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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

How to Recognize Elders


The following is a guest post from Juan Sanchez. Juan serves as the preaching pastor at High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. In addition to contributing to the 9Marks blog, Juan writes regularly on his own blog called Straight to the Heart. Juan is married to Jeanine, and they have five children.

Elders: Shepherds of God's Flock

Who leads Christ’s church?  The answer is clearly stated in the question isn’t it?  If it’s Christ’s church, then Christ is its leader.  That is precisely what the Bible declares when it refers to Jesus as the head of the church (Colossians 1:18).  The Bible also declares that Jesus is the shepherd of the church; He is both the good shepherd (John 10) and the chief shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).

But how does Jesus Christ lead His church now since He has ascended to the right hand of the Father?  Again, the Bible is clear.  In Ephesians 4:11-13, we are told that the ascended Christ has granted gifts to His church in ministers of the Word (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) for the purpose of equipping the church for the work of ministry in order to build it up until spiritual maturity is attained.  In other words, the ascended Christ leads His church through these ministers of the Word called pastors (elders) who teach God’s Word.  That Christ leads His church through human shepherds is confirmed in 1 Peter 5:1-5 when the elders are exhorted to shepherd the flock of God under their care faithfully . . . and when the chief Shepherd (Jesus) appears they will be rewarded.  But who are these elders, and how does the church recognize them?

Who can be an elder (pastor)?

Men.  It sounds chauvinistic in our enlightened and gender-liberated culture to say that only men can be elders (pastors), but the biblical prescription is both clear and logical (1 Timothy 2:12-15).  The Bible roots male/female equality in the fact that both bear God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28).  Nevertheless, the man and the woman have distinct roles (Genesis 2:15-25).  The man is to lead, protect and provide, and the woman is to follow the man’s leadership and help him, thereby fulfilling their God-given vocations (Genesis 2:18).  It is not accidental that this very pattern of male leadership, protection and provision is called for in the church.  The practice of male elders/pastors in the church serves to instruct and model God’s pattern of manhood and womanhood ordained in creation.

Men who are above reproach.  But it’s not just any man who is to serve.  The Bible instructs us that only those men who are above reproach qualify for service as elders/pastors.  Clearly, no one is perfect except Christ Himself.  However, Christ-followers are expected to be growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ and to be characterized by certain fruit: righteousness, love for the brethren, love for truth (see 1 John).  It is such men who qualify for the office of elder/pastor.

Personally, I take “above reproach” to be the one, primary qualification of an elder/pastor.  In this light, the Bible exhorts us in 1 Timothy 3 (and Titus 1), to consider various areas in which an elder/pastor must be above reproach.  An elder/pastor must be above reproach in his personal life (character—3:2-3), his home life (how he loves his wife if married—3:2; how he manages his children if he has any—3:4-5), his spiritual and doctrinal life (able to teach, not a new convert—3:2, 6), and his public life (a man of good reputation—3:7).

How does the church recognize elders/pastors?

At High Pointe, we believe that elder/pastor candidates should undergo a period of testing and observation (1 Timothy 5:24-25).  This happens both informally (as we get to know one another and observe brothers in ministry) and formally (through an elder candidate process).  Those men who are seen to qualify for the office are presented to the congregation for affirmation (1 Timothy 5:22).  In affirming its elders, the congregation communicates that it wants to be led by such men.

How should the congregation relate to the elders? 

By all means, the congregation holds the elders accountable (1 Timothy 5:20-21), but the congregation is also to pray for the elders/pastors, protect them from false charges (1 Timothy 5:19) and follow their leadership (Hebrews 13:17).

Where to begin?

Where may churches begin their journey toward faithful, biblical church leadership?  If you need to be convinced of the church’s need for elders, then read Why Elders? A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members by Benjamin L. Merkle.

If you have lots of questions about what the Bible says about church leadership, then read 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons, again by Merkle.

If you are convinced and need to lead your congregation through the process of moving toward biblical church leadership, then Phil A. Newton’s Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership will be of immense help.

If you are convinced and the church is ready to move forward toward installing biblical church leaders, then you will want to read Thabiti Anyabwile’s newest book, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons.

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Thank you for your posts on church leadership. I believe the church is being called to elevate the selection process to uphold biblical standards for leadership. I have found that our congregation sometimes has difficulty translating the biblical qualifications into a real life assessment. We ended up putting together a series of questions for people to ask for each qualification to bridge that gap. It has been very helpful for our congregation and for self-assessment! Maybe it will help someone else as well.




Praise God for leaders He raises up! May we challenge men to be godly leaders.

Of course, elders should be well-educated men who have taken the time to go through the rigors of seminary and/or Bible college, so they can faithfully and accurate explain the Bible from a context of a solid systematic overview, a comprehensive understanding of church history and the original languages, and also be prepared to handle the many situations and challenges that are part of church operation. To not do so opens the doors wide to dangeous problems...

@RN, are you being sarcastic or ironic?

