An elder must have a good reputation. If a man is dishonest or is known for sin or questionable practices, he should not be considered for eldership until his lifestyle and love for God are evident to the church. Backbiting and false rumors against a man are not how we measure someone’s reputation. Jesus warned His disciples that people would speak all manner of evil falsely against them for His sake, so we know the Bible is not warning the church against backbiting. A man should be judged on his own actions. If his actions or beliefs have been questionable, the Bible disqualifies him. People mature and change, but a person must spend time building a godly reputation before he or she is qualified to lead the church.
The Bible commands that an elder be tested before election. This test requires an observable lifestyle that is consistent with Scripture. In many churches, deacons are confused with elders and are given authority that the Bible does not allow. Scripturally, the role of a deacon is one of service. Faithfulness to this area of responsibility is one of the qualifications for becoming an elder.
The qualifications of a bishop or pastor and the qualifications of a deacon are the same. A pastor or bishop is an elder as well. These qualifications are found in 1 Timothy 3. If a man is not able to govern his own life, he is not able to provide godly leadership to the church.
ELDERS COORDINATE AND EMPOWER
In the Bible, elders were responsible for coordinating ministry and empowering others to work in ministry. The pastor provides direction and vision for the church; the elders are responsible for equipping and empowering others to bring this vision to completion. The elders do work in ministry, but they also provide leadership to the local body as they engage others in ministry. It is unbiblical to dump all ministry work on the leaders of the church, and it is an injustice to turn ministry into a spectator sport. Each member is a minister with a calling from God. Those who desire to serve will become discontented if they are not empowered to follow God’s call in their lives. Discipleship is not being carried out if members who are more passive are never encouraged and invited to serve in ministry as well.
A great leader is not the one who does the most but the one who mentors others and passes his or her vision on to others and nurtures them into service. Anyone can limit themselves to task-oriented business, but true discipleship means inspiring others to reach for God’s calling in their own lives (Acts 11:29, 30).
ELDERS GOVERN THE CHURCH AND PREACH
God has given responsibility to the elders to preach the Word and to lead the church (1 Tim. 5:16, 17; 1 Peter 5:1).
ELDERS GUARD CHURCH DOCTRINE
God calls elders to guard the doctrine of the church. In the New Testament, elders worked with the apostles to resolve doctrinal crises within the church. We don’t have the apostles today; however, elders and pastors have the Word of God, and any doctrinal questions should be discussed with the Bible as the foundation. The elders should be men of the Word, and they are responsible for resolving disputes within the church as well as addressing violations of Scripture.
God will hold the elders accountable for the protection of His Word within the local church body (Acts 15:2; 16:6).
ELDERS AND PASTORS EXERCISE CHURCH AUTHORITY
Elders should exercise spiritual authority in the church. Remember that the pastor is also an elder. Along with the elders, the pastor provides direction and spiritual authority within the church.
God has entrusted leaders with authority, and He calls on them to use it wisely and with a spirit of servanthood; leaders are not called to be taskmasters or bear the weight of the work by themselves (Acts 15:22).
ELDERS LEAD FINANCIAL AFFAIRS AND PROMOTE STEWARDSHIP
I believe in financial openness in the church. Each member has the right to know what the church budget is and to vote on it. On the other hand, elders are charged with following up on church-budget expenses and making sure the church is financially stable. Elders should also teach, preach, and promote fidelity and generosity among members.
Leadership does not have the right to incur debt and then ask the congregation to pay the cost. Church members should be confident that the money they give is being used biblically, wisely, and in support of the church vision (Acts 11:30).
ELDERS RESOLVE CONFLICTS
Elders are responsible for handling and resolving conflicts or disputes within the church. Disputes should be handled according to biblical principles (Acts 15:6, 22; Matt. 18:15-17).
ELDERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR BRINGING THE TESTIMONY OF CHRIST TO THE WORLD
The Bible charges elders with being diligent in seeing that the testimony of Jesus, wich is the Spirit of Prophecy, is presented to the world (Acts 20:17-21; Rev. 19:10).
ELDERS PRAY FOR THE SICK
Elders are called to pray for members of the church by anointing them with oil, praying over them, and by the laying on of hands. The Bible tells us that the effectual fervent prayers of the righteous avail much. I know of very few churches that pray for their sick as the Bible has commanded. If our church elders are the spiritual leaders they are called to be, God has provided a powerful tool to pray for those in need. Obeying this mandate is an act of faith. Failure to do so is negligence on our part, and we should not expect much of a result.
It is vital for the eldership to have a consistent, obedient walk with Christ so that God can work within the church (James 5:14-16).
ELDERS MUST BE COMMITTED TO PRAYER AND TO GOD’S WORD
Prayer is the lifeblood of the church. Nothing is more important than an effective prayer life founded upon the truth of God’s Word. Prayer without truth is worthless. Knowing the Word is incomplete without a relationship with God. If an elder cannot be faithful in this fundamental issue, the church will have no power.
Time must be set aside for the leadership of the church to meet solely for prayer. Almost all churches turn prayer meetings into business meetings. Praying before a church committee or business meeting is critical; however, some time must be dedicated to prayer. Ten minutes of prayer followed by a discussion does not qualify. A church must be diligent to commit time for prayer alone. If a church does not have a prayer life within its leadership, it will not have the power of God. Even a dead church can grow numerically if it has something that creates interest. If a church is to follow a godly vision and fulfill its purpose, prayer must be an integral part of its priorities.
Equally important, an elder must be diligent to maintain an active personal prayer life. A leader who never comes before the throne of grace has removed himself from the power God has provided to every believer. Prayer must be God-focused and purpose-focused. The Bible tells us that whatever we ask according to God’s will, He hears. If we are praying for God’s will in our lives, we are drawing closer to Him. If we are seeking God’s will in the church and in the lives of others, we will see effectual results on our knees.
It is impossible for an elder to pray in God’s will without knowing the heart and mind of God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible. We cannot know all that God is, but we must be diligent to know what He has revealed. It is impossible to love God without knowing Him and keeping His Word. It is impossible to know Him without knowing His Word (James 5:16b; Acts 6:1-4; Heb. 4:16; 12:4-6; John 14:15, 23, 24; 17:17; 2 Peter 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:15; Ps. 119:160).
General Conference Ministerial Association