According to our Book of Church Order, an elder is called an overseer of the flock and household of God. This means that the elders are required to govern and rule over all the affairs of the church. “It belongs to the office of elder, both severally and jointly, to watch diligently over the flock committed to their charge, that no corruption of doctrine or of morals enter therein” (BCO 8-3). According to Paul, the elders are required to ensure the order of the church (Tit. 1:5) and to guard the treasures of Christ (Tit. 1:7). As a pastor, I have observed that most church members do not realize how important this overseeing function is. While the Session is not a board of directors in a business sense, the elders do meet as a board to direct the church’s affairs. This overseeing work involves chairing and participating in important committees and meeting frequently to deal with matters that require a great deal of biblical discernment and wisdom.
Second, an elder is called to be a minister of the people of Christ. This calling requires our elders to minister comfort, counsel, and sometimes rebuke to individual members of the church. They are called to visit members in the hospital when they are sick. “They should set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to their care… They should pray with and for the people, being careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among the flock” (BCO 8- 3). Peter emphasized this calling to minister, saying “shepherd the flock…not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you to do… not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2-3).
Third, an elder is a steward of the gospel and a teacher of the Word of God. Not all elders are specially gifted as theologians and preachers, which is why teaching elders are set apart for full-time labor in the Word of God. Yet ruling elders must be sound theologians who can guard the trust of sound doctrine. Elders must be able to exhort and instruct the people in biblical truth. Equally important, we need ruling elders to oppose error in the church – both the congregation and denomination – and to serve as pillars of truth. Experience shows that most heresies and theological problems arise from errant teaching elders – ordained ministers – so that our ruling elders must band together with sound teaching elders to oppose false teaching in and out of our denomination.
These three callings organize the main work of elders, and as you can see they are far more than any mere man can fulfill in his own strength. These items also help us to know how to pray for our serving elders. Let me encourage you specifically to pray for the following:
- A strong and growing personal relationship with Christ that will supply the zeal and stamina needed to fulfill so demanding a calling. It should be obvious that serving as an elder is physically exhausting. It is also spiritually consuming in such a way that it demands a close walk with the Lord. Pray that God would communicate this priority to our elders in a special way as they are consecrated for this office
- A combination of careful biblical discernment and supernatural wisdom. Elders must be men of the Word of God, training themselves to think and act biblically. Bear in mind that our ruling elders usually have not gone to seminary and have secular vocations that demand greatly from them. So pray for God to give them the ability and the motivation to continue to develop their biblical competency. Then pray for God to grant them wisdom. As a full-time pastor with some years of experience, I still find myself facing situations that require careful biblical consideration and a higher level of wisdom than I normally possess. For both biblical discernment and wisdom, the elders are in great need of prayer
- A Christ-like love for the flock of God and a joy in the service of so great a king as Jesus Christ. A man can only succeed as an elder if he develops a love for the people of God that comes from the greater love of Jesus. The Christian flock consists of sheep that bite. And kick. And refuse to yield to instruction and rebuke. So a Christ-like shepherd must love them and must communicate that love in all things. This love flows from prayer for the flock, but also from a joy in the service of so great a Master as the Savior Jesus Christ, who has loved us by dying for our sins. Pray for this love and joy to work together in the hearts of our elders.
- Pastors and elders are prime targets for spiritual attack, so pray for God to protect these men from Satan and his devices. Pray that they would guard themselves from temptation and the renewal of their vows would grant them a new zeal for personal holiness. Pray that they would realize how dire is their daily need of God’s Word and of private prayer.
May God be praised for providing our church with our faithful elders. Let me also express my dear love for all of our elders and my humble appreciation for the outstanding service they render to Christ and Second Presbyterian Church. Few people beyond the pastors and the elders’ families realize how great are the sacrifices our elders make for the well-being of this church. None but the elders themselves realize how dire is their need for your prayers, along with your loving support
First published in The West End Herald, May 20, 2019