Eldership In the Church—Who Can Be An Elder, and How Can They Become One?
Church elders are wise and spiritual people who oversee the congregation (often along with a pastor or minister) and serve as role models for other church members.
A church usually has more than one elder, with each assigned to assist several church members. This collective of elders is often called a board of elders, body of elders, or elder committee.
Although most Christian churches have elders, their roles often differ depending on which church they serve.
Because this is such a serious role, church elders need to hold certain characteristics and meet specific criteria. Most often, elders are men – this is mainly based on very strict interpretations of the scripture.
Elders of a church are ordained and should be willing and ready to do the work involved. If they or the church feel that they are no longer capable of fulfilling their duties optimally, they may choose to or be asked to step down from the role of elder.
What is an elder in the church?
A church elder is usually an older member of the church or congregation. In most cases, they have been a church member for a long time. Church elders offer support and guidance to other church members. They often become mentors for members of the congregation.
Although many elders are older, the role has little to do with age. In the Bible, the title “elder” referred to leaders (or rulers) of a community or the head of a household.
Traditionally, older men believed to be wise were appointed church elders. These men were to be shepherds for God’s flock. They are to lead congregation members while following the teachings of the chief shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Some churches have only a pastor, while others might have several overseers. These individuals, including the pastor, are usually called church elders.
There is a difference between the church’s elders and the church’s deacons. While the elders oversee the congregation, deacons are seen as the church’s servants.
Many believe that the Bible calls for a plurality of leadership and that multiple elders should oversee the church. This is to avoid any one man having ultimate authority. The team of elders (including the pastor) holds each other accountable. Read more about restoring biblical elders here.
What is a board of elders?
A board of elders includes several elders. This board usually consists of 10-20 men (or more, depending on the size of the church) who are tasked with shepherding the members of the church. They oversee the congregation and guide the church in its mission.
Some make a distinction between an elder board and an elder body. In this case, the elder board manages the church based on business principles. On the other hand, the elder body focuses on guiding the church members.
Does every Christian church have elders?
Whether or not a Christian church has elders depends on the needs and beliefs of the church. Even so, most churches do have elders following guidelines stipulated in the Bible.
A person needs to be qualified or have certain qualities to become appointed church elder. If there aren’t two or more men who are qualified to take up eldership in the church, that particular church cannot appoint elders. In these cases, the church can function scripturally without elders while developing individuals to eventually have them take up an eldership role.
How are elders different across different forms of Christianity?
Elders may have a slightly different role depending on the form of Christianity they subscribe to.
Reformed Church in America
In the Reformed Church in America, elders oversee the congregation. They welcome new members, guide and teach the congregation, hear confessions of faith, admit children to the Lord’s table, and are involved in infant baptism.
Elders in the Reformed Church in America visit members of the church at home, in hospitals, or in nursing homes. They also support and encourage the pastor.
In the Presbyterian church in the United States, elders assist in strengthening and nurturing the faith of other church members. They are there to be an example for other church members and guide them in their spiritual worship and education journey.
The elders in the Presbyterian Church are individuals who were chosen to serve a specific congregation. elders who are members of the church body are called “ruling elders.” Ministers are called ‘teaching elders.’ During their three-year term, the elders are encouraged to work in different areas of the church. This promotes their growth while in service.
Seventh-day Adventist Church
In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, elders work with the Ministers of the Gospel. Their duties include visiting and praying for the parish members, leading worship services, and preaching when the minister or pastor cannot do so. Elders in the Seventh-day Adventist Church work as spiritual mentors, act as advisors on church committees and projects, and are involved in decision-making in the church and ministry.
Elders in the Methodist Church are ordained clergy who can perform all the duties in the church. They work with pastors to oversee the congregation. These elders follow a fourfold ministry that includes Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service.
This allows them to teach the Word of God, offer counseling and pastoral care, serve as pastors, superintendents, and bishops, and administer the sacraments.
In the Methodist Church, elders should have completed spiritual studies and hold a Master of Divinity (MDiv) qualification. They can administer the sacraments to anyone, anywhere in the world. On the other hand, Methodist Pastors receive training that focuses more on their immediate community. They can thus only perform the sacraments on members of their local church.
Who appoints an elder?
The appointment of an elder falls to different people depending on the church. In the Methodist church, for example, elders are appointed by the Bishop. In other churches, the leadership and members of the congregation could team up with the leadership to appoint a church elder.
What qualifies someone to be an elder?
According to the Bible, someone who might be considered for the role of an elder should be virtuous and willing to take on this crucial role. Being an elder is not necessarily about your acts and deeds but instead about who you are and the example you set for others.
The church’s requirements for being an elder are stipulated in 1Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1: 6-9 in the New Testament. These traits include:
- Being faithful to his wife.
- Living wisely.
- Having self-control.
- Being respectable and having a good reputation.
- Being hospitable and enjoying having people in his home.
- Being able to teach others.
- Being gentle and non-violent.
- Managing his family well.
- Being respected by his children.
- Being spoken of highly by people outside of the church.
- Not being quarrelsome.
- Not loving money.
- Having been a believer for a long time.
