Keeper of His Home

by Chelsea McCafferty

A Study on Eldership

on April 17, 2014

photo credit: Fr Antunes via photopin cc

The following is a study I’ve done on the purpose, qualifications and callings of an elder in the church family. This has been something on my mind and heart for a long time. It’s important that we know that being an elder isn’t just a title to be had in the church. Rather it is a ministry calling that comes with responsibilities. It is important that elders be chosen based on their qualifications and also on their ability to commit to the ministry calling.

Appointing Elders

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—” Titus 1:5

Paul writes to Titus about the need to appoint elders in every town as directed. He pre-clarifies that this is to be done in order to “put what remained into order”. This is an ordering of the church family. One can imagine that the New Testament church was chaotic at times, with threats of persecution and execution from all of the political and military leaders. There was fear. There were false doctrines. We know there were false prophets coming in and leading some in the church astray, which Paul speaks about a little later in the chapter. In this verse, Paul introduces the need for elders, gives the qualifications of an elder and then goes on to show an example of why elders are so important.

What is an Elder?

Titus 1:7 refers to elders as “overseers”. Elders are spiritual leaders and overseers in the church. They serve in a variety of ways; as pastors, teachers, counselors and ministry supervisors. Elders are committed to the Lord’s work. It is an office and a position of authority in the church. It is a big responsibility and merely a title to be claimed.

And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Acts 14:23

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” 1 Timothy 3:1

That word “task” is the Greek word “ergon” which refers to employment, work and a hard job. It is a job that one is undertaking. It is an act, deed or a thing done. It is the opposite of “less work” and indicates a greater degree of responsibility. In other words, the job of an elder is active. It is not a passive role. It is active. It is a time consuming undertaking. Therefore an elder should be a man who is ready, willing and has time to fulfill the office.

If we elect someone as mayor of the town, that person is going to have a lot of work ahead of him/her. There are going to be long meetings, sleepless nights, piles of paperwork, press reports, etc. The mayor oversees the town. The mayor takes care of big and small issues that affect the community. It’s hard work. The office of an elder is hard and time-consuming as well….or at least it should be.

Qualifications of an Elder

“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” 1 Timothy 3:1-7

Let’s look at these qualifications as a list:

  • Above reproach – He strives to live a life that glorifies God so much so that no one could accuse him of wrong-doing.
  • Husband of one wife – Whether or not this means an elder must have a wife is debatable. We know that he must not have multiple wives. One could also take this as meaning an elder must have a wife and this makes sense. We know that Adam needed a helper in the Garden. When God appoints a man to eldership, it is a big responsibility. Perhaps God is saying that men with such a large job in the church need a helper too.
  • Sober-minded. Temperate. Thoughtful and grounded in the word, this man thinks clearly and shows wisdom in his words and actions.
  • Self-controlled – He is self-disciplined and does not fly off the handle.
  • Respectable – He is well put-together, modest and dignified. He is well thought-of by those around him.
  • Hospitable – An elder and his wife should be given to hospitality. They should be known to welcome people into their home often.
  • Able to Teach – An elder should have the gift and calling of a teacher.
  • Not a Drunkard – An elder must not be addicted to or prone to drunkenness. He must be temperate.
  • Not Violent but Gentle – Doesn’t crave violence or get in fights with people often. He doesn’t look for trouble with others. He is gentle.
  • Not Quarrelsome – An elder should not be in constant quarrels and fights with others. He does not stir up strife and cause problems. He is a peacemaker not a troublemaker.
  • Not a Lover of Money – He is not money-hungry or focused on acquiring earthly, material wealth. He does not boast in his riches or what he has attained, but seeks the Lord first and always.
  • Manage His Household Well – An elder must have his home in order. That covers his marriage and his children. He must have children who have been taught to submit and obey. He must love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. He must have his home in order and his obligations met.
  • Must Not be a Recent Convert – A new believer should never be appointed as an elder. It is dangerous to bring someone up into leadership before he is ready. God says that a recent convert who is made elder too soon may struggle with pride and fall into the condemnation of the devil.
  • Well Thought-Of by Others – An elder should be someone that other people generally like. He should be one who others look up to and respect spiritually.


Responsibilities of an Elder

There is no conclusive list of the responsibilities because the truth is an elder has to basically do whatever it takes to minister to the body for which he is responsible. Just like a parent takes care of the many needs of his or her child, an elder is charged with taking care of the Christians that God entrusts to their care. This could fall under a variety of tasks, ministries and works. Here are some of the responsibilities an elder must be prepared to do to fulfill the office:

  • Love the body. “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart…” 1 Peter 1:22
  • Pray for the body. “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.” James 5:14
  • Stand on and Teach the Word. “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 1:9
  • Watch over the Souls of the Body. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Hebrews 13:17
  • Oversee the Church. “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…” 1 Peter 5:2
  • Be a Good Example – “Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness… Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” Titus 2:2, 7-8
  • Disciple – “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:15-17
  • Invest Time in Fellowship – “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 2:42


These are only a few of the responsibilities of an elder in the church. What became overwhelmingly clear to me as I studied this topic was how important it is for elders to be connected with the people in the church. Being an elder is not just a title you give men who love the Lord and are well-versed in scripture. The office of elder requires work, time, commitment and a passion to love and care for the body of Christ. It is a very hard job. A man who loves the Lord but doesn’t have time to fulfill the calling of an elder shouldn’t commit to taking on the job. Just like any other commitment we make, we should be sure we have the time to meet the responsibilities that come with the position.