The vast majority of the church today and throughout history has not had access to that level of education and you are demanding it as basic requirement?

I must have missed that qualification, a man should be studied to show himself apporved, but I think we should becareful, calling for more than what scripture prescribes. Of course I say this as one who is an Elder and has not been to seminary, so I am not speaking objectively. I know men who are well studied who have not been to seminary and those who have been and not well studied.

I couldn't disagree more about requiring elders to have formal training. Not only was formal training once non-existent (because the church took care of it), there is a lot of bad formal training out there. What if a godly, elder capable man comes to my church and announces that he attended a liberal seminary? Must he go back to school?

The prerequisites for being an elder include blamelessness (or faithfulness) as a husband, father, provider, leader, manager and instructor of one’s household, as well as having a good reputation in the community and church.

Which of these “must be” qualifications should be removed or retired once a man is appointed as an elder? Should he quit being a faithful husband? Or an effective father? Of course not. Then why should he cease being a reliable provider for his family and make himself and his family dependents who burden the church and drain its resources?

Elders should follow Paul's example of working hard with their hands so as to not become a burden to anyone (including the church) and to help others in genuine need (e.g., widows, orphans, missionaries).

A related blog with good links to pertinent articles:

The first article noted at the link above ("Should Pastors Be Salaried?") is excellent:

Titus 1:9: "He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."

Is a man's ability to practice Titus 1:9 really dependent upon seminary or Bible college?

The majority of pastors who have been to seminary and Bible college (especially the younger ones), whom I've met or read or listened to, do a poor job of this.

Mature men full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit, who have not only studied Scripture thoroughly over many years, but taught it to their families and perhaps the church, can also be "well-educated" in the way(s) of which Paul wrote.

In most cases, such truly "elder" men are to be preferred over younger upstarts fresh out of seminary with little-to-no life experience (including battle scars) or established track record.

Thank you, Marcus, for your post. As someone who attended--and became serious in my faith and doctrine while at--CHBC during law school (the 99-02 time frame), I continue to have the UTMOST love and respect for Pastor Dever and the elders and other leaders at the church while I was there. CHBC and Pastor Dever are, IMHO, uniquely special gifts to this world--they've meant so much to me and many other "younger" believers I know (I'm now 35, but I hear firsthand that kids at Southern today hold Dever in as high of respect as I do--and that is very high).

Now to the topic at hand. From what I've read on 9marks on this subject, I actually disagree with the position of CHBC on the biblical qualifications of elders. Unlike the leaders of CHBC and many, many other godly men of God, I cannot read Titus 1:6 without concluding that a qualification to be an elder is that one's children are believers (to the extent the elder is married and has children).

There are many great Christian minds (I DON'T include myself in that category, lol) that come down on either side of this debate. But as an attorney and someone who interprets texts for a living, I believe the more natural, less-strained reading of Titus 1:6 states that an elder's children must be of the faith. To me, when I've read an argument for the opposing interpretation by Schmucker or others on 9marks--or others outside of CHBC--their arguments have always seemed to me, at least, as the type of argument that one makes when one would be unhappy with the real-world consequences of an different interpretation (i.e., the difficulty or heartache of insisting that godly men who have one or more children who are not believers cannot serve as elders). Please note--I am NOT trying to imply that my brothers in Christ who make the opposing argument are consciously or purposefully changing their argument because they would be uncomfortable with the consequences of a belief that scripture limits service as an elder to those whose children are believers. I'm just saying that the arguments don't seem textually convincing to me, and they seem more convenient than textual, as they avoid the extreme discomfort of coming around to the opposite view, especially when one's church already has one or more elders whose children are not all believers.

Also, please note that I can think--and would be tempted to agree with--many of the *practical* arguments why it would seem *fair* or *just* to allow godly men as elders even if all of their children aren't believers. But of course, I hope I would never interpret scripture based on what I believe would be the *just* policy or command of God. Instead, like everyone on this blog I'm sure, I just try to interpret scripture in the most faithful and intelligent/honest way I know how, and then let the chips fall where they may, always trusting in God's omniscience and providence in our lives.

One last thing: I often hear my reformed brothers (yes, I'm a five-pointer) argue that Titus 1:6 can't be referring to actual spiritual belief of an elder's children, since God is sovereign and elects who he desires to be saved, and thus it would seem odd (*unfair??*) to disqualify godly men from being an elder if they do not have the ultimate influence or say in whether or not their children become believers. But this has always seemed to be a very odd argument to me. Because if we believe that God is truly sovereign and elects who He desires to be saved, would we not also have equal grounds to believe that He elects precisely who He wants to become elders, and that our sovereign God is certainly capable of electing for salvation the children of those He chooses to be elders? For this reason, this type of counterargument never made sense to me.

In any event, sorry for the long comment. But I was expecting to see this issue discussed in the main blog post on the qualifications of elders, and I was surprised when it wasn't discussed.

Timothy Witmer's "The Shepherd Leader" is another excellent resource dealing with the role of an elder.

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