What is an Elder? Who makes a person an Elder? What are the duties of an Elder? What are the supports of an Elder? Find out as Pastor Brian preaches from Acts 20:28-32 before Jerome is officially appointed to the Eldership at The Bridge Church.
Shepherd The Church of God
This morning we have come to a milestone in the history of The Bridge Church. Today, for the first time, The Bridge will have two elders to shepherd and oversee it! This is a joyous occasion. We have been waiting for a long time. It’s not that we didn’t want multiple Elders. It’s just that with such a small church, the odds at having more than one Elder weren’t really in our favor! However, God has been gracious to us.
Jerome Wade, and his wife, Esmerelda, and his three children, Serenity, Nehemiah, and Rilee started attending The Bridge every week in January 2016. Since that time, they have served with zeal and joy, and have become very precious to us. Jerome has brought the Word of God to us many times over this past year. We have sought the Biblical qualifications in 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1 on Elders, and believe that Jerome meets those qualifications. I interviewed Esmerelda, and even his supervisor at work to see what kind of a reputation he has with those outside of the church. Well, Jerome came through with flying colors.
So, this morning, what I’m going to do is take you to Acts 20:28-32, and look for answers to four questions
- What is an Elder?
- Who Makes A Person an Elder?
- What Are the Duties of an Elder?
- What Are the Supports of an Elder?
Then, I’m going to give a charge to Jerome, and I’m going to give a charge to all of you.
1. What Is An Elder?
Notice verse 17. “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.” God had used Paul to spearhead an amazing revival in Ephesus. He healed many sick, cast out many demons. There were also a great many people who practiced magic who were converted. In fact, when they burned their books of magic, their value would have exceed 6 million dollars today!!! Now, that’s a lot of books, and a lot of people coming to Christ! Paul stayed in Ephesus ministering for three solid years, and when he left, there was a strong established church with scores of converts, and several Elders. Now, it was these Elders that came to Paul. The term “Elder” is their title. There were Elders in the Old Testament. These were older men, who possessed wisdom and godliness, and who were skilled in leading God’s people. Well, the same holds true in the New Testament church.
Now, in verse 28 Paul addresses the Elders and says, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Let’s stop right there. These Elders are also called Overseers. And, that’s not all. Paul continues, “to shepherd the church of God.” The word “shepherd” is a verb. The noun form of that word is the word Pastor. Elder is their title. Their function is to oversee, and to pastor. So, what I want you to see from this passage, is that Elders, Overseers, and Pastors are not different people. They are interchangeable terms that refer to the same office in the church. An Elder is an Overseer. An Overseer is a Pastor. And a Pastor is an Elder. Many of you refer to me as “Pastor”, or “Pastor Brian.” Well, today, we have another Pastor – Pastor Jerome. We use the term “Pastor” most frequently. However, the Bible uses the term “Elder” 17 times, and the term “Overseer” 5 times. It only uses the term “Pastor” once! An Elder is the highest position in the local church. The term Elder expresses the truth that he is to be spiritually mature. The term Overseer denotes that he must exercise authority and rule in the church. The term Pastor tells us that he must feed and care for all of God’s people.
In many churches there is one Pastor, and then there are many Elders who assist the Pastor in taking care of the church. That is not Biblical. There is no difference between a Pastor and an Elder. Now, some Pastors spend the bulk of their time studying, and preaching the Word, and other Pastors spend the bulk of their time counseling or discipling. But all Elders together are entrusted by God to watch over the flock and shepherd the people of God. Even the concept of a Senior Pastor cannot be found in Scripture. The only Senior Pastor is Jesus Christ. In 1 Peter 5:4 He is called the Chief Shepherd. Chief is another word for “Senior”, and Shepherd is another word for “Pastor.” We do have an example of a man who loved to be first among the members of the church. He wanted to be the big shot. His name is Diotrephes. Listen to what John has to say about him in 3 John, verses 9-10, “I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” So, there is no example of a Senior Pastor in the New Testament, except for Jesus Christ. The only example we have of someone wanting to be first is a negative example, that the church is called to beware of. So, what does that mean? It means that there is no hierarchy among the Elders of the church. The Elders are equal in their authority. Now, they function with different gifts and in different ministries. One Elder may surface among the Eldership as First Among Equals because of his gifts, experience, and wisdom. But the goal is for the Elders to work together as a team, seeking the mind and will of the Lord in making decisions, and insofar as possible, not making decisions until all the Elders can come to a consensus on the matter.
