What are Elders and Why Do We Have Them?

July 25, 2008

(This is a summary of the second sermon in the six-part series, “God Gave Pastors and Teachers,” preached on June 15. The audio is available here.)

Why do we exist as a church?

The glory of God is our goal. This is the reason we exist.

We as a church are not able to glorify God in some ways:

  • We won’t create galaxies or planets
  • We won’t raise up kingdoms and bring them down

But what can we do, by His grace, through His power?

Basically there are three ways we glorify God:

1) We worship God corporately: proclaiming and singing and delighting in the glory of God

This gives God glory DIRECTLY

2) We proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who don’t know Him

  • Through Missions: Reaching ALL NATIONS with the Gospel of the glory of God
  • Through Evangelism: Reaching our neighbors with the Gospel of the glory of God

3) We build up the body of Christ

  • In knowledge
  • In love
  • In faith
  • In Christlikeness
  • In perseverance

We can summarize these three ways in short phrases: We glorify God through:

  • Expressing joy in Christ
  • Spreading joy in Christ
  • Deepening joy in Christ

Thus, elders exist to help the church fulfill the reason for its existence.

  • Through worship
  • Through outreach
  • Through edification

God gives pastors and teachers as gifts to the church, so that the church might become what He intends it to be. The growing, strengthening, thriving, worshiping bride of Christ.

What are Elders

Elders play a role in leading the nation of Israel from ancient times – as early as the exodus (around 1400BC), but at least at times had a very negative impact on the nation, as they used their position for their own benefit rather than the benefit of the people (Ezekiel 34, for example).

Again, during the time of Jesus, the elders of the Jews opposed Jesus.

Nevertheless, there were elders in the early Jerusalem church (Acts 15).

Furthermore, Paul appoints elders in his Gentile churches even on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:23).

Three main ideas about elders from the epistles

1) The words elder, pastor, and overseers (bishop) all refer to the same office

We see this from Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-2.

2) The Holy Spirit makes men overseers (Acts 20:28)

Our job is to recognize what the Holy Spirit has done.

3) Biblically, it is normal to have more than one elder in a local church.

James 5:14, Titus 1:5, and Acts 20:17 suggest this.

Why do We Have Elders?

In the rest of this sermon and in the next, we will look at the biblical commands that concern elders and describe their impact. Today: 9 points:

1) Elders are to pray for the congregation. James 5:14. Acts 6:4

2) Elders are to keep watch over the souls of the congregation Hebrews 13:17

3) Elders are to benefit the church Hebrews 13:17

4) Elders are to be on guard for the flock Acts 20:28

5) Elders are to care for or shepherd the church Acts 20:28

6) Elders are to teach and preach the Word Ephesians 4:11, 2 Timothy 3:16-4:5, Acts 6:4

7) Elders are to equip the saints so that the saints might do the work of the ministry, thereby building up the body of Christ Ephesians 4:12

8 ) Elders protect the church from prevalent false winds of doctrine by means of the previous two commands Ephesians 4:14

9) Elders thereby help the church to grow to maturity, to Christlikeness, to a well-functioning body giving glory to God as each member does his or her part. Ephesians 4:13-16

Consider, then, seven of these commands:

  • Profit/benefit
  • Keep watch
  • Pay careful attention to, guard,
  • Protect
  • Equip
  • Help to grow
  • Shepherd

Aren’t all of the first six summarized in the last, to shepherd? Doesn’t a literal shepherd perform all these tasks for his flock of sheep? And, indeed, the other two commands – pray for the flock, teach them the Word – are clearly ways that elders benefit, protect, equip, and help the flock to mature.

Shepherding is thus a comprehensive picture of all the duties of elders. That’s why the word “pastor” (which means “shepherd”) is used as an alternative title for elder or overseer.

In next week’s sermon, we’ll look at the shepherding image throughout Scripture, to get a deeper understanding of the meaning of this wonderful image.

Conclusion

Consider again the threefold purpose of the church outlined in the introduction.

The Holy Spirit raises up pastors/elders/overseers in each local assembly, empowering them to shepherd the church

  • Through preaching and teaching
  • Through guarding, watching over
  • Through edifying and building up

So that our joy in Christ deepens, and overflows in worship and in outreach.

For the elder, for every member of the flock, this is key:

  • We do not exist in order to go through religious rituals
  • We do not exist in order to appease an angry God
  • We do not exist in order to please the society around us
  • We do not even exist in order to help the poor or heal the sick

We exist as a church to give glory to God, and we CANNOT do that unless we have joy in Christ, unless we see Him as the most important, the most loving, the most powerful, the most beautiful One in all the universe, and thus have joy in Him.

So: Do you have this joy? Isn’t the Gospel message one that creates joy?

Is your joy deepened through hearing the Gospel?

Are you ready to spread that joy of the Gospel?

Can you now express that joy in worship, as you contemplate the Gospel?

This is why we exist. This is why I am your pastor. This is more important than anything else in life.

So delight in Him. Rejoice in Him. Believe in Him – to your everlasting joy.

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