What's an Elder to Do?

An old friend and I were enjoying dinner and talking about the church where he’s served as an elder for several years. I asked him, What do the elders do at your church? He gave me the most confused look and finally said, Well, I really don’t know. We just do a lot of different stuff.

Well, that’s a problem . . . elders who just do a lot of different stuff. Those are elders who mostly putter around with no focus, no mission, no sense of definite purpose. They certainly don't appreciate the core assignment the Lord has charged to them.

According to the Scriptures, here’s what elders are to do: Elders are to honor the Lord by protecting and nurturing His church. Elders care for the entire church, but focus primarily on doctrine, discipline and direction.

Let’s break that down:

  • Elders are to honor the Lord. Well, yes, everybody is supposed to honor the Lord. But elders are to do more than simply honor the Lord by being godly men who serve in the church. They’re supposed to be more and do more. They have a bigger assignment. The Lord will hold each elder accountable for the quality of his job performance (Hebrews 13:17). Elders are responsible to oversee the entire church as undershepherds to Jesus Christ (1 Peter 5:4). They must be strong enough to ensure that the honor of the Lord is the foundation commitment of the church.

  • Elders are to protect the church. From what? From anything that would weaken, sicken or hurt her, or cause her to lose effectiveness (John 10:11-15; Acts 20:28-31). Among the most common attacks on the church: personality cults, divisions over music styles, heresies, legalism, license, syncretism, Gnosticism and its forms, Judaizing and its forms. For more about these attacks, see my blog post of April 11, 2010.

  • Elders are to nurture the church. How do they do that? They look after her, build her, strengthen her, sacrifice for her (John 10:3-5; Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25-27; 1 Peter 5:2-3).

  • Elders are to focus on doctrine. The teaching of the church, ensuring that the teaching is biblically sound and faithful. An elder must refute false doctrine that would hurt the church (Acts 6:4; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; 1 Timothy 4:6; Titus 1:9; Titus 2:1).

  • Elders are to focus on discipline. Pursuing those of the church who have fallen away from the way of Jesus Christ (Ezekiel 34:6-8; Galatians 6:1); refuting those who would lead the church astray by espousing false doctrine (1 Timothy 1:6-7; Titus 1:9-11).

  • Elders are to focus on direction. Discerning the direction the church should move regarding her culture, financial commitments, property purchases, location, worship service style and similarly vital issues (Acts 6:4; Acts 15:1-2; Acts 15:6; Acts 16:6-10).

  • Elders are to focus on discipleship. They must ensure that the Church prioritizes the practice of individual and group teaching and training in order to strengthen the church by biblically and intentionally building followers of Christ. (Matthew 28:19-20; 2 Timothy 2:2).