Scripture lays out the responsibilities for elders, but, sadly, these responsibilities are often sidestepped, altered, or neglected in the church. Tending to the flock can take a backseat to making sure the lobby gets remodeled. The teaching of the gospel can get sidelined by making sure disgruntled members are happy. And when elders swerve from their duties as prescribed in Scripture, it’s the church that suffers.
Given the stakes, it’s no surprise that Paul puts a premium on leadership in the church (Acts 20). Caring for the bride of Christ is of the utmost importance because Jesus obtained the church with His own blood. Elders do not march to the beat of their own drum, but rather submit to God’s Word. How they oversee the flock is not left to personal preferences and philosophies but must be directed by Christ. The church does not belong to the elders; it belongs to Christ. No elder will love the church to the extent that Christ has and will.
While elders are ultimately subject to Christ’s authority, they are also under the authority of the congregation (see 1 Timothy 5:19–20). Paul makes this point, or implies it, on several occasions (1 Timothy 5:19). The congregation is not to sit by passively while overseers forsake their duties. When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he told them that even if he or an angel came to them and preached another gospel, then that preacher was to be “accursed” (Galatians 1:9). The congregation has a responsibility not to listen to false teachers.
Based on David Platt’s sermon titled “Elders: Servant Leaders of the Church,” here are four responsibilities of elders:
1. Elders Lead under the Authority of Christ
The elders belong to the church. They are servants of the church. Elders will give an account before God for how they have led the flock. With this in mind, elders cannot fall prey to backdoor politics or devise and scheme in ways that dishonor Christ. (Matthew 16:18; Colossians 1:18).
2. Elders Care for the Body of Christ
The elders must shepherd the sheep. They do this by feeding, nurturing, and protecting the flock. (1 Peter 5:1-3)
3. Elders Teach the Word of Christ
The primary way an elder feeds the flock of God is by teaching the scriptures. Life for the church is not found in the opinions of men but in the Word of God. This means elders must know the Word extensively and be able to communicate the Word effectively. (Titus 1:9)
4. Elders Model the Character of Christ.
Elders must meet the qualifications laid out in Scripture. It should be evident to those around them that an elder is growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Nowhere in Scripture do we find success in the world as a qualification for leadership in the church. (1 Timothy 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9)
It is a means of grace that God has provided clarity when it comes to expectations for how the church is to be ordered and what elders are responsible to do.