The church of which I’m a part is about to embark on a journey toward the selection of additional elders. With that in view, I’ll pen a brief post each weekday this month and next (Feb. thru March) with elders in mind. These posts will be rather random in order, but will deal with some of the questions I commonly encounter from the pew during a time of elder selection. You’ll also occasionally see quotes from others included in these posts along with links to helpful resources connected with these questions.
The first of these questions is fundamental: why should a church have elders?
Short answer …
For the same reason followers have leaders; they need them.
Longer answer …
Why should a church have elders? Because whether or not it realizes it, a church needs them. Such was the understanding of God’s apostles and the practice of the early church. One of the best words to this point is from the apostle Paul as he once wrote to one of his lieutenants, Titus:
“The reason I left you behind in Crete was to organize whatever needs to be done and to appoint elders in each city, as I told you.” (Titus 1.5 CEB)
Paul considered the appointment of elders within a group of Christians as something that was a part of basic organization, something that needed to be done. Other renderings of this same passage bear out this same point:
“The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” (Titus 1.5 NIV)
“I left you in charge in Crete so you could complete what I left half-done. Appoint leaders in every town according to my instructions” (Titus 1.5 The Message)
No doubt if Paul had been asked this question, he would have answered that the placement of elders in a congregation would not only help bring some sense of structure and organization to a body of believers, but would also be imitative of God’s good way of doing things.
“God isn’t a God of disorder …” (1 Cor. 14:33 CEB)
However, in addition to the positive effects of organization and leadership, a church should have elders to minimize or avoid the potential for a host of negative events. Without elders, a church would be more vulnerable to some of the very things Paul tells Titus was going on in the elderless churches in Crete (i.e. – rebellion and deception – vs. 10, dishonesty and uproar – vs. 11, corruption and disobedience – vs. 15-16), things which were destructive to true discipleship. The qualities that Paul mentions of an elder (vs. 6-9) stand in stark contrast to the ways of the anarchists in Crete (vs. 10-16).
Know also that the appointment of elders was not a new development on Paul’s part or simply something that was unique to the needs of the church in Crete. Rather, such was a part of his longstanding habit of appointing elders in churches he helped plant.
“Paul and Barnabas proclaimed the good news to the people in Derbe and made many disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, where they strengthened the disciples and urged them to remain firm in the faith. … They appointed elders for each church. With prayer and fasting, they committed these elders to the Lord, in whom they had placed their trust.” (Acts 14.21-23 CEB)
Why should a church have elders? The answer could quickly take on book length, but for now, we’ll satisfy ourselves with simply following the wisdom of a Spirit-inspired apostle of God: churches need them in order to imitate the qualities of the God they serve and to not leave themselves open to a host of matters that could lead to disruption and derailment from their purpose and mission.
In tomorrow’s post we’ll address this same question a bit further even as we move on to another question: how does the Bible refer to elders? We’ll find that churches need elders the same way the younger need the older, sheep need a shepherd, and workers need supervision.