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Lesson 3

The Responsibilities of an Elder


  1. Text: 1 Tim. 3:1.

  2. It is dangerous to forget that the eldership is a work.

  3. We need to understand not merely the authority of the eldership, but also the proper usages of that authority.

  4. Let us consider, from a scriptural standpoint, the responsibilities God has given to elders.


  1. Elders rule - 1 Tim. 5:17. Cf. 1 Tim. 3:4,5; Hb. 13:7,17,24.

  2. Elders watch - Hb. 13:17. Cf. Ezek. 3:16-21; 33:1-11.

  3. Elders are described in three principal ways, and each description adds to our understanding of the
    elder's duty.

    1. Elder/presbyter. This term emphasizes who is to do the work.

      1. Greek words.

        1. "Elder" is a translation of presbuteros = an old(er) man - Ac. 14:23.

        2. Cf. presbuterion = elders as a group - 1 Tim. 4:14.

      2. "Elder" indicates age, experience, maturity -- it connotes wisdom and dignity (Bullinger).

    2. Overseer/bishop. This term emphasizes what the work is.

      1. Greek words.

        1. "Overseer" is a translation of episkopos = "an overseer, a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly, any curator, guardian, or superintendent" (Thayer) - Ac. 20:28; Phil. 1:1.

        2. Cf. episkopeo = take care, see to it; oversee, care for - 1 Pt. 5:2.

        3. Cf. episkope = position of an overseer - 1 Tim. 3:1.

      2. "Oversight" involves the twin aspects of inspection and guardianship (Bullinger).

    3. Shepherd/pastor. This term emphasizes how the work is to be done.

      1. Greek words.

        1. "Shepherd" is a translation of poimen = shepherd - Eph. 4:11.

        2. Cf. poimnion = flock - Ac. 20:28; 1 Pt. 5:2,3.

        3. Cf. poimaino = herd, tend; care for, look after - Ac. 20:28; 1 Pt. 5:2.

      2. The elders were the pastors in NT congregations, not the preacher or preachers.

      3. "Feed" (Ac. 20:28 and 1 Pt. 5:2 in the KJV) is more accurately translated "shepherd."
        A shepherd's work with a flock involves:

        1. Leading, guiding, showing the way.

          1. Shepherds of God's flock serve as an example.

          2. Cf. 1 Pt. 5:3; etc.

        2. Feeding, providing, leading to pasture.

          1. Shepherds of God's flock provide spiritual nourishment.

          2. Cf. Jer. 3:15; Hb. 13:7.

          3. Food must be provided that is pure and not contaminated with error. Cf. the "pure" milk of the word in 1 Pt. 2:2.

        3. Guarding from danger and predators, risking life for.

          1. Shepherds of God's flock give spiritual protection.

          2. Cf. Ac. 20:28-31; Tit. 1:9-11.

          3. This is not a pleasant part of shepherding, but one who is too cowardly to do so is but a hireling. Cf. Jn. 10:11-13.

        4. Tending the flock.

          1. Shepherds of God's flock seek those who stray.

          2. Cf. Lk. 15:4-7.

          3. Some shepherds, unfortunately, are themselves the cause of the scattering. Cf. Jer. 23:1,2.

        5. Caring for the weak, sick, and injured.

          1. Shepherds of God's flock help those who need help.

          2. Cf. Ac. 20:34,35; Jas. 5:14,15.

      4. Woe to "shepherds" who have neglected their duties or abused God's flock. Cf. Ezek. 34:1-10.



  1. A crucial work.

    1. No work is more needed in a congregation than the important work of scriptural elders.

      1. Congregations with no elders lack one of God's major provisions for spiritual growth.

      2. Congregations with unqualified, inactive, or inadequate elders are also greatly hindered.

    2. The elder's work is positively beneficial, "a good work" (1 Tim. 3:1).

      1. When done scripturally, the work contributes to the well-being of the church - Eph. 4:11-16.

      2. Elders make a valuable contribution to:

        1. The moral and doctrinal soundness of the congregation.

        2. The scripturalness and effectiveness of the congregation's worship and study.

        3. The thrust of the congregation's evangelism.

        4. The motivation and zeal of the congregation.

        5. The peace and unity of the congregation.

  2. A challenging work.

    1. Numerous are the difficulties and discouragements of the elder's work.

    2. "This is no little job and no little man can do it" (H. E. Phillips). If any work requires the "right stuff,"
      this is it.

    3. The nature of the work demands the strongest and most spiritually mature Christian men. No qualifications would be needed if just any man could do the work.

  3. A grave work.

    1. The work entails the most serious and sober responsibilities.

    2. Those who accept the leadership of their fellow Christians enjoy the benefit of greater opportunities
      for service, but leadership posts also carry with them greater temptations and greater consequences
      of failure.

    3. Elders are uniquely accountable to God - Hb. 13:17. Cf. Ezek. 34:10.

      1. Elders must labor so as to be "innocent of the blood" of their brethren.

      2. Cf. Ac. 20:26,27.

    4. What is needed is the attitude of Isa. 6:8, tempered with the attitudes of 2 Cor. 5:10. It is helpful to consider Solomon's attitude toward responsibility and accountability in 1 Kgs. 3:7-9.

  4. A joyful work - Hb. 13:17.

  5. An honorable work - 1 Tim. 3:1.

    1. The work possesses dignity and deserves honor. It is "a noble task" (1 Tim. 3:1 RSV), "an honorable ambition" (NEB). Cf. 1 Thess. 5:12,13.

    2. In some cases, "double honor" (1 Tim. 5:17,18) is called for. Financial support of elders who give themselves to their work is scriptural, needed, and beneficial.

  6. A work worthy of aspiring to - 1 Tim. 3:1.

    1. Aspire = to aim at, to strive toward an end.

    2. More younger men are needed who will aspire to the work, and more younger women are needed who will prepare themselves to be suitable wives of elders.


  1. It is the responsibility of elders to rule, watch, oversee, and shepherd Christians.

    1. Nothing is more helpful to the life and work of God's people than scripturally qualified and appointed elders who understand and fulfill their responsibilities.

    2. Nothing is more harmful than elders who do not.

  2. The favor of God and the joy of His reward await elders who have served willingly and obediently - 1 Pt. 5:1-4.

Gary Henry

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