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Biblical review of the office of elder/pastor and its requirements

The following is a bulleted word study of the most prominent passages which address the requirements for the office of elder. This section is not exhaustive by any means but seeks to be comprehensive enough as to get a good sense of the high calling of eldership. Some applications have also been added in effort to enhance and assist in thinking through the implications of these requirements. 

  1. Not under compulsion – (ἀναγκαστῶς)  An elder is to fulfill his office willingly (Also “deliberately” or “voluntarily”), not forcing oneself to do it out of duty. (1 Peter 5:1-5)
  2. Not domineering – An elder is not to act as a master or lord. (κατακυριεύω) (1 Peter 5:3) Worldly leaders lead as masters and lords (absolute authority), but elders should not. A worldly leadership style is displeasing in the sight of Christ. (Matthew 20:25-26) Christ says those who would be first among His people must be a servant (διάκονος, one who executes the commands of another) and a slave (δοῦλος, one who sacrificially gives himself up to another’s will for the sake of advancing Christ) to one another. There is no biblical justification for an elder to be considered a “boss” or as one with unquestionable authority.
  3. As an example – An elder is to lead as “an example to be imitated.” (τύπος) (1 Peter 5:3). The Greek literally says τύποι γινόμενοι (“example becoming”). In other words, an elder is to continuously become or prove himself as an example of Christ worthy of imitation to others. An elder is to continuously work on becoming someone who is worthy of being imitated. This means they must always be open to correction, otherwise they cannot become aware if they are failing to meet this requirement. The congregation submits to the elder’s lead willingingly. The elder’s disposition should be one that facilitates, builds up, encourages, and suggestively guides. A servant leader desires to step out of the way of the congregation so they can play their part in the church according to the gifts given them. An elder does not seek to control and micro-manage his congregation.
  4. Seeking the crown of glory – An elder seeks an imperishable, heavenly crown (στέφανος) which is given to those who fulfill the office of elder according to the biblical requirements listed above. His desire is not for earthly status or gain. That is why the calling and expectations of this office are so incredibly high and very few seek it. (1 Peter 5:4; James 3:1)
  5. Clothed in humility – An elder (and all of God’s people) are to lower themselves and their rank towards one another and to God. (ταπεινόω). The purpose of this humility is to trust that God will exalt each of His children in the proper time. To elevate ourselves to a position higher than we ought robs God of His glory and leads men to take credit for their efforts according to their own strength, rather than giving all credit to God. (1 Peter 5:6; Judges 7:2). God’s power is made perfect in our humility and weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
  6. Noble – Or worthy of praise (καλός). 1 Timothy 3:2 reads literally, “it is a praiseworthy work he desires to do.” As the congregation observes the actions of an elder, they should be able to praise him for what he has done as they look back.
  7. Above reproach – (ἀνεπίλημπτος) An elder strives to be unrebukeable. He should not do anything that could possibly evoke severe criticism or censure according to God’s Word (literally “that cannot be laid hold of”). His character should display the fruit of the Spirit in all circumstances, and it should exceed the character of those who are under his charge. If he is reproached, he should be able and willing to explain his actions and words from a biblical standpoint, but if he cannot, he must keep a soft heart so that he can quickly ask for forgiveness and make changes where necessary. His sheep know the shepherd is not perfect. A hard-hearted pastor who cannot easily admit mistakes will not be able to remain above reproach due to pride. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2) Pride comes before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18) Pride will swallow a man whole. God will assuredly reprove him severely if he persists. But a tender-hearted shepherd is sensitive to the enduring sickness of the heart (Jeremiah 17:9) and is always searching its depths for any sin that offends God according to His Word. (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6)
  8. Temperate –  (νηφάλιος) Or sober. Historically applied to immoderate use of wine, but can be applied principally as well. An elder abstains from addiction to and even over-indulgence of pleasures. He avoids intoxication and inebriation from external substances that could affect his ability to shepherd God’s people with a sober and rational mind. That is not to say that he cannot enjoy God-given pleasures, but they should not control, consume, or become an idol to him. (1 Timothy 3:2; also v. 3 regarding “drunkenness”)
  9. Self-controlled – (σώφρων) Or sensible. An elder strives to curb his desires and impulsive behavior. He avoids passionate outbursts and seeks to behave with good reason and a sound mind at all times. Even biblical and Spirit-led expressions of passion are to be kept in check as to avoid uncontrolled impulses. An elder also avoids being controlled by pre-formed biases that lead to impulsive judgments and may inhibit sound and sensible reasoning, so that he may discern matters with impartiality. (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8)