Not only must an elder meet the qualifications listed, but he must devote time to fellowship and getting to know the people who are supposed to be entrusted in his care. How can he oversee or shepherd the body if he has no idea who the people are, what they have going on in their lives and where they need help? How can an elder minister to people if they never spend time with them? How will young men and women grow in the Lord if they are not discipled? If the elders aren’t going to do it, then who is?

Eldership is not just a title, and it’s also not a position of tyrannical rule. Elders should not see themselves as the boss who calls the shots, but rather a servant of the most High God (the actual Head of the Church). An elder is feeding and tending to the sheep of God with love, gentleness, compassion and sound doctrine. He does not see himself as higher, more spiritual or better than any other brother or sister. He is a humble servant. An elder is not just a man who helps make decisions on a board. He is someone who is invested in the people of the body. He makes an effort to know them, minister to them and sacrifices for them when need be

There is one big difference between the majority of American churches and those church plants out on foreign mission fields around the world. Good missions churches know the importance of relationship, discipleship and community in bringing others to Christ and raising them up to spiritual maturity. It’s not about big outreaches. It’s not all accomplished on Sunday mornings for an hour or so of teaching. Missionaries know that their life is to be about making disciples, not converts. They open their homes and hearts to people without bias or judgment. They teach this way of life to their children, because when a person is called to a ministry, the whole family is called. These church planters understand that investing in people is the key to evangelism and discipleship of God’s people. They bring them in, show them Jesus’ salvation, train them up and send them out.

Yet the American church (the majority) is missing some of these important key elements. We seem to think it’s okay for us to go to church Sunday mornings, hear a good message, give a few hugs and then go about our own lives for the rest of the week. We seem to the think that it’s all about building our own little kingdoms….my home, my family, my church. We are missing so much. There needs to be a change in the way we “do” church and the church family, and it needs to start from the leadership and trickle down. We need to see our pastors and elders investing in the individuals, giving up their time and making people more of a priority. We need real discipleship, where older men meet with and train up younger men, preparing them for the next generation of ministry.

I know how busy life can get. As I type this, I’ve got a million chores on my list calling out for me. Still, I have come to realize that my life is not my own. My family is not mine but God’s. My home belongs to the Lord. I am no expert and I’m certainly no authority, but the God of the Bible is, and His Word shows us that elders have a big responsibility. They are called to a large work, and it takes time and commitment and sacrifice. If a man is not able to sacrifice the time, then maybe he is not called to be an elder at this time in his life. Praying for elders everywhere to be encouraged and to be filled with eagerness to serve and minister to God’s people.

2 responses to “A Study on Eldership

  1. Beth says:

    You mentioned that an elder must be the husband of one wife. I have read this before and it was a debate at a church we attended. I was told insistently that it means that he must have been married to one person and could never have been divorced and remarried. I ask because there was a situation where a man was married to someone for 25 years, and they divorced only because she chose to stay in a religion (more like a cult) that he no longer felt that God wanted for him. The divorce was done only after 5 years of serious consideration and prayer. She refused to leave the religion and was not allowed to remain a part of the religion unless they divorced. He is very devout, studies his bible, attends and participates with church actively, and very much fits all the other criteria. He has since remarried and has a wonderful relationship with his wife. I am curious as to your thoughts on this?

    • Thank you Beth for reading and for your question. This is one of those situations that I think we can say we won’t be able to give a guaranteed 100% answer. There are always tricky situations where we aren’t sure what the Lord would have us do, so we need to pray and listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know the facts behind the divorce and remarriage. This woman was an unbelieving spouse, so if she choose not to dwell with her believing husband, then he was free of the marriage contract according to the Word. Was there adultery before or since? If I were making the decision I would look at all of these facts. At the end of the day, without knowing all the facts and without saying that I can stand behind it 100%, I would say that a man who has been divorced (whether it was Biblical or not) and has remarried (whether or not that was Biblical) could still hold the office of an elder later in his life. We have ALL sinned and fallen short of the mark. If every elder had to be sinless to qualify, then no man could be an elder. If the divorce and remarriage was not done according to the Word, then I think there needed to be repentance. If this man has repented of his mistakes of the past, and is restored now, living a Godly lifestyle, having his home in order, being faithful to his wife and meeting all other qualifications of eldership, I think he could serve as elder. We know that God restores the repentant and gives second and third and fourth chances, etc. He is graceful. I hope that helps sister. God bless you!

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