Elders are the gift of God to the church to lead the church to spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:11-13ff). But what do elders do to lead the church? The New Testament provides many functions for the elder. Here are some of the basics.
He teaches. This is emphasized in Titus 1:9; 1 Tim. 3:2; 4:6, 11, 13; 5:17; 2 Tim. 4:2; and Eph. 4:11-12. This does not mean he must necessarily be able to preach, but he should be discerning about truth and error and be able to communicate the truth of the Word of God to others (e.g., in small groups, discipleship opportunities, in counseling, with his family, and in one-on-one relationships). He must have knowledge of the Scriptures and must have an ability to communicate that knowledge with clarity.
He protects individuals (2 Tim. 2:25-26). That is, he is willing to confront sin with gentleness, even be willing to engage in spiritual discipline so that the individual might repent and grow in Christ.
He guards and defends doctrine. E.g., Titus 1:10ff; 2 Tim. 1:13-15; 2:16-18. The church is the pillar and support of the truth of God (1 Tim. 3:15). The elder is the leader in defending and upholding that truth.
He leads the church to maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:11-13). And that means that he himself must be mature and maturing in Christ so that he is an example to all. As he teaches and provides a godly example in the church that is worth following (1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Tim. 4:12), the corporate church will also grow in maturity in Christ.
He shepherds the people (e.g., 1 Pt. 5:2). This figure sounds unusual to us, but it was commonly understood in the NT. Jesus uses it in Jn. 21 to refer to teaching and feeding spiritually. And it generally is understood as being the way an elder cares for his people. Perhaps a passage like Psalm 23 is in view with this figure of speech. The shepherd —
- Meets the spiritual needs of his people
- Makes them feel secure and restful
- Cares for their spiritual thirst
- Builds them up when they fail and are discouraged
- Leads them into the will of God
- Stays beside them in times of difficulty and danger
- Lovingly disciplines them when they go astray
- Provides them with spiritual food
- Provides healing for their hurts and wounds [Gene Getz, Sharpening the Focus of the Church.]