Why Do We Need Elders?
Many Christians know that 1 Timothy 3 is the place to go to look for the moral qualifications for serving the church as an elder. But sometimes we overlook the full reason why these criteria are there. Elders need to live godly lives, not simply to qualify for office, but in order to carry out the office. It is shameful when a church leader fails to live up to the standard of life that God expects, but God’s main concern isn’t avoiding embarrassment. He wants more people living lives that reflect His glory and so He calls His church to set apart godly men as examples to help others know how to follow Jesus. The standards for church office aren’t about damage control. They’re about building up the body of Christ.
This means that elders don’t live inside a glass box that only gets broken in an emergency. Elders aren’t given to the church just in case anyone needs to be disciplined. Elders are given to the church because everyone needs to be discipled. Elders are set apart as examples, someone that the rest of the church can emulate. Because of this, the criteria in 1 Timothy don’t just tell you what an elder should be. It also tells you how to use an elder.
Here are five areas to start with:
Hospitality: Everyone agrees that Christians should be hospitable, but what does that involve? Use your elders as a guide: Who do they invite into their home? How often do they open up their home? How big or small of a production is a meal at their house? How do they determine how much is too much?
Use of Alcohol: God hates drunkenness, but alcohol is one of His good gifts. How can you drink alcohol to the glory of God? Ask your elders. What are their guidelines for consuming alcohol? When do they partake, and when do they abstain, and why?
Self-Control: Elders face the same temptations you do, temptations to get angry, be violent, and quarrel. So how have they disciplined themselves to faithfully resist these temptations? What habits and practices have helped them control their tempers, fists, and mouths?
Finances: Your elders put the sin of greed to death by the way they budget. So where does their money go? In what ways do they deny themselves and give to others? How much? How often? You don’t need to press them for amounts in dollars and cents, but their percentages and priorities in tithing and giving will point you in the direction of godliness.
Family life: Husbands, love. Wives, submit. Children, obey. There is no one cookie-cutter way to carry out these instructions, but that doesn’t mean anything goes. Look to your elders to find a healthy pattern of family life, and adapt their practices to your own family.
If you’ve never taken advantage of your elder’s example or patterned any part of your Christian life after the way they live, then you haven’t been using your elders as God intends. They aren’t there to make legalistic rules for everyone to obey, but they have demonstrated wisdom in following God in these and other areas. Even though you won’t copy them exactly, you’ll still learn a great deal from how they live. So watch them. Talk to them. Ask them questions and use your elders as examples in following Jesus.