Joel Sarli was Associate Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association and the second editor of Elder’s Digest when this article was written.

In this issue we focus on the true meaning of Christian stewardship. Because people tend to look to their leaders as examples, it's appropriate to look into how the function of an elder is a very real opportunity to model the biblical principles of stewardship.

The Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines a steward as "A person who manages another's property. . .; one who administers anything as agent of another. ..."

This definition simply states the responsibility that elders have over the congregation of God's people. Elders must labor among God's flock as stewards. They do not own the flock, but labor for and give account to the One who does. (Heb. 13:17; Titus 1:7). Elders need to be recognized by God's people, but their eyes must be fixed on the Chief Steward to whom ultimately they have to be accountable.

In their book The Elders Handbook: A Practical Guide for Church Leaders page 207, Gerard Berghoef and Lester DeKoster state that an elder "is not responsible to the congregation as a politician is to his constituency. The elders have authority from God, not the congregation. To God's will as revealed in His Word, the eldership is alone responsible."

Elders cannot lead without the respect and submission of God's people (Heb. 13:17). A congregation should not resist the leadership that God has appointed, that the congregation has recognized, and that models Bible-directed leadership. An elder is not to "rule over" a congregation, but as steward, administrate and lead it for God. In making decisions, elders are not to follow their own inclinations, but as stewards, they are bound to follow the Word of God.

Work and labor for the good of others describe the function of an elder who accepts responsibility as a steward for the Lord (1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17). To look out for others and not one's self is the elder's primary function (Acts 20:28).

To have a healthy congregation, elders as true stewards, must pour their energy into the priorities that Jesus has set. This true concept of stewardship must be present in the spirit of every member of a congregation and of every person chosen to exercise eldership among God's flock.

Programs come and go, but for a true steward the priorities of Christ for the Church do not change: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen" (Matt 28:19-20, NIV).