The Elder-Pastor

Everyone is a pastor. The word “pastor” in our English Bible comes from three Greek words: “shepherd”, “overseer”, and “elder”. In this post I’ll talk about what it means to be a ELDER.

It’s natural for us to hear the word “elder” and think of the elderly. An elder is someone who is old, right? Well, that’s one use of the word. But when it comes to spiritual leadership an elder represents something entirely different from age or lifestage. In the New Testament, eldership refers to having experience and wisdom, being a model of godly character, and acting as a spiritual guide.

Experience and Wisdom

1 Timothy 3:6–7 (TNIV) — 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

I recently questioned a man in his young thirties how he thinks our church respects the Millennial generation. I asked if he could see himself serving in an elder position; his response was “I’ve never considered that. I assume I’m too young.”

While it isn’t wise for your church to have teenagers serving on the elder board, eldership is about maturity and not age. I’ve served as an elder at two different churches in my 20’s - the first time I was only 21 years old. In the Bible we see Paul the church planter encouraging Timothy, a young pastor, not to feel insecure about his youthful age (1 Timothy 4:12). It was Timothy’s job to not only be an elder, but to seek out and teach future elders in his church (1 Timothy 3:1-7, see also 4:11).

Let me make an important distinction: churches have men who function in the OFFICE of elder. That is a title, a position, a role - and a temporary one at that. What I want you to know is that all Christians are to aspire to be elder-quality Christians. Elders are to be mature in their faith, knowledgeable of bible doctrine, able to withstand hardship, competent to reproduce disciples (1 Timothy 3:6; 2 Timothy 4:5).

This is the call of every Christian, whether you attend elder board meetings or not! Those under your care, spiritually or otherwise, need an elder in their life who can be a stable, mature, experienced pastoral influence.

Model Character

Titus 1:5–9 (TNIV) — 5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

The most foundational requirement for elders is being a model of character. Passages like Titus 1 above make it clear that no man can function as a church elder unless his personal life is in order - if married his marriage is solid, his children are obedient, his community respects him, and his character is not in question. His spiritual and emotional health is in check.

While this text is written for men joining Titus’ elder board, these qualifications have meaning for the rest of us too. If you hope to influence anyone in their walk with Jesus through this life, your own character is a non-negotiable. Integrity, self-control, discipline, generosity, patience, and self-sacrifice are character traits expected from every follower of Jesus.  As the Apostle Peter put it, “I exhort the elders among you [to act as] examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:1,3).

The Bible Project has created the video shown above. 
It’s an eight-minute sketch of the bible book of Titus. 
Titus was a young pastor instructed by Paul to appoint mature 
elders in the churches throughout Crete - pay special attention 
to this video at the two minutes and 35 seconds mark.

Spiritual Guidance

James 5:14–15 (TNIV) — 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make them well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.

1 Peter 5:5 (TNIV) — 5 In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.

Elders are able to function as a spiritual guide to others. They often invite others into their home and life (Titus 1:8), are quick to pray for the sick and hurting (James 5:14-15), stand ready to correct wrong behavior or thinking (Titus 1:9), and remain proactive in equipping others to do ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).

Sometimes elders have to say unpleasant things. For people to move from dysfunction to maturity, they have to work through junk. In the book Everyday Church, Chester and Timmis list the following verses that tell us how to pastor people through their problems: Acts 20:31; 1 Thess. 5:14; Col. 1:28, 3:16; Rom. 15:14; 2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 2:15. From these verses he discerns three key pastoral interventions:
  • “We teach or instruct where people are ignorant.
  • We encourage or comfort where people are fainthearted.
  • We rebuke or admonish where people are wayward.” (1)
Even if you aren’t a nominated elder in your church, there are people who are relationally connected to you in need of spiritual guidance. Acting as a spiritual guide means we walk with people, ready to rejoice with them, pray with them celebrate with them, listen to them, or teach them. As you consider those in your spheres of influence, what next steps come to mind? How will you as a pastor and spiritual guide?

(1) Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 67.