When a church selects an elder, what traits should be looked for and what are the biblical qualifications?
An Older Elder
The word “elder” used in the New Testament is from the Greek word “presbyteros” which means “elder, of age, advanced in life” or a “senior,” so since the word “elder” means “older,” then a elder should not be a new or very young Christian. The Apostle Paul tells Timothy that the elder must not be a recent convert, or he may become “puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1st Tim 3:6). Paul was laying down qualifications for an overseer or an elder for the church, and one of the qualifications was that he was not to be a recent convert, new to the faith, or someone who is young since they might “become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” because “knowledge puffs up” (1st Cor 8:1).
Has Godly Children
Part of the qualifications that Paul gives to both Titus and Timothy is that the elder should be ruling his own household well. If an elder cannot even control his own children then how can he be expected to rule with authority in the church? This is why Paul told Timothy that “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church” (1 Tim 3:4-5). It’s also important that an elder’s “children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” (Titus 1:6), however, if the children have reached adulthood and have forsaken God, there is little the elder can do but love them and pray for them.
Be Above Reproach
An elder must be above reproach (1st Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6) and must have a good reputation and standing in the community in which he lives. The word reproach means actions that are disgraceful, behavior that is disapproving, or bringing a cause for shame or blame. An elder represents the church and certainly all Christians should live to be above reproach, but an elder is held to a higher standard, and the general public or unbelievers will hold this man to a higher standard than most. Every pastor is an elder but not every elder is a pastor but if the elders are not living above reproach, they are not qualified to be an elder.
Not a Drunkard
Since church leaders will be held to a higher standard and they will be judged more strictly by Christ, I believe it is best for all elders and pastors, and yes, even deacons, to have no association with alcohol. If an elder drinks, then his children may come to believe that alcohol is no problem? I am not saying that drinking alcohol is a sin, but there is an image that an elder should portray before the public and the church. They can still drink and not sin, but the temptation to get drunk might be too great for some and it could hurt the elder’s testimony before the unsaved public and even the congregation. Certainly they should never get drunk because that is a sin for any believer so if a potential elder has a drinking problem, they’re not ready to be an elder.
Not a Hothead
In a church I attended years before I became a pastor, we had an elder who had a problem with his anger. I hate to use the term “he lost his temper,” because he had no problem losing it, but he did have a problem keeping it in check. He had several instances where his temper flared out of control and it caused some to leave the church, and so that’s why an elder should not be “not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain” (Titus 1:7), and “not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome” (1 Tim 3:3). Here Paul groups arrogance in the same category as being quick-tempered and violent. Someone like this would make a poor choice for an elder according to the biblical qualifications (1st Tim 1:3).
A One-Woman Man
Some believe that an elder should not have been previously divorced and then remarried. Others feel that an elder shouldn’t be single. They believe this from the way Paul writes to Titus and to Timothy. For example, Paul writes to Timothy that an elder should be “the husband of one wife” (1st Tim 3:2), however, the literal reading of the Greek says an elder should be “a one woman man,” so many believe that this means that an elder should not be a womanizer or one that flirts with women, and he must be faithful to his wife. Certainly if an elder has issues with sexual immorality or adultery, he is disqualified because an elder must be “self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Titus 1:8). If someone is “self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined,” then there should never be any sexual immorality or even a hint of it (Eph 5:3). If there is sexual immorality, that man is not qualified to be an elder, or if he already an elder, he is disqualified because he must not be “open to the charge of debauchery” (Titus 1:6b), and he would not be “above reproach” (Titus 1:6), because even the deacons or elders should “be the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:12).
Must Be Dignified
There is a certain dignity to the office of an elder. Dignity is where one has conduct or speech that is very respectable and respecting of others. It is a state or the quality of being worthy of honor or to be highly esteemed because they act in a dignified manner. Paul believes that this is important enough to be part of the qualifications for an elder. Paul writes that the elder “must be well thought of by outsiders” (1st Tim 3:7), meaning those outside of the church. Dignity includes not being “open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 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” (Titus 1:6b-9), as well as “sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (1st Tim 3:2-4). Any man that can do these things will most certainly make a great elder.
A church must be extremely careful in choosing an elder, but one important thing that I didn’t include was that “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” (Titus 1:9). In other words, the elder must be able to teach sound doctrine and be ready to rebuke those who contradict his teachings because his teachings are not his own but are the very teachings of the Bible, because those who reject the teachings of the elders reject the teachings of the apostles. Those who reject the teachings of the apostles reject the teachings of Christ. Those who reject the teachings of Christ reject God Himself, and that leads to nowhere good.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is a writer at Christian Quotes and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.