What to Expect from an Elder

Two Sundays ago, I announced that we plan to install Pastor Kai as an elder at Grace Church two Sundays from now, on February 12. Up till now, our church plant has had three elders overseeing it: two extra-local elders—Pastor Toby Kurth of Christ Church, Pastor Sam Shin of Wellspring—and me. We have been blessed to have Pastor Kai serving our local body since April 2016. As Sam, Toby, and I have discussed it at length, it seems right to us to install Kai as an elder at Grace.

As we prepare to do so, we want to be sure that you are well-informed of what elders are and what you should expect from us. 

Elders Are Shepherds

In the Bible, the shepherd is the primary metaphor used to talk about elders. "I exhort the elders among you… shepherd the flock of God that is among you" (1 Peter 5:1-2). Like our Good Shepherd (John 10:11), elders are called to lay down their lives in service for God's people, providing spiritual care and oversight to the church. 

In ancient times, shepherds knew their sheep intimately; the sheep were known by name and could tell the voice of their shepherd. Shepherds fed their sheep, ensuring they had all the food and water they needed. The shepherd led the flock wherever it needed to go, whether to pasture, to safety, or to sleep. He protected them from harm, keeping them safe from wild animals.

In his book, The Shepherd Leader, Timothy Witmer explains from this biblical metaphor that these are the responsibilities of an elder: to know God's people, lead them together, feed them with God's Word, and protect them from false teachers and doctrine (see Acts 20:28–29). 

Not a Board of Directors, But a Team of Disciple-Making Leaders

Often in our culture, elders take on the form of a board of directors, voting on issues, making decisions, approving budgets, etc. This makes sense, since many of us are used to this form of leadership. However, this does not do justice to the biblical idea. Boards often make decisions from a distance; they aren't intimately involved in the day-to-day of the organizations they lead. Shepherds, on the other hand, can't help smelling like sheep.  

In his book, Gospel Eldership, Bob Thune puts it this way:

The elders of the New Testament churches were not mere figureheads; they were leaders, pacesetters, and disciple-makers. Scripture sees elders as competent, committed, mature leaders who teach (1 Timothy 3:2), rebuke (Titus 1:9), rule (1 Timothy 5:17), guard sound doctrine (Titus 1:9), do evangelism (Titus 1:8), deal with difficult people (Titus 1:10–14), and raise up other leaders (2 Timothy 2:2). 

An elder is not merely a faithful, reliable Christian who shows up to meetings and votes. Rather, an elder sets the pace for the rest of the church. Elders are leaders of strength, wisdom, and integrity, whose lives and character are worthy of being imitated and reproduced in every Christian

This means that you should expect to know and be known by an elder. You should expect an elder to be able to teach the Bible and show how it points to Christ on every page. You should expect the elders to lead the church to deeper worship of God, greater obedience to His commands, and longterm faithfulness on His mission. And you should expect the elders to protect the church, preserving its teaching of the gospel and helping all of us to live in repentance and faith. 

This is an exciting season in our church as we prepare to install Kai as an elder. Contact me if you have any questions at all about this process. Please keep Kai and our church in prayer during this time. And pray that God will raise up more elders from among us to shepherd His flock to His glory and our good.