What should I look for in a potential elder?
When Paul writes to his young pastoral associate, Timothy, about what to look for in an elder (the word “elder” and “overseer” are interchangeable) he emphasizes that an elder must be a thoroughly mature Christian. In 1 Timothy 3:2-7 he says,
Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Similarly, in Titus 1:1-5, Paul says,
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you- if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
Simply said, the sort of man that you should consider for this high calling is patient, content, wise, seasoned, humble and godly. His wife and children (should he be married and/or have children) flourish under his leadership and he enjoys the respect of all—both inside and outside of the church. An elder is a holy man of God.
Godliness is prerequisite for office, but godliness alone does not ensure that a man would make a good elder. If he is to do the work of an elder well, he must also possess certain gifts and abilities.
- An elder must be a shepherd. First and foremost, an elder is called to shepherd Christ’s people. In Scripture is he called Christ’s under-shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-4; Acts 20:28), and through this man Jesus will feed, lead, care for, and protect his church. Therefore an elder is a man that you would look to for counsel and prayer. He must be trustworthy and have your confidence as he acts as your representative. Like Christ, this man must also genuinely know and love those who are not yet Christians.
- An elder must be a theologian. Christians live and die by certain ideas—truths taught in the Bible. An elder must care deeply about these ideas, be proficient in them, and have an ability to convey these ideas. He is one who can rightly explain the teaching of the Bible, refute those who come against it, and herald the good news to a hostile world (Titus 1:9; 2 Tim 1:13; 2:2). This is a man that you would approach with your questions about the Bible, faith, and life.
- An elder must be a hatchet-man, a hard worker, and a parliamentarian.
- A Hatchet-man: It is imperative that this man speaks to please God rather than man (1 Thes 2:4). He is called to be unflappable when criticized by those he loves, to say hard things, to support the pastor, and to enforce orders that are often difficult.
- A Hard Worker: In addition to laboring diligently in his vocation and family, an elder is called to give himself to the work of the church. This will require discipline, toil, and much sacrifice. An elder must be at a stage in his life where he can give the necessary time and energy to this calling.
- A Parliamentarian: In order to function in the courts of the PCA (see our denomination)., an elder must understand (or be willing to learn during his candidacy period) parliamentary process. Essentially, an elder must be one who can debate without taking offense, happily support the majority when in the minority, and work within the procedural process already in place, even when it is tedious.