Meditations in Titus: 5: Why Elders
Titus 1:5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.
We have commented that wherever Paul established churches he also established elders for that church (e.g. Acts 14:23) but before we move on to examine the qualifications of an elder that we find in the following verses, we might do well to examine the meaning of the world elder, other names given to the role and what the role included. A good starting place is the teaching from the apostle Peter: “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers.” (1 Pet 5:1,2)
The term ‘elder’ speaks of the spiritual maturity of a leader called by God to look after His people. The term ‘shepherd’ (or its alternative ‘pastor’) refers to his caring and providing role, and the term ‘overseer’ refers to his protective and administrative role. As we noted previously almost invariably reference is to elders – plural. It would be helpful to examine in more detail the activity of an elder seen either by teaching or by example in the New Testament.
An elder first of all leads (remember a shepherd goes ahead of his flock). This reference to leading thus suggests the maturity that we have already spoken about, a spiritual maturity than comes with time and experience and which brings wisdom with it. Part of this entails him being fully aware of the Gospel and sound teaching of the New Testament so that he a) can impart it to the flock and b) use it to refute false teaching, hence Paul’s words to Titus: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9) In his letter to Timothy Paul says the elder must be “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2)
To the elders of Ephesus Paul charged, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Act 20:28) and went on to warn them against false teachers who would come in. This reference implies, ‘Care for them, guard and protect the flock from the enemy, because they are very precious to Jesus because he died of each of them.’ The example of James in Acts suggests there are times when the elders have to judge doctrinal issues (see Acts 15:13-19). They are clearly to be men of the word. Maintaining and holding to the truth and rejecting falsehood is to be a key role of the church elder.
In their role as a overseer we might fall into the trap of thinking that this is purely administrative which requires experience and wisdom – “The elders who direct the affairs of the church.” (1 Tim 5:17) However there are two examples in the New Testament that show us that the elder is to also be a person who conveys spiritual power and authority. When Paul said to Timothy, “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you,” (1 Tim 4:14) we see that the elders who had prayed (and probably prophesied) over Timothy had imparted a spiritual gift. James wrote, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.” (Jas 5:14,15) The elder is clearly to be a man of faith, power and authority.
So to recap, elders are to be men (we’ll come to this in the next meditation and there is a reason for this I believe) of maturity, not only in life but especially in spirituality. When they lead the flock, it means they go ahead by example and they will be able to do that because they have learnt through time and experience and they have accumulated knowledge, insight and wisdom. They will care for the flock, teach the flock, admonish and challenge the flock (to grow into maturity – see Eph 4:11,12) and will be able to speak on doctrinal matters and refute wrong teaching. They will also have spiritual authority to stand against false teachers or prophets who might come to disturb the flock. They will also have spiritual power as well as authority to minister life, healing and gifting to the people of God. They are therefore, conduits of God’s blessing to His people – not the only conduit (for there are other ministries) but the primary home in the home situation.
While it is possible for one man to fulfil all these things, the New Testament reference to elders indicates a team leadership of men who mutually support one another and stand together for the flock and against the enemy. To perhaps see how far we have so often strayed from the New Testament pattern, read through that recap paragraph above again and once you have done that you will be better equipped to see why the ‘qualifications’ in the following verses in Titus 1 are so important and that we will go on to see in the next study.