Acts 6:1-6; 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 5:3-25; Titus 1:5-9; Heb. 13:7-17; James 3:13-18; 1 Pet. 5:1-4
- Integrity in character: above reproach, blameless; not volatile, self-controlled, sober-minded; good reputation with church and world; hospitable; not given to drunkenness; gentle, not violent or quick-tempered; not quarrelsome; not a lover of money; not headstrong, but considering of other opinions; a lover of what is good; righteous; good conduct; meek; pure; peaceable; gentle; open to reason; full of mercy and good fruit; impartial; sincere
- Integrity in family: husband of only 1 wife; manages family well; children obey you and show you respect; children believe the gospel; children not considered wild or disobedient
- Doctrine: able to teach, faithfully teaches the word of God to people
- Integrity in faith: not a recent convert, has a faith/obedience that is worthy of imitation
- Elder = Overseer/Supervisor/Shepherd
- Ensure you and the flock are walking faithfully (includes church discipline and helping resolve major conflicts)
- Instruct in the word and pure doctrine (direct teaching as well as general doctrinal oversight over others teaching, contributing, etc)
- Set an example in faith and faithfulness
- Ensure physical needs of church are met (eventually, delegated to deacons – Acts 6:1-6)
- (Pray – Acts 6:4; 1 Tim. 2)
Elders…In a Building?
In the NT, elders are appointed in cities (i.e. geographic areas):
- “appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5; see also Acts 14:21-25)
As a concept, elders were overseers in communities (before this term was used as a NT office), not managers in buildings:
- “elders of the people” (Matt. 21:23; 26:3; etc.) – not “of the building”
This makes sense, since the church is also identified as a group of people, not a building:
- “tell it to the church” (Matt. 16:17)
If we learn, “not to go beyond what is written,” (1 Cor. 4:6; see also Deut. 29:29), and only look at the elder qualifications and functions of Scripture (see above), we can see that the focus is on finding mature believers to look after the spiritual growth of the whole community. Nothing is tethered to a building or a prescribed way of meeting.
Thus, elders are considered overseers of a group of people, geographically located. This group, like the church in Jerusalem, could meet in a large venue AND/OR a house (Acts 2:46; 5:42). The meetings themselves, is one of those things elders would help give oversight to.
Age of Elders
Good for Relatively Older Elders
- The term, “elder,” suggests older people–at least relative to those they are shepherding (1 Pet. 5:5)
- Likewise, the traits of elders also suggest a certain level of life experience: “keeping his children submissive,” “not be a recent convert,” “well thought of by outsiders,” “his children are believers,” “you who are younger, be subject to the elders,” (1 Tim. 3:4, 6, 7; Titus 1:6; 1 Pet. 5:5)
Not Essential (and Sometimes Harmful) for Elders to be Older Than All
- An age qualification is not spelled out (though, again, the term implies “older”)
- The main consideration is that elders are the most fully formed in elder qualifications. Thus, the emphasis is on spiritual life formation and experience.
- Example: “not be a recent convert,” (1 Tim. 3:6) – this implies he has more life experience than others, but would disqualify older men who recently came to faith
- Elders are also able to labor well: “let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” (1 Tim. 5:17). Thus, men too old to labor well, would not be good elders, even though they may be spiritually mature and well-formed.
- Jesus began his ministry at 30 (Luke 3:23). Likely, his apostles (which seem a sort of precursor to appointed elders) were even younger.
- 30 is considered a good starting age for some appointed leadership (Num. 4:3; 1 Sam. 13:1; Eze. 1:1)
- 20-60 is given as a range for the fullest energy and contribution (Lev. 27:3)
- Though Samuel thought the elder brothers of Jesse were best for God’s appointed king, God chose the youngest, David (1 Sam. 16)
- Timothy who functions in oversight capacity, is a youth: “Let no one despise you for your youth,” (1 Tim. 4:12)
The norm of Scripture is male leadership appointments
- Jesus’ appointed Apostles were all male, and this tradition carries on even after Jesus ascends (Acts 1:21; 1 Cor. 9:5)
- Appointed deacons were likewise male (Acts 6:3)
- Later qualification lists also indicate male appointments (1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6)
- Elsewhere, general authoritative oversight is delegated to males over females (1 Cor. 11:7-9; 14:33-35; 1 Tim. 2:12)
- Church management is compared to home management (1 Tim. 3:4-5, 12; Titus 1:6); as the male (husband) is commissioned as head of the home (Eph. 5:23), so would males more naturally fit the role of leaders in the church.
