Floyd Bresee is a former Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference. 

With an enlarged understanding of God's intended role for the local church elder, and with an increasing ratio of church members per sala- 2. ried minister, the Adventist Church today needs and welcomes the strengths and gifts of its elders as never before. Each's elder's job description is determined largely by five factors: (1) size of the congregation, (2) availability of the pastor, (3) the plan of pastor and congregation for involving elders, (4) the elder's gifts, and (5) the elder's willingness to work.

Because the work of local church elders varies so dramatically, the preparation of a single job description to fit all is virtually impossible. Thus, this job description is divided into three parts: 4. work common to elders in all churches, work unique to elders in large churches, and work unique to elders in small churches.

All Churches

Many of the following tasks have biblical precedent as being part of the elder's job description. Not every elder is interested or gifted in every area, but every pastor and congregation 7. should make these jobs available:

1. Serve as principal lay leader of the congregation (Acts 20:17, 28, "overseers, to shepherd the church").*

2. Live an exemplary Christian life before the congregation (1 Peter 5:1-4, "being examples to the flock"). What people think of Christ probably depends less on what church leaders say about Him than on what people think of them as they say it. You must be good before you can do good.

3. Support and teach sound doctrine (Titus 2:1; 1:9, "sound doctrine"; 1 Tim. 3:2, "able to teach").

4. As principal lay leader, give support to all church programs and encouragement to their leaders.

5. Participate in some kind of church outreach. If leaders don't, chances are that members won't either.

6. Serve on the church board.

7. Lead in worship. Every elder should study worship. Since they give the main worship prayer more often than even pastors, elders should work to become specialists in public prayer.

8. Resolve congregational conflict. You have likely been in the congregation longer than the pastor and are a fellow layperson. You should better understand conflicts within the congregation. Resolving conflict was part of the job description of Old Testament elders. Only problems that elders could not solve were to be brought to "Pastor" Moses (Deut. 1:13-17, "Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother").

9. Counsel members. Members may not have chosen the pastor as their leader, but they did choose you. You have their confidence and should be available when they seek counsel.

10. Be hospitable, both at church and at home (Titus 1:6-9, "For a bishop must be ... hospitable"). Elders and their families are nearly always in the mainstream of the church's social structure. You are in a special position to help integrate new and friendless members into the life of the congregation.

11. Love all your members—especially the least lovely (Acts 20:17, 28 "Take heed . . . to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers").

12. Visit. Perhaps your gifts and interests may lead you to specialize in visiting nonmembers, young members, former members, discouraged members, members of your Sabbath school class, shut-ins, etc.

13. Take Communion to shut-ins.

14. Pray for and anoint the sick, alone or as an assistant to the pastor (James 5:14, "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church").

15. Pastor the pastor and the pastoral family. They need it, and if elders don't do it, chances are no one will.

16. Be the pastor's teammate. God gave Moses a job description for the 70 elders (Num. 11:16, 17, "They shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone"). Pastors and elders are partners in ministry. Publicly support the pastor's program. No pastor is good at everything, but every pastor is good at something. Elders should encourage pastors to delegate to elders and other members those areas where the pastors are weak, so pastors can better serve the congregation by specializing in their strengths. Share the pastoral load by committing at least a few hours weekly to church work.

Large Churches

Typically, elders in large congregations do not directly oversee the whole church program as in a small church. However, they should be given responsibility for some portion of it.

L1. Serve as the pastor's representative with responsibility for some assigned area of the church program. For example: Sabbath school, youth ministry, church school, evangelism, visitation, worship committee, finance, chair board or other committee, etc.

L2. Be platform assistant. Either organize the platform party for the worship service, or participate on the platform.

L3. Be a member of the board of elders. In the early New Testament church, the elders met together to encourage church leaders and to solve the church's most perplexing problems (Acts 15:1-29; 16:4; 21:18-25). The board of elders should be the pastor's support group. It is an excellent body in which to originate church plans, and should provide an intimate, confidential, wise sounding board where church problems of an intimate nature can be discussed without their hurting people by becoming public knowledge.

Small Churches

The authority and responsibilities of elders in small churches are very broad. Their job description is nearly the same as that of a pastor, too large to be enumerated here in detail. The work of these elders, however, should always be done in cooperation with the pastor and in consultation with the church board. Most of these duties are carried out only in the pastor's absence.

S1. Plan and lead the services of the church. This includes not only the Sabbath worship services and prayer meeting, but possibly Communion and even funeral services.

S2. Preach.

S3. Call and chair business and board meetings.

S4. Give general oversight to the stewardship program of the church.

S5. Promote programs passed on to the church by the pastor or the denomination's various entities (see Acts 11:29, 30).

*Bible texts in this article are from the New King James Version.


Floyd Bresee was secretary of the Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists from 1985 to 1992. Since his retirement he and his wife, Ellen, have been living in Tabernash, Colorado. Dr. Bresee continues to be active in church work, writing, and meeting various speaking appointments all over the world.