In fact, there is no example in Scripture of a church governed by one Elder or Pastor. Whenever you find the word “Elder” or “overseer” or “Pastor” it is in the plural. It appears that God designed Team Ministry. The Lord’s will is that there be a plurality of Elders to shepherd and oversee the church.
So, we have learned that an Elder is a spiritually mature person. He is also an Overseer, and a Pastor.
Finally, I would add this. He is a man. Sorry women, but God I do not believe that women should function in the role of an Elder. I went through this entire chapter where Paul addresses the Elders, and discovered that every word that refers to the Elders is in the masculine gender. The words include “yourselves”, and “overseer” in verse 28; “your own selves” in verse 30; “remembering” in verse 31; “you yourselves” in verse 34, “them” in verse 36; “weep” and “embraced” in verse 37, and “grieving” in verse 38. Every word that has gender in this entire chapter that refers to the Elders is in the masculine. “Brian, are you basing your entire argument that women should not be Elders from the gender of these words?” Actually no. My argument really comes from 1 Timothy 2:11-12, and 1 Timothy 3:1-7. In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Paul writes, “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” Now, what do Elders do? They teach and exercise authority. Paul says he doesn’t permit women to do the very things than an Elder must do. In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, there are many references to “he”, “him”, and “man”, but no reference to “she”, “her” or “woman.”
So, let’s put all this together and form a definition of an Elder from the Word of God. “An Elder is a Pastor and Overseer who teaches, oversees, and protects the flock as part of a team of other co-equal, male Elders.” Now, there may be a period of time, when there is only one Biblically qualified and called individual in the church who can serve as a Pastor. But it should be the desire and prayer of the congregation that God would raise up others to form a team of men who would lead the church.
2. Who Makes A Person An Elder?
Does a man make himself an Elder? If a man in the church likes to lead, and make decisions does he just nominate himself? Does the church get together and nominate people and vote on who they want to be their Pastor? No, actually our text says, “among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” No man can make another man an Overseer, or Pastor. A man can’t unilaterally decide that he will be a Pastor. The Holy Spirit is the One who makes a man an Elder. A man must be called by God, and gifted by God, and given a desire from God to carry out this great work. So, here at the Bridge we don’t ask people to nominate Elders, and we don’t vote on Elders. We look for the ones the Holy Spirit is making overseers and pastors. Then we find out if that person has a desire for the work. Then we take a look at his life to see if he is Biblically qualified. If the Holy Spirit has called a man to be a Pastor, he will confirm it, the other Elders will confirm it, and the church will confirm it. The Holy Spirit will also confirm it by expressing gifts and godly character through this man.
3. What Are The Duties Of An Elder?
An Elder Must Guard His Own Soul. Notice that this comes first, before guarding the flock. “Be on guard for yourselves, and for all the flock…” A Pastor can’t shepherd the flock if he doesn’t shepherd his own soul. He can’t lead the flock anywhere he has not gone himself. If a Pastor wants the congregation to be sacrificial givers, or passionate about evangelism, or pouring their lives in sacrificial service for others, they must model these things themselves. As goes the Leaders, so goes the church.
So That His Relationship With Christ is Vibrant. A man’s role as an Elder can slowly erode his own personal relationship with Christ. Thte stresses and strains of being an Elder can be so great, and the commitment so demanding, that many an Elder has lost his first love. He slowly changes from just loving Jesus, to becoming a professional minister. He still reads the Bible, but no longer so that God will speak to his own soul, but just to get a sermon. He stops singing praises, and praying for the mere enjoyment of God. He doesn’t have enough time for everything, so he starts cutting corners. A man will never be useful for God unless he is first filled with God. A Pastor must take time to be alone with God so that he has something to give to others. A Pastor must have a secret, personal devotional life with Jesus.
