For the next several weeks, we will be providing some simple Biblical perspectives on the subject of eldership. The purpose of this is to define who elders are, what they do, what their purpose and place is, how they are selected and appointed and how they function. We trust these short studies will reveal to some degree Christ`s perspective on those who care for His flock and that they will facilitate your diligent participation in the coming months as we appoint additional elders for Gateway Church.
A History of Elders
The word “elder” is linked to the word “beard” and refers to those men in the ancient world who were mature in years and therefore in experience and wisdom. While cities in ancient times had elders who sat in the gate to oversee its civic affairs (Ruth 4:11), it is in the nation of Israel that the roots of church eldership are most clearly found. In Exodus 18:13-27, something happened spiritually and practically in terms of delegation of anointing, authority, responsibility and accountability from Moses to 70 others (also see Deuteronomy 1:9-18). The emphasis in these passages is the fact that the burden for ruling, caring, judging and counselling the people was too great for one man. Moses, realising this, chose and delegated authority to others who were able, God-fearing and trustworthy (Exodus 18:21-24). In time, a caucus of seventy elders were selected to represent the Nation before God (Exodus 24:1-2, 9-13; Numbers 11:14-17). These were the forerunners of the Sanhedrin who were later based in Jerusalem to bring national oversight. The synagogue system, which developed during the exile in Babylon, also had a plurality of leaders. Jairus, whose daughter Jesus raised from the dead (Mark 5:21-43), was a leader of the synagogue at Capernaum.
The Christian Church used the term “elders” to designate the leaders of its local expressions. The elders in the Jerusalem Church functioned with the apostles in bringing judgement to the various crises that faced the young and growing Christian community (Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22). The New Testament does not record any instance of a church being governed by a single individual (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Tit 1:5; James 5:14). In addition, elders were always men (1 Timothy 2:12; 3:2) selected on grounds of their spiritual maturity, godly character, faithfulness and good standing in the community (1 Timothy 3:1-7).
Presently we have eight elders at Gateway, who oversee our two congregations: Ron MacLean, John Micklefield, Peter Todd, Peter Hagenlocher, Ken Peters, Aaron Wiebe, Norm Zazulak and Terry Loewen. We believe it is in the Lord’s heart to appoint more elders in the coming months.