  10. Respectable – (κόσμιος) An elder should have a well-ordered life in terms of his behavior. An outside observer should be able to conclude that the overall behavior and life of an elder is complementary and worthy of respect. His life should be well-ordered, not chaotic. An elder lives a life of modesty. (1 Timothy 3:2)
  11. Hospitable – (φιλόξενος) An elder behaves generously towards others and acts fondly of those that visit him, especially those that are in his care. He seeks to make them feel welcome and comfortable around him under all circumstances. (1 Timothy 3:2: Titus 1:8)
  12. Able to teach – (διδακτικός) An elder is able to teach both the Scriptures and in general. Literally, he is apt to teach, meaning he cannot help but to be a teacher. He is given to teaching. It is a natural tendency for him. He has a desire for it. It is an essential and inevitable part of who an elder is. And he is always seeking to improve his skill. This also implies that an elder is an effective communicator and is able to articulate what he teaches in a clear and understandable way to any types and mixtures of audiences (of which he is always mindful). (1 Timothy 3:2)
  13. Not eager to argue – (πλήκτης) Or pugnacious. This especially is important because Paul repeats this qualification with two different words in the same verse. The elder does not seek out debates and quarrels. He is not driven by a contentious spirit. An elder is not a bully. However, the elder does not ignore and evade disagreement. When confronted and challenged, the elder seeks to answer graciously, gently, and biblically in order that others may also be guided in the truth as well. (1 Timothy 3:3; 1 Peter 3:15; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Titus 1:7; etc.) (See also ἄμαχος in v. 3)
  14. Gentle – (ἐπιεικής) Or fair, mild-mannered, patient. This word is elsewhere used in the context of showing graciousness (Philemon 4:5), mercy (James 3:17), and without pretense (James 3:17). The sense is that an elder is mild-mannered, an excellent listener, and has a pure and impartial heart that desires only the good of those who come to him. (1 Timothy 3:3)
  15.  Not covetous – (ἀφιλάργυρος) Or greedy. The word is more specifically in the context of loving money, but can be principally applied to anything that can be an object of greed and covetousness. The elder does not covetously seek or desire profit or gain. This can apply to many things such as money, possessions, power, and popularity. The Greek word is where we get the word “avaricious” from, which means a greed for wealth and material gain. (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7)
  16. Not overbearing – (αὐθάδης) Or self-willed, arrogant. An elder is one who is not driven by his own conceit. He is not caught up in his own sense of self-importance. He is not eager to assert his position of authority. (e.g. 2 Corinthians 10:1-18; Philemon 1:8-9) Even the apostle Paul wrote, “although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. ” An elder seeks first to humble himself. In Luke 14:11 Christ said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Titus 1:7)
  17. Not quick tempered – (ὀργίλος) Or prone to anger. Literally, easily angered. This complements the requirements for an elder to be temperate and self-controlled. An easily-angered man is not fit for the office of elder because anger does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20), but rather the fruit of the Spirit which includes patience, kindness, and long-suffering (Galatians 5:22-23). An elder must be slow to wrath. The elder must excel as an example of these spiritual traits. (Titus 1:7)
  18. Lover of good – (φιλάγαθος) Or fond of what is good. An elder is full of goodness in his heart and desires to promote what is good in the sight of God and others — not in a political or earthly sense, but simply because of his love for goodness and desire to glorify God. (1 Corinthians 10:31) He sets an example as one who strives to meditate on and be driven by good and praiseworthy things. (Titus 1:7; Philippians 4:8)
  19. Just – (δίκαιος) Or rendering to each his due. The office of elder carries judicial responsibility. The elder must judge impartially according to sufficient evidence and testimonies presented to him. This implies that the elder must be aware of his own biases and mental tendencies in order that he can use objective discernment in judicial matters, especially those that are of significant and serious importance. (Titus 1:7; James 2:1-5; Proverbs 31:9; Proverbs 16:11)
  20. Devout – (ὅσιος) Or pious toward God. An elder sets an example as one single-mindedly focused on serving God and willfully following Him in all His ways while actively abhorring and avoiding what displeases Him. Every area of his life, both public and private, should be driven by his pursuit of holiness. (Titus 1:7)
  21. Hold fast the word – (ἀντέχω) Literally to hold before or against. To keep oneself directly opposite to anyone. An elder cleaves to the truth of God’s Word. He is opposed to anything and any person that opposes its truth. His grasp of the word is sound and stable, and he is able to both encourage by it and refute those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9)

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