So That He Doesn’t Live in the Sins He Preaches Against. Hebrews 12:14 says, “without holiness no man will see the Lord.” Now, that includes Pastors! We don’t live a holy life in order to get saved, but rather because we are saved. It is possible for a Pastor to preach to others and then find himself disqualified. That’s why an Elder should never counsel a woman alone. That’s why an Elder needs to have other men in his life that he can be brutally honest with and confess his sins to. If an Elder doesn’t guard himself, the devil can knock him off and 30 other sheep go with him. A Pastor is different from every other public speaker. Others can get away with speaking truth. He must not only speak it, but he must live it. 1 Timothy 3:2 says he must be above reproach. This doesn’t mean he’s perfect, for if it did, no one would ever qualify to be a Pastor. It means there is nothing the enemy can lay hold of. When he sins, he repents, and asks the forgiveness of those he has sinned against. He’s a man of integrity. He doesn’t lead a double life. He’s the real deal.
Have you ever noticed that the qualifications for an Elder are almost entirely about his character? Often when a church is looking for a Pastor, they look for someone with charisma, a man who can keep the people spellbound with his words, a man who has been successful in business. However, friends, those are NOT the things God requires. A Pastor must live a holy life, know God’s Word, and be able to teach His Word to others, and love the church. Period. It doesn’t matter if he’s rich or poor, popular or obscure, successful or unsuccessful in business. He must live a life that is worthy of emulation.
An Elder Must Guard The Flock. If Pastors must guard the flock, it stands to reason that the flock has enemies that will harm it.
All the flock. Notice that he must guard all the flock, not just the ones he feels especially close to. There is to be no favoritism, or partiality here. He doesn’t just guard the likeable, agreeable, wealthy, smart, funny or encouraging sheep. He also guards the stubborn, wayword, disgruntled, and ornery sheep.
Savage wolves will come in among you. Notice in verse 29 that Paul says, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.” Now, why would a wolf come into a flock of sheep? Is it because he just likes to hang out with sheep? No! It’s because he likes to kill and eat sheep! Paul knew from experience, that whenever he had made converts and planted a church, that the Judaizers would come in and bring their false gospel of Jesus + circumcision. Notice that the Elders must be on their guard for those outside the church that will come in.
From among your own selves men will arise. These are not men from without. They are men from within. What will they do? They will speak perverse things to draw away the disciples after them. They will not be content to humbly follow the leadership of the Elders. They want to be first. They want a following. So, they speak perverse things in order to get a following. Brothers and sisters, if someone here at The Bridge begins to speak negatively about the leadership here, and stirs up contention, causing division, that is not of God! I have seen this happen firsthand. About 20 years ago, there was a man who came into the church I was pastoring in, and very quickly began to argue about what was being taught from God’s Word. I had many discussions with him, but he would not listen. Instead, every chance he got, he argued about the sermons and the preaching. Eventually the Elders asked him to cease and desist, but he continued. Finally, the Elders gathered the church together to deal with the situation, the this man was disfellowshiped. I won’t go into all the gory details. It would take way too long. But, suffice it to say, the things Paul is talking about continue to take place again, and again, and again.
So, brothers and sisters don’t be offended when the Elders say something to you when they hear that you are attending a Benny Hinn service, or reading books by Kenneth Copeland, or studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses. There is so much unsound doctrine floating around on the Internet, and radio and TV. The Elders have been called by God to guard the flock. According to Titus 1:9, “they are to hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.”
An Elder Must Oversee The Flock. Part of the responsibility of a Pastor is to lead the church. An Overseer is the one responsible for the overall supervision, management and rule of the church. The term is very similar to our terms “supervisor”, “manager” or “guardian.” The word “Overseer” carries with it the idea of possessing authority to accomplish a task. Now, in our individualistic, democratic America there is an anti-authority spirit. We don’t like authority, we’re suspictious of authority, and we rebel at the thought of having to submit to authority. However, a Pastor is an Overseer. It is his job to direct the affairs of the church. What does this mean? It means the Pastors choose the direction of the church. The sheep don’t decide which field they will graze in – the Shepherd does. The Shepherd’s job is to lead those sheep. The shee’s job is to follow his leadership. Hnow,m this doesn’t mean a dictatorship, or someone lording it over others, because Peter tells us that we exercise oversight by being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3).