- Supposed exceptions aren’t conclusive:
- Priscilla/Prisca is seen as a co-laborer with Paul (Rom. 16:3), and hosts a church at her house (1 Cor. 16:19), but she is always mentioned alongside her husband (Aquila). Further, women ministering is different than leadership office/appointment.
- In Romans 16:1, Phoebe is commended as a “sister,” and “servant”/”deaconness” (i.e. diakonos) associated with the “church in Cenchrea.” Though some see this as indicating she was an appointed deacon, the same word is used to describe Epaphras and Timothy’s roles (Col. 1:7 and 1 Tim. 4:6), where they are recognized as, “servants,” not official deacons. Thus, it is not unobjectionable proof she was a deacon.
- In Rom. 16:7, Junia (a female name) is mentioned as either a, “well known apostle,” or, “well known to the apostles,” (ESV). There is not enough information to say conclusively that this is proof of a female-appointed apostle for 3 reasons:
- It is unclear whether this is a female name (Junia) or a male name (Junias). Historically there is evidence for both, though Grudem argues that the evidence tips slightly more for this as a male name (Junias)–see Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1994, p. 909, footnote 7.
- It is unclear whether Junia is called a, “well known apostle,” or, “well known to the apostles,” (as the ESV translates it).
- And even if Junia was a female apostle mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:7, this shouldn’t be viewed as an appointed leadership position. The only appointed apostles are the original 12 and Matthias as a replacement for Judas (see Acts 1)–plus Paul (see 1 Cor. 9). Other apostles in the Bible are ministers raised up by God (think “missionaries”), not people filling the office reserved for the 12 Apostles (see Acts 14:14; Eph. 4:11; Rev. 2:2). Thus, Junia would still not be an example of an appointed female leader.
Room for exceptions
- Judges 4-5:
- Deborah was a judge over Israel: “Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time” (Judges 4:4).
- Jael had a military victory: “Jael the wife of Heber…drove the peg into his temple…so he died” (Judges 4:21)
- Judges 4:8-9: Though note that the victory was intended for a man (Barak), but because he insisted a woman (Deborah) go with him, his glory was handed over to a woman (Jael). Perhaps this gives a clue that women ought to be considered in these roles in the absence of faithful men.
Women are ministers unto the Lord
- Acts 2:17-18 makes clear that the Spirit empowers men and women alike to be ministers of Him. Likewise, Gal. 3:28 makes clear women have same access to the same spiritual inheritance that men have.
- As mentioned above, women still ministered and labored in the Lord:
- Priscilla/Prisca co-labors and hosts a church at her house with her husband.
- Phoebe (Rom. 16:1) is commended as a servant/deaconness in the same way Epaphras and Timothy were.
- If Junia (Rom. 16:7) is a female she is either noted among the apostles or a noted apostle herself.
- Phil. 4:3: “these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel”
- Women even functioned as judge and military victor (Judges 4-5)
- Women prophesy (Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11)
- Women were appointed by Jesus to preach to men (Matt. 28:5-10; see also John 4)
- Women were significant contributors to Jesus’ ministry (Luke 8:3)
- Women hosted churches in their homes (Col. 4:15; 2 John – “The elect lady” [?])
- Women have other very significant roles, such as teaching other women, managing their households, etc. (Titus 2:3-5)
Don’t Be Hasty
With elders, we are told:
- don’t be hasty in accusing them of sin (1 Tim. 5:19)
- don’t be hasty in appointing them–literally, “do not be hasty in the laying on of hands,” which is the means by which they are appointed (1 Tim. 5:22; Acts 6:6)