New Testament Elders: God’s Shepherds
Part 3: What Does an Elder Do?
From our brief survey of the 3 biblical titles used for the office of Elder, we can put together a general pastoral job description: An Elder is responsible for overseeing the souls of God’s people. And, as we see in the Ephesians 4:13 text, an Elder does this work of overseeing by pastoring. Biblically, pastoring means teaching and applying the Word of God to the people of God.
There it is. That’s what an Elder/Pastor does. He oversees the souls of the people of God through explaining and applying the Word of God.
-What being an Elder Does Mean...
What it does mean is that an Elder is responsible for the life and lifestyle of his people. According to Hebrews 13:17,
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”
Elders will one day give an account to God for the lives (the souls) of the people that God has placed under their watchcare. That’s a heavy mandate. What you believe AND how you live matter deeply to your Pastors. It is our God-given job to care.
Elders practice this task of overseeing souls in a variety of ways.
Weekly preaching the Word of God in Church services.
Worship Service order and design.
Weddings and funerals.
Sunday school and small group teaching.
-Elders have the responsibility of knowing the Word of God well so they can explain and apply the Word of God in whatever situation they may find themselves. Paul reminds Titus (1:9) that an Elder must also know the Word of God in order to rebuke those who contradict the Word.
For many Elders like me, a typical week might include 1-2 sermons, worship service planning, ministry program planning, staff meetings, several discipleship group meetings, a few counseling sessions (some planned, and some not), a wedding, or more likely, a funeral, and numerous phone calls, text messages, and emails. Every situation is a chance and an obligation to explain and apply the Word of God in a particular and specific way.
Elders accomplish the God-given responsibility to oversee the people of God as they pay attention to their people in whatever life-situation is occurring at that present time. Here are some real life examples of what I encounter on a weekly basis (thankfully, not usually all in the same week)…
“Pastor, my marriage is in trouble…”
"Pastor, can you help me learn the Bible better?"
“Pastor, I found out that a friend of mine is trying to backstab me…”
“Pastor, I’ve got cancer. How do I tell my wife?”
“Pastor, a Christian I know is acting like a non-Christian…”
"Pastor, I really enjoyed your sermon. Can we meet to talk about it?"
“Pastor, my spouse is cheating on me…”
“Pastor, I'm addicted to pornography…”
“Pastor, why would God let my child die?”
"Pastor, can you help me learn to pray better?"
"Pastor, you're not doing enough about..."
“Pastor, why would God let me suffer?”
“Pastor, I understand what the Bible says, but…”
“Pastor, I’m not sure I’m a Christian…”
"Pastor, I'm really growing in my faith!"
“Pastor, I really don’t like where you are trying to lead us…”
“Pastor, I feel you could be doing better..”
Other issues include...
Helping families work through planning a wedding or a funeral that is honoring to God.
Elders have a tremendous responsibility to always be ready and willing to explain and apply the Word of God to the people of God in the specific details and circumstances of their lives. Sometimes, it's formal, like a sermon. More often, it's an informal, unplanned moment in time. And that is a full-time commitment.
What being an Elder does NOT mean…
While there are many things that fall under the job description of an Elder, there are many things that do not. For instance, being a Pastor does not mean that the only thing I do is preach a sermon each week. Being a pastor does not mean being the Church CEO, the manager of all Church ministries, or the head of all committees.
Many churches, without meaning to, expect wrong and unfair things from their Pastors. The modern American Pastor functions more like a leadership expert or corporate manager rather than a shepherding-teacher. Many churches think that when they hire a Pastor, or a pastoral staff, the hard work of running the church is over. “The professionals are here.”
Such an attitude betrays the biblical job description of Elders, but more than that, it undermines the authority of the Bible itself.
Church Elders are not to be managers or CEOs. They are to be shepherding-teachers who oversee the souls of the people of God. As we noted, their primary job consists of teaching and prayer (Acts 6:4). When churches expect Pastors to devote more time and energy to things other than the ministry of the Word and prayer, both the Pastor and the Church suffer. The Pastor suffers because he inevitably stretches himself too thin, and winds up neglecting something. He also, without fail, begins looking to the Church for his fulfillment and self-worth. “Do the members think I’m doing enough?” “Are they pleased with what I’m doing?” Etc…
The church suffers because it puts too many expectations on the Pastors, and this ends up robbing the Church of serving in ways God expects her to.
After all, Ephesians 4 tells us, “And [God] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers [the Pastors], to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”
The primary job of an Elder/Pastor is to get the Word of God into the people of God...and that happens in all kinds of ways.
So, if Pastors are not expected to be managers and CEOs, who is supposed to do these things in the Church?
The biblical answer is: The Deacons.
Stay tuned for the next post as we explore the biblical role of the New Testament Deacon.