Building up believers and the New Testament church

God's Call to Ministry

Elders and Their Function

"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God..." (Acts 20:28).

Let us look at what God's order is, pertaining to the elders of the local church. Overseers, or elders, must be ones whom the Holy Ghost has prepared and given grace to function. The responsibility of the church is to recognize what God has already done. When Paul gave the command to appoint elders in every church, he was saying that the church should point out those whom the Spirit had chosen and prepared. We must always remember that nothing spiritual is done in the church separately from the head, Christ. We must see God's ordering in the church.

This means that our religious concepts of what elders and pastors are must be destroyed, along with the way we may view religion all around us. Man's ways and methods can never bring the church to maturity or to any degree of spirituality. It takes men called of God, and grace working in them, to see the wisdom of God revealed in a many-membered body.

For anyone to submit to God's order, they first must know what the order is, and that can only be seen in God's Word by those who are spiritual. But there is a place where all may start, and that is with a true hunger for God and for the reality of the new and living way. When we want God with our whole hearts, we will be willing to lay aside our programs, our concepts and our own ordering of the church--the calling of pastors and many other things that are done by man--in order to see God and His working returned to the midst. If man is not willing to seek God with his whole heart, he will not find Him. Half-heartedness always settles for the natural working of man, because the natural man does not know the things of God.

In the two places in the New Testament where ordaining of elders is spoken of, it is always more than one elder that is recognized. Acts 14:23 says, "They had ordained them elders in every church..." and in Titus 1:5, Paul is moving in God's order when he says to "ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee." When Paul called the leaders (elders) at Ephesus to meet with him at Miletus, it was not one elder, but more than one. We should note that it was not the pastor of Ephesus that Paul wanted to meet with, but the elders of Ephesus. Ephesus did have pastors--they were the elders, who are also called overseers.

Acts 20:28-32 gives us understanding in the grace that is to be moving through elders (or pastors, overseers, bishops). Their function, or the grace that is given them, is to be responsible for the feeding of the church of God. They are like shepherds to the sheep, leading them in green pastures where they may feed.

The church belongs to God; He has purchased it with His own blood, and remains the Great Shepherd of the sheep. Now, the elders are to watch over the flock; they are to have the oversight. They are watching to see that the believers do not feed on the wrong things, or that men do not enter in to draw away disciples after themselves. Paul calls them all brethren, and commends them "to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified."

Elders are called to serve--not to "lord it over" or have a special place of recognition. The elders are brethren among the brethren. They do need to be recognized, not for what they are, but for the grace that flows from them to the flock of God. "And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you: and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves" (I Thessalonians 5:12-13).

Recognition is for the purpose of partaking of the supply that the Lord has for each member of the church. If the members of a local body are not spiritually alive, they cannot feed from His word that is being ministered. When the members are alive, they know that the Lord himself feeds them. The word may come through a brother with a ministry, but it is the anointing that teaches us and allows us to grow spiritually.