Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the Lord has called us, the local church, His flock of sheep, to follow Him together.
If we are to follow the Good Shepherd, we need local shepherds, in the individual flocks or churches. The Lord in His goodness and wisdom, didn’t leave us to figure out how we are to follow Him together. He gave us a pattern to follow, which will lead to the health and flourishing of the flock.
And that pattern is that of Godly elders, who serve as under-shepherds of the Good and Chief Shepherd Jesus Christ. The elders are then charged to shepherd and oversee the local flocks who have been entrusted to them. A consistent pattern in all of the New Testament churches is that of a plurality of elders where leadership is shared.
In the New Testament, the words of elder, pastor, overseer, and shepherd are all interchangeable. They all refer to the same role or office.
So who is qualified to be an elder? Well, we go to Scripture to define the qualifications. Much like when King David was anointed as the future king of Israel, the Lord was looking at his heart. Yes, there are skills necessary for leadership. Shepherds need to be competent. But the primary focus of the New Testament church leadership is on the character and way of life of the leader.
The qualifications are listed in two places…1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9.
An elder must be above reproach. They can’t be the guy who by his life shames the Gospel or the name of Jesus. Their lips and hearts must line up.
Husband of but one wife. Does that mean he has to be married? No, because the Apostle Paul, let alone Jesus, wasn’t married. This is what that means…that if the elder is married, he has eyes for only his wife. In the way of Christ to His Church, the husband is faithful to his wife and is a ‘one-woman man.’
Temperate. He’s sober minded and alert. He’s not prone to be carried away by his passions. He is able to think and react well. He is not a man who reacts, and thinks about it later.
Self-controlled. He’s not a hot head. He’s got control over his tongue. He is not flippant in his words or actions. He’s not blowing up at work, or at the waitress, or at the TV because his team is losing.
Prudent. He’s wise, discerning, and practical.
Respectable. This idea that as people see his life and see him interact with God and others, people respect that.
Hospitable. He engages the lost world around him. He understands that all that has been given to him is from God and he uses it for God’s purposes, including his home. He welcomes and invites people into his home, both believers and non-believers.
An elder needs to be able to teach. This means they are able to read, study, and teach the Scriptures to other people. Whether that be their family, their community group, to children or students, or in a preaching capacity in a church service.
Not given to drunkenness. An elder can’t be addicted to substances. Nothing has control or authority over their life except for the Holy Spirit.
An elder can’t be violent but needs to be gentle. A shepherd can’t always shepherd the sheep by beating them his staff. There has to be a gentle, calm, patient, and loving approach to his way of life.
Not quarrelsome. This can’t be a man where his pride exists in such a way where he always has the opposite view. That he is always the contrarian or the ‘devil’s advocate.’ Guys who argue just for the sake of arguing. There is no place for that in the inner workings of an elder team. The elder team is not a group of ‘yes men’ by any stretch, but it is also can’t be a group that is prone to foolish and petty arguments.
Not a lover of money. He’s generous with what God has given him, sows resources into the Kingdom of God, and stores up his treasure in Heaven.
Must manage his own household well. Once again, if he can’t serve his wife, his children, and lead and love at home, then how can he do that with the larger family of God? It has to start at home. He’s got to make disciples at home, long before he can think about how to do that in the church family.
He can’t be a recent convert. There has to be some maturity to his faith, or else the idea of him being an elder will go to his head and he’ll puff up with pride. His beliefs and convictions on the Word of God must be fully formed and deeply rooted.
He needs to be well thought of with outsiders. He is not a man where people find out he is an elder and people think, ‘Really? Huh? I wouldn’t have guessed that.’ So in their day to day lives, the people they do business with, work with, live with, are neighbors with, when they would hear that this man is an elder, they would say, ‘Well sure. That makes sense.’
Other characteristics include that he loves what is good. He is upright and just. He is disciplined. He is fleeing sexual temptation, and pursuing holiness. He’s not overbearing. In other words, he’ll listen more than he talks. He holds firmly to the message of Scripture. His life is being built on the truth of God’s Word. He’s clinging to and holding firmly to that, and not deviating from the truth. He is setting an example to the flock on what it looks like to follow and trust in Jesus.
Elders are Godly men who love the Lord, love their local church, love the people who call it home, love the people yet to be reached, and they know they are called to this role. Elders also know they are not entitled or deserving of such a position in the local church. It is not a role or office that they have earned after ‘X’ years of serving or after reaching a certain earthly or spiritual age or societal status.
Rather it is a role that leads them to a continual posture of dependence upon the Lord and confidence in the Lord. For it is only in such a posture that an under-shepherd, can be a Christlike example among the flock, serve and work among a plurality of unified leadership, and ultimately come under and follow the Good and Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.