Concerning the work of elders (or bishops), the apostle Paul writes, “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1, NKJV). According to the divine pattern revealed in Scripture, the elders in the local church are to serve in the important capacity of shepherding and overseeing the flock (cp. Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). There is a great need for elders in each local church today. In fact, the local church without elders is lacking until qualified elders are appointed (cp. Titus 1:5). However, we cannot help but notice the scarcity of men who are actually serving as elders among the churches of our Lord. It doesn’t take long to realize that the reason for the lack of elders is due directly to the fact that there are so few men who are qualified to do the work, according to the qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Upon recognizing this problem, we are forced to ask why more men aren’t qualified to be elders. Let’s notice the following reasons:
- Men are not putting forth the effort that is required to meet the qualifications. A man must have all of the godly characteristics that are listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9 in order to scripturally qualify to serve as an elder in the Lord’s church. Among other qualifications, an elder must have a good knowledge of the Bible, be able to teach God’s word, live a life that is above reproach, and guide his family in the way of the Lord. Obviously, it is not easy to obtain all of these characteristics. However, we need to be reminded that it is not impossible. It is unfortunate that too many men are unwilling to put forth the effort to grow and develop spiritually to the point of meeting these qualifications. As a result, many churches are without much needed oversight.
- Churches are providing substitutions for the eldership. Many churches have become satisfied with allowing the affairs of the congregation to be run by the business meeting, or by various committees. This sort of church organization is viewed as an easy solution, since the men of the business meeting, or the members of the committee, do not have to meet any biblical qualifications. However, this is not God’s plan for the church. God’s plan is to have elders appointed in every church (Acts 14:23). Substituting other forms of organization for the eldership is not an acceptable alternative.
- Some do not want elders. Many Christians have seen or heard of situations in which either the elders were treated unfairly, or the elders treated the church unfairly. As a result of these abuses, some churches have decided that they would be better off without elders. As the church continues to view the eldership in this way, the young men never set the goal of becoming elders because of the lack of respect and honor given to the office and, as a result, the flock is never tended (Acts 20:28).
- Many men don’t want to take on the responsibility. With regard to the work of elders, the writer of Hebrews states that “they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account” (Hebrews 13:17). Far too many men are unwilling to personally accept the kind of responsibility involved in the work of being an elder. Instead of realizing the great need for elders and striving to reach the goal of becoming elders, these men decide that they would prefer if someone else accepted this responsibility. As a result, everyone is waiting around for someone else to take on the work and no one ever does. Meanwhile, the church is lacking the leadership and oversight that it so desperately needs.
- A lack of preaching and teaching on the subject. It seems that some preachers refuse to preach and teach on the need and qualifications of elders simply because they don’t want any men to fill the position. These preachers realize that their power in the local church will be greatly diminished if qualified elders are appointed. Other men simply neglect their responsibility to preach on the qualifications of elders just as they neglect the importance of preaching on many other Bible subjects. As a result, the men of the congregation are not motivated to meet the qualifications. We need more men who are willing to “declare to you the whole counsel of God,” as did the apostle Paul (Acts 20:27). One might as well fail to preach and teach the plan of salvation as to fail to preach and teach on the importance of elders in the local church.
With regard to the work of faithful elders, Peter writes, “… and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:4). Men, will we neglect this important work, or will we prepare ourselves to meet the qualifications and serve? The health and the future of the church depend on it.