How church elders are appointed
There isn’t one specific process to follow when a church wants to appoint a qualified man as an elder. The most important aspect to remember when considering someone for the role of church elder is how well they adhere to the requirements for being an elder as stated in 1Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1.
A church looking to appoint one or more elders must first familiarize itself with the qualifications of elders as stipulated in the Bible. Next, the congregation and any persons already in a leadership role in the church should search for Christian men among their members who hold the characteristics set out in the criteria.
It might be a good idea to announce to the congregation that the church is looking at filling one or more roles of elders. This allows the members to nominate or submit the names of men who they believe meet the criteria of an elder.
Select members of the congregation, usually members of the church’s leadership, can then meet to discuss the nominations. The men who have been nominated should be asked whether they desire to do the work of an overseer or an elder. This should be a godly desire, and the candidate must only answer in the affirmative if they are genuinely ready and willing to take up the responsibility of being an elder of the church.
Once there is a list of potential candidates, the names can be made public. Members of the congregation can then raise an objection to the appointment of any of the candidates. It is suggested that if a congregation member has any reason to object to the taking up of biblical eldership by one of the candidates, they need to approach the candidate directly and raise their concerns.
In some instances, the matter can be resolved with a discussion or by an explanation. If the issue cannot be resolved and the candidate does not want to withdraw his name, the congregation member can immediately approach the candidate. This time they can bring witnesses to speak to the candidate. Ideally, at this point, the issue could be resolved, or the candidate may choose to withdraw their name.
Suppose the men have expressed a desire to become an elder, and no objection has been raised against them in a reasonable amount of time. In that case, they can be made elders of the church. Their biblical eldership should be announced during or before a church service. Prayers can then be offered to support these men in their valuable and vital work.
Some churches first hold an elder vote where the elder board or committee votes on whether a candidate should be granted eldership. Once this is done, the vote is turned to the congregation.
Can women be elders?
Whether women can become elders in the church is a contentious matter. In modern times, women and men are considered equal, and women often fill roles traditionally held by men. Even so, some believe that the position of church elder is reserved for men based on criteria stipulated in the Bible.
That does not necessarily mean women cannot hold leadership roles in the church. Some believe that the role of pastor is not an office like the role of elder is. Instead, pastoring is a gift and not an authoritative office. Because the Holy Spirit grants both men and women these gifts, women can serve their church in the role of pastor.
Others believe that women cannot hold leadership roles or teach.
What are the duties of an elder?
In most churches, there is shared leadership between the elders and the pastor or minister. They all work together to spread God’s word, delivering sound doctrine to church members.
Elders teach other congregation members about the church’s beliefs and principles. They also assist with taking care of the physical needs of the church members. An elder will often be called on to pray for an ill church member. Although they pray for healing, they also pray through Christ Jesus that God’s will be done in all situations.
Often elders are called upon to settle a dispute. They are decision-makers and can help members of their congregation make difficult choices or find a middle ground if there is an argument or difference in opinion.
Church elders mind the spiritual life and growth of church members. These individuals are spiritual leaders and thus accountable for the spiritual life of the members of their congregation.
The role of a church elder might differ between denominations and from church to church. Some of their roles may include:
- Assisting with administrative tasks
- Deal with church finances
When is an elder released from their duty?
Church elders are bound by the rules of the church and can be disciplined if they transgress. In 1 Timothy 5:19, the apostle Paul said: “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.”
Elders should be an example for church members; thus, they must be above reproach. They may face disciplinary action if they violate any church laws or fail to uphold the expected standards.
Different churches have different disciplinary actions that apply in various situations. The action taken against an elder will depend on the situation and the nature and severity of the offense. In extreme cases, an elder may be asked to step down and give up his biblical eldership.
Here are some other reasons why an elder might be asked to step down or give up his eldership:
- If their children (who were previously obedient) publicly displayed any form of disobedience.
- If outside activities took too much time and attention from their duties required by the church.
- If an elder can no longer perform their duties and fulfill their role as an elder due to physical or mental illness or incapacitation.
- If they can no longer perform all the functions required to be an elder due to unavoidable circumstances.
- If the elder teaches false doctrines or doctrines that don’t align with those of the church.
- If they become too distracted by life’s challenges and stressors.
- If the elder chooses to step down because he feels that he is no longer qualified to serve as an elder.
- If the elder needs to rest from his duties.
Are elders paid, and is this calling considered a full-time job?
Whether an elder is paid for their services and whether he works full time depends on various factors. Some elders are older and thus receive retirement benefits. In these cases, the church may not need to support them. Similarly, elders who have jobs outside their roles in the church may not need to be paid.
On the other hand, elders who dedicate most of their time and resources towards their elderly duties may receive payment in return.
How can Church.org help answer my questions?
Church.org is a platform that helps individuals find local churches and help them get in touch with their local church leadership. It also allows churches to stay in touch with their members and host services online. They can help you find the right church and deepen your religious practice within that church.
The elder leadership of a church makes up a part of the church government and fulfills a massively supporting role in the church. They serve the members of the church and support the pastors in their work. Although most Christian churches have elders, the requirements and duties differ from church to church.
Becoming a church elder by taking up eldership is serious and should not be taken lightly. But the task is very rewarding.