We read about “the elders of the church” in the New Testament (James 5:14). In the Bible, “the elders of the church” refers to those brothers who serve as the overseers of a local flock of God (Acts 20:17,28). They also are identified as “shepherds/ pastors” (Ephesians 4:11) and “bishops” (Philippians 1:1). Paul charged Titus to set in order things which were lacking when he labored on Crete. That included appointing elders in every city (Titus 1:5).

That same apostle, along with Barnabas, “appointed elders in every church” near the tail-end of their lengthy preaching trip together (Acts 14:23).

God declares the need for Christians to have rulers over them in the spiritual realm, those who watch for their souls (Hebrews 13:17). This is an indirect reference to the elders of the church (Acts 20:17,28).

The Holy Spirit set forth the God-required characteristics for those brothers who serve as elders in the church. They are a “must,” and we read such qualifications in Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

Let us summarize: (1) appoint elders in every city, (2) appoint elders in every church, (3) spiritual rulers needed, and (4) the qualifications for elders are revealed. If God thought it was important enough to tell mankind His will about what kind of person may serve as an overseer in His church, and He also tells such men to take heed to and shepherd His flock, then would we not conclude that He desires for His church to have qualified brothers serving as elders? Absolutely. So, yes, God is in favor of the proposal to have brothers serving as elders in His church.

You may not be aware of this, but some Christians have lived and died on the earth and never met a single elder. If God wants local churches of the Christ to have pastors, then why is it that so many do not?

Some congregations do not have elders because they are composed entirely of new converts. Novices are not allowed to be bishops (1 Timothy 3:6).

Some churches do not have elders because there is only one male among their membership. Other congregations have multiple male members, but only one of them is ready to serve as an overseer. In God’s plan, local churches need to have a plurality of brothers comprising an eldership (Acts 14:23).

Some local churches do not have elders because the brothers who could be considered to fill that role feel that their duties with their secular jobs do not allow them to give the kind of commitment needed to be faithful, sheep-serving elders.

Other congregations do not have elders because the male members do not have a desire to serve. Having a heart that wants to reach out and take on that responsibility is a requirement (1 Timothy 3:1), so until the desire exists, there will not be an eldership.

Some congregations struggle to transition to the point of appointing elders because, quite frankly, most of the members prefer to keep going on indefinitely with no elders. Why? Well, things seem to be going rather smoothly when everybody collectively oversees the work, so why ruin our nice little setup by appointing a few men to be our spiritual rulers? Hear this: any congregation which takes the approach that it is best not to have elders, thinking, “We do not want or need elders” is not walking in harmony with God’s plan. They need to transform their mind and grow up.

Some churches do not have elders because the brothers are hesitant to take on such a serious task because they fear that they never will be flawless. They are right about that! God’s requirement, though, is not to be flawless, but to be faithful as His steward (Titus 1:7; 1 Corinthians 4:2). We err if we make it sound as if God’s required character traits are so stringent that no one ever could be qualified to serve as a faithful elder. That is not a biblical concept.

Going forward, what do we need to do to get more qualified elderships in place? (1) Education on what the Bible teaches about elders; (2) Leadership training; (3) Encouragement to our brothers to set a goal to mature spiritually so they can serve as an overseer; (4) Godly, effective shepherding from those who already serve as elders – examples send a powerful message.

We are not lacking scriptural instruction about elders. For some congregations, it is just a matter of time before their brothers have matured enough to serve as elders. God loves the church, and so do we. He wants to see faithful elderships over every local flock of His; so do we. Let us pray about this.

— Roger D. Campbell