Recently I wrote about the kind of church that Jesus wanted. I thought it best to turn to His own prayer in John 17 to understand what kind of church He really wanted. What kind of Church did Jesus ask for? I was thinking about elders and pastors and the same question occurred to me: what kind of elders does Jesus really want? If you are an elder, be it a ruling elder or a teaching elder, do you ever ask the question, “am I the kind of elder Jesus wants overseeing the kind of church Jesus wants?” I think we should all be asking the question “Am I the kind of Christian Jesus wants? “ This post will deal with the kind of elder Jesus wants. Of course, the short answer is that Jesus wants godly elders. That only begs the question, “What does a godly elder look like?” Thank God for men like Tyndale and Luther! We have the Scripture in our own language and can read the answer to this question for ourselves. Where would we be without the authoritative canon of Scripture to guide us into the right answers? The office of elder is a very difficult call. I do not mean to convey otherwise. However, there are elders of excellence and then there are those who are not so much. “When the work of shepherding is difficult, the commitment of the shepherd is truly revealed. Yet Shepherding is a labor of love to the one who truly is a shepherd. [Witmer, Timothy Z. The Shepherd Leader, 13]
First, Jesus wants the kind of elder that understands the gravity of the office. If you are contemplating the office of elder, you should do so with profound vigilance. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” Are you confortable with the idea that other believers are under an obligation by God to submit themselves to you? Are you that kind of person? How does the enormity of that kind of responsibility strike you? The godly elder watches over God’s flock with the understanding that they will give an account for the condition of the souls of those under their care. This does not mean that if someone rejects the authority of the elder and lives a scandalous life that God is going to judge the elder for that behavior. What it does mean is should your advice, and teachings and actions lead the souls of those under your care to reckless, sinful, careless living, that you will be responsible for the condition of their soul. The very idea that God Himself will hold you personally accountable for the sinful behavior of others if you do not do all you can to lead them out of such sin should be exceptionally sobering. Jesus wants the kind of elder who understands and respects the accountability He Himself places on the office.
The elder has to be above reproach. His Christian reputation cannot be legitimately called into question. He cannot be a womanizer, noticing every attractive woman that walks by or flirtatious. An elder has to be even tempered. An elder has to be prudent. This word means to behave in a sensible manner. It carries the idea of thoughtful awareness. He does not let his emotion or his selfishness interfere with just conduct. He knows what to say and, when to say it. He knows when to keep his lips sealed. He is a prudently judicious man. The kind of elder that Jesus wants is one that people can respect. He has qualities that are admirable among the people. People find it easy to hold him in high regard. An elder has to be hospitable. He has to be capable of teaching. He understands Scripture and has the ability to lead others into a solid understanding of Scripture. He cannot be addicted to strong drink. He must not be prone to fight, physically or otherwise. Godly elders are gentle, seeking to maintain the peace, and they are free from the love of money. This is the kind of elder Jesus wants.