Some churches function by congregational rule. They vote on all decisions. Folks, I just don’t see that in Scripture. In the Bible, the congregation doesn’t rule. They are subject to authority. If the entire church exercise authority in all decisions, it would be totally ineffective to get anything done, and would be like putting the children over the parents. Notice what God’s Word says:
1 Timothy 5:17, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.”
1 Thess. 5:12, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord, and give you instruction.”
Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not wi th grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” Now, this doesn’t mean you have to do whatever a Pastor tells you to do. If a Pastor tells you you don’t need to love your wife, submit to your husband, or make disciples, don’t listen to him! But if a Pastor directs you in a way consistent with Scripture, listen and follow.
An Elder Must Shepherd The Flock. The KJV says here, “to feed the church of God.” What does a shepherd do for his sheep? He leads them to green pastures where they can eat. Just as a shepherd is responsible to make sure his sheep are properly fed, so a Pastor must feed the flock. How does he do that? By preaching and teaching the Word of God. The Word is food for our souls. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Peter says, “like new born babes, long for the pure milk of the Word, that by it you may grow in respect to your salvation.” The Elders must feed the church God’s pure, unadulterated Word. There is no other way to grow a strong healthy church than this. You can spend all your time telling jokes and stories, and giving testimonies, with wonderful music, but none of those things can feed our souls like God’s Word clearly and forcefully taught.
Listen to Paul’s counsel to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:13-16, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” This is how a Pastor shephers the flock. He painstakingly teaches them God’s Word. That is why at The Bridge, we take you to the Word every week. Only the Word will cause you to grow spiritually. That is why we are so big on expositional teaching, which simply means that every point we make in a sermon is something that is drawn from a specific text of Scripture. My opinion doesn’t mean anything! But God’s word will change your life. The primary way a Pastor provides spiritual care for his people is to teach them line upon line, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, and book by book the Word of God. He must spend hours pouring over the Scriptures, making sure he understands them correctly.
Why does a Pastor need to shepherd the church of God faithfully? Because that church was purchased with God’s own blood! This points to the preciousness of the flock to God, and the infinite cost He paid to redeem them. Listen to the words of the Puritan, Richard Baxter, “Can you not hear Christ saying, “Did I die for these people, and will you then refuse to look after them? Were they worth My blood, and are they not worth your labor? Did I come down from heaven to seek and save that which was lost, and will you refuse to go next door, or to the next street or village to seek them? How small is your labor or condescension compared to Mine! I debased Myself to do this, bit it is your honor to be so employed. Have I done and suffered so much for their salvation, and will you refuse that little that lies upon your hands? Every time we look out upon our congregations let us believingly remember that they are purchased by Christ’s blood, and that therefore they should be highly regarded by us.”
4. What Are The Supports of an Elder?
By this question, I mean, how are the Elders to fulfill this high calling? What will empower them? What will enable them to persevere? Paul tells us of two supports.
God Himself. Notice verse 32, “Now I commend you to God.” The pastors care for the flock. But who cares for the Pastors? God! God will take care of them. God will empower them. God will enable them to persevere through trials to the end.
The Word of God’s Grace. The Word of God is the greatest support and encouragement for Pastors. It brings timely help, instruction, wisdom, and correction, so that they are kept from falling and bring shame on the ministry.
Now, I want to bring a charge to Jerome, and a church to this church.
A Charge to Jerome. Jerome, I charge you to preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction. Watch over your own soul, and watch over the souls of those here at The Bridge. When you see someone straying, go after him. When you see someone getting into bad teaching, correct him. When you see a marriage in trouble, seek to bring godly counsel and help. Guard the flock. Oversee the flock. Shepherd the flock. And do this faithfully week in and week out, whether or not you ever receive financial compensation for it. Do it, whether or not the people here appreciate or encourage you. Do this, because the Holy Spirit has gifted you and called you to this great task!
A Charge to The Bridge. Folks, I also have a charge for you. Pray for your Pastors! Pray that God will speak to us. Pray that He will give us humble hearts. Pray that He will give us the ability to lead with wisdom. Pray that He will increase our love for the flock. Pray that He would so motivate us that we would find it our joy to invest our time in serving the flock. Also, church, follow Jerome’s leadership. Rather than resist Jerome’s loving leadership, humbly learn from him and follow him as he seeks to show you God’s will.
And now, brothers and sisters, please come up here. I’m going to ask Jerome to kneel, and I would like this entire church family to lay hands on him, and pray for him as he undertakes this great work!
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