Alex Strauch has referred to elders as “hard working men.” And so they should be. But what do they really do? Or to ask a question that is in some minds, what can ordinary men employed in secular jobs do without professional training and ordination from a seminary? It’s interesting to note that the functions assigned to elders in the NT can be done well by ordinary men who love the Lord and His people. Actually, they might do the job even better than a trained professional because they are working as a plurality and are on the same level as the people of the church.
Looking at the big picture, I’d like to present a brief survey of the four great responsibilities of elders, before exploring the details of each in future articles.
The four duties of elders are feeding, leading, overseeing, and protecting the flock.
In Acts 20:28 and I Peter 5:2, the elders are instructed to feed God’s flock, making sure the people are get-ting a healthy diet of God’s Word in the right proportions: milk for the babes and meat (solid food) for those older in the faith. There can be no substitute for proper nourishment if the new man in Christ and the assembly are to grow.
Hebrews 13 charges the people in the church “to remember” (vs. 7), “to obey” (vs. 17) and “to greet” (vs. 24) their leaders. Darby’s translation of the Greek word “hegeomai” as “your leaders” in all three verses brings this out clearly. The Psalmist, David, spoke with joy of the leading of the Good Shepherd in his life. So in this age of spiritual and moral confusion, the power of a godly example and skillful use of the shepherd’s staff (or “crook”) are essential for healthy spiritual life and fellowship as the believers press toward their God-given calling.
Several passages, such as Acts 20:28, refer to the elders of the church as “overseers.” The word used implies an authority to maintain order and harmony within the congregation. As with any family, problems can arise, and good food must be balanced with proper care and discipline. Nurture and admonition compliment each other. Both must be done in love and true love cannot be present where either is lacking. Elders are examples, but they are also responsible and accountable.
Paul exhorts the elders in Acts 20:29-31 to also watch diligently for dangers coming at the flock from out-side. The shepherd has a rod as well as a staff and, with spiritual wolves being on the increase in the latter days, this work of the shepherd must not be neglected due to misguided ideas about “love” and “tolerance.” Behind the wolf is the great enemy of souls and he will not spare the flock. Here then, is the great work of elders in a capsule. This work, to provide food for the flock and direction for the assembly, to protect from disorders within and from predators without, is truly a noble work.
Yet, before a man can excel in the care of others, he must consider care-fully the opening phrase of Acts 20:28; “Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves, and to the flock….…” Observe three things.
First, overseers must pay attention to themselves, that is, their own spiritual condition, before they try to serve others. It is the principle of Matthew 7:1-5 about the mote and the beam in action.
Second, the priority which is laid down here implies that the quality of any work for God in public will spring from a quiet fellowship between the servant and his Lord in private.
Finally, this word is given not to “yourself” but to “yourselves,” which reminds us that elders must always have as their first line of duty the maintaining of that godly harmony and unity among themselves which they would cultivate among the flock of God.