In Eldership and the Mission of God: Equipping Teams for Faithful Church Leadership, authors J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt contend that ‘when a church lacks structural health, that local body suffers, and there’s no hiding it.’1 According to the authors, ‘the local church is most healthy when it is pursuing God’s heart and oriented around his mission.’2 Thus, church leaders – Briggs and Hyatt term these people ‘elders’ – play a crucial role.3
But what is an elder? What are the responsibilities of an elder? Who can be an elder?
We begin with the question: What is an elder? Simply put, elder ‘is the most commonly used term for a leader in the New Testament, while the word pastor occurs only once in the New Testament.’4 Often, the biblical writers use the term to refer to a person of old age or someone within a community that is tasked with decision-making or other official functions. In short, an elder is someone whom others look to: a leader.
But we aren’t talking about any old leader here. Briggs and Hyatt are concerned with leaders within the body of Christ. So we must ask: What are the responsibilities of an elder? Or, more specifically, What are the unique responsibilities of an elder that differentiate them from other leaders? In Chapter 3, the authors suggest that elders have five primary functions, according to Scripture. First, elders are to serve as overseers, exercising both spiritual and organizational oversight.5 Second, elders are to shepherd. Shepherding, according to the authors, is anything but glamorous. It’s messy. Shepherding necessitates being involved in the lives of those entrusted to the elder’s care. The defining quality of a shepherd is love. Love manifested in the form of protecting the flock, confonting those who stand against truth and engaging in intercessory prayer.6 Third, elders are to teach. A good teacher isn’t just someone who can convey knowledge. Rather, a good teacher is characterized by: a) a hunger for Scripture, b) a craving for knowledge of God’s heart and, c) a teachable spirit.7 Fourth, elders are to equip others. Equipping entails beginning ‘to address the issues of brokenness and healing in the world… [preparing] others for the journey, and [helping] restore people to their original condition of shalom.’8 Fifth, and finally, elders are to set an example for the flock.
Having outlined the five functions of an elder, Briggs and Hyatt turn their attention to the question: Who can serve as an elder? Utilizing Scripture, particularly 1 Tim 3.1-7 and Titus 1.5-9, the authors suggest that we should be more concerned with who elders are than what elders do. In short, we should be concerned with character more than ability and/or skill. As such, Briggs and Hyatt contend we should look at a person’s situational, family and moral qualifications when considering them for leadership.9
In other chapters, Briggs and Hyatt explore the process of selecting elders, the role of elders in decision making and whether or not women can serve as elders, among other matters. Rather than summarizing these chapters, I’d like to suggest you purchase a copy of the book Eldership and the Mission of God: Equipping Teams for Faithful Church Leadership. It’s an excellent book. A quick read. And a phenomenal resource.
My takeaway from the book is this: Leadership is important to the health and well-being of the church. In fact, without mission-oriented elders/leaders there will be a lack of alignment between God’s people and the heart and mission of God. For this reason, we need to carefully examine the role of elder/leader and select men and women to serve in these roles who won’t just fill a seat on a board, but will see themselves as stewards who ‘take what God has entrusted to them and care for it as best they can.’10
- J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt, Eldership and the Mission of God (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2015), 13. ↩
- J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt, Eldership and the Mission of God, 19. ↩
- Briggs and Hyatt argue that language is important, as language creates culture (J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt, Eldership and the Mission of God, 71).Thus, rather than using the terms leadership team, church board, etc., they suggest we consider utilizing a New Testament, relational term – e.g., ‘elder. ↩
- J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt, Eldership and the Mission of God, 41. ↩
- J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt, Eldership and the Mission of God, 42. ↩
- J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt, Eldership and the Mission of God, 44-45. ↩
- J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt, Eldership and the Mission of God, 46. ↩
- J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt, Eldership and the Mission of God, 47. ↩
- Situational qualifications include such things as: a desire to serve, ability to teach, maturity in faith and reputation among those outside of the community (J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt, Eldership and the Mission of God, 57-58). Family qualifications include such things as a healthy marriage and one’s ability to manage one’s household (J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt, Eldership and the Mission of God, 59-60). Moral qualifications include such things as temperance, gentleness, hospitability, self-control and the like (J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt, Eldership and the Mission of God, 60–64). ↩
- J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt, Eldership and the Mission of God, 193. ↩