“This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work” (I Tim. 3:1). The office of bishops or elders is a work. It is a good work! It is a work that must be a priority in the lives of the men who make up the eldership. While many have their opinion as to what the work of elders should be, we must turn to God’s Word to find out what pleases Him and what, therefore, constitutes the “work of elders.”
The first part of their work is personal. “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). It must be understood that the men who make up the eldership meet the personal qualifications laid down in the Holy Scripture (I Tim. 3; Titus 1; I Pet. 5). But a one time meeting of these qualifications is not all that is required. The elders must continually “take heed” unto themselves. They must keep themselves fit vessels for service. Then they are to fulfill the work requirements that God gives them “to all the flock” that is under their oversight.
A significant part of the work of elders is to see that proper feeding is done to the flock. This feeding of the Word of God is absolutely essential if the church is to please God and if the elders fulfill their obligations. Elders must supervise the lives and teachings of the preachers and all other teachers in the educational program of the church. They must not be timid about requiring that all preachers and teachers remain pure in personal life and in their teachings. They must be aware of the “wolves” that would destroy the flock with false teachings. They must guard the flock against such false teachers (Acts 20:28-30). This means that the elders must know the difference between a faithful teacher and a false teacher. This necessitates that they know the difference between Truth and error on all subjects that affect the life of the church. If the elders fail in this responsibility, they cannot succeed in any other area.
Elders are responsible to see that everything that is done in the congregation is done “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17). This includes all worship activities, all fellowship events, all youth activities, and all else that is done by members of the church as functions of the church. This would mean that elders are responsible for all the “goings on” in each and every Bible class, from the cradle class to the adult classes. The elders must supervise the work of the deacons in all matters pertinent to the work of the church. Elders will find that much of their time is spent in studying and counseling with members who have problems that must be overcome. Elders must lead in the great work of “restoring” the backsliding and wayward members. While all Christians are responsible for this work (Gal. 6:1-2), elders must be at the forefront in these efforts. When all is said and done, the elders are the ones who are finally responsible for all the work of the church of Christ.
Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” As shepherds of the flock, the elders must know the sheep. An eldership that is unfamiliar with the individuals and the individual families of the church is not in a position to help these as they ought. Elders will give an account of their charge. Therefore, elders must show genuine interest in the affairs of the members of the entire congregation. When members are derelict in their duties to God, elders are to reprove and rebuke and then encourage them to faithfulness. When members refuse the admonitions of faithful elders to be faithful to God, the elders must lead the congregation in proper disciplinary action. This is God’s way of purging the old leaven and keeping the church what He wants it to be.
The mission of the church is to preach the Gospel to the whole world (Mark 16:15-16). The elders must have a “worldwide” mission mind. While the work of teaching and preaching must be done at home if there is to be strength enough to go elsewhere, it is not enough to merely teach “ours” each Sunday. The outreach of the church with the Gospel is dependent upon faithful and mission-minded elders.
When the work of elders is done the church will be strong. God assures that this will happen. When the work of elders is done the church is acceptable to God. The strength of the church may be measured by the strength of the eldership in following God’s Word. The strength of the church is not measured in numbers (as far as God is concerned) but in soundness and faithfulness on the part of its leaders (elders) and those who follow their lead (all members). May God bless faithful men to seek the office of elders and to serve faithfully in this greatest of all works in the world. The life of the church on earth depends upon it!
-Glenn B. Ramsey