 5:1-5).
Although the elders are to act jointly as a council and share equally the authority and responsibility for the leadership of the church, all elders are not equal in their giftedness, biblical knowledge, leadership ability, experience, and dedication. So both equality and diversity exists within the eldership: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Tim. 5:17, 18). The advantage of equality and diversity within the eldership is the functional, gift-based diversity within the eldership team without creating a superior office over the eldership.
The Scripture informs us that before choosing the twelve apostles, Jesus Christ spent the entire night in prayer with his Father (Luke 6:12). These twelve men were God the Father’s choice. Jesus’ choice of male apostles was based on divine principles and guidance, not human traditions or cowardly accommodation to local Jewish customs.
The biblical pattern of male leadership of the local church continues throughout the New Testament Scriptures. The apostle Paul especially makes this point emphatic in 1 Timothy 2:11-3:5, when listing the qualifications for overseers/elders and the differing roles of men and women in the gathered congregation.
Although male pastoral leadership of the local church is completely out-of-line with 21-century popular beliefs and practices, an honest interpreter of Scripture must allow the Scripture’s teaching precedence over secular society’s philosophy.
A biblical eldership requires biblically qualified elders. The New Testament provides more instruction concerning the qualifications for eldership than on any other aspect of eldership. The scriptural requirements for elders can be divided into three broad categories: (1) the moral and spiritual character of an elder, (2) teaching and leading abilities, and (3) Spirit-given motivation to serve as a pastor elder (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Acts 20:28).
Christlike elders are to be servant leaders, not rulers or dictators. Christ’s principles of brotherly community, love, humility, and servanthood are at the very heart of Christian leadership.
Like the servant Christ, elders are to sacrifice their time and energy for the good of others. Only elders who are loving, humble servants can genuinely manifest the incomparable life of Jesus Christ to their congregations and a watching world.
The humble-servant character of the eldership does not imply, however, an absence of authority. It demonstrates how Christian leadership authority is to be exercised in Christ’s Church.