Friday, March 16, 2012

The Biblical Reason for Elders

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. | James 5:14 ESV

It happens far too often. Pastor's, are being worn out because of their sense of a duty to God to answer every call for help from every person in their congregation at virtually anytime -- 24/7.  No doubt about it, these pastor's hearts are in the right place, but they fail to acknowledge that it is humanly impossible for one person to support the needs of everyone in the church body. So, instead as the NYT article titled, Taking a Break From the Lord's Work, pointed out, churches are often times left to deal with the alarming statistics which show that "members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen." (Vitello, 2012)

And how can you ever question the passion of these pastors?  Of all people, they understand the uniqueness of their call.  They understand the personal sacrifices involved in their profession and in most cases the burdens which their families will carry as well.  But how much is too much?  When we see pastors getting burned out or becoming depressed, discouraged or anxious while their quality of life or life expectancy is worse then the average Americans, this should cause us great pause...and hopefully help us understand the very real need of pastors, to be supported.

The Greek noun ποιμήν (poimēn) and verb ποιμαινω (poimaino) (usually translated 'shepherd' or 'to shepherd') are understood more commonly today as pastor.  However this word, which is used a total of (29) times in the New Testament is most frequently used when referring to Jesus.  In fact, the only time this word (shepherd - or pastor) is used in the NT apart from describing Jesus is in Ephesians 4:11, where Paul wrote,

"And gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers." 

What exactly can we learn from this?  Well, not much other than the simple fact that the Bible never speaks explicitly about the role of the "pastor" in the local church.  And yet the pastor of most churches is commonly the person bearing most of the responsibility.  Simply said, this isn't right.  From a biblical standpoint, many of the expectations which are placed upon the pastor (or shepherd) in churches today are simply not biblical.  Things like visiting the sick, praying with the hurting and broken, evangelizing the local communities, making cameo appearances at every church bake-sale or potluck, being nominally involved in every ministry to some degree, visiting the homes of every church family, and attending every wedding and/or funeral are not the duties of the pastor.  But if this is the case, who is supposed to be there?

Enter the Elders:  Believe it or not, according to the scriptures, elders are responsible for the primary leadership and oversight of a church.  Alexander Strauch, in his book, Biblical Eldership, points out the very specific role(s) of the elders & overseers in the local church body.

"Elders lead the church [1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 5:1-2], teach and preach the Word [1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9], protect the church from false teachers [Acts 20:17, 28-31], exhort and admonish the saints in sound doctrine [1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 3:13-17; Titus 1:9], visit the sick and pray [James 5:14; Acts 20:35], and judge doctrinal issues [Acts 15:16]. In biblical terminology, elders shepherd, oversee, lead, and care for the local church"

So, how can the local church make a difference in the alarming statistics we see effecting pastors in the church today?  By establishing a biblical leadership team.  The local church should be raising elders that not only understand their responsibility to be men of godly character and who are above reproach, but they must also understand their responsibility to take on many of the responsibilities which have mistakenly fallen into the work-bucket of the pastor over the years.  A support system for the pastor, which is centered on Christ...his love, his service, and his humble dedication to lay down his life for the bride.  Elders should make it their aim to emancipate their pastor so he can do what the LORD has called him to do. The pastor is an elder, but he certainly is not the only elder.  It is not the pastor's responsibility to support all the needs of the church...but it is the churches responsibility to support the pastor, and this is done most effectively when elders understand and take responsibility for their biblical role within the body of Christ.

For His Glory,


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