Q. I would like your thoughts on the office of elder in a church. Do you feel that the office of elder must be filled by a “pastor”? in a small church that can only afford to pay a single pastor, do you feel that there should be other elders appointed from the congregation, or should the pastor have sole authority for making all decisions related to the governing of the church? I can’t find anywhere in the new testament where a single elder was appointed in a church, or where church decisions were made by a single person.
My pastor has indicated several times that a board of “ruling elders” in a church is not biblical, but that elders must be those who have been called by God to be pastors. He stated that an elder is someone who is financially supported by the church so that they can devote their time to studying the Word in order to teach. Therefore, if a church isn’t large enough to support more than 1 paid position, there should be only one elder and he is responsible for making the decisions regarding the running of the local church.
I can’t find any scriptural support for this, and I don’t feel that the verses regarding the qualifications of elders, which he is using to support his position, say what he is implying. What are your thoughts on this?
A. The offices of Pastor and Elder are not exactly the same, although the Pastor is sometimes called a Teaching Elder. The notion that Elder is a paid position is not Biblical. There were no paid positions in the early church, and even today I’m not aware of any churches who look at the office of Elder as a paid position.
According to 1 Tim. 3 and Acts 20:28-31, an Elder’s responsibilities can include preaching and teaching, directing the affairs of the congregation, shepherding the flock, and guarding the congregation against error. It’s difficult for one person to do all that, so typically Elders assist the Pastor in discharging these responsibilities. In some forms of church government where the pastor is compensated by the congregation, the Elders actually oversee the Pastor.
In summary Elders help assure that the congregation remains financially and theologically sound and help prevent any single individual from leading the flock astray. Most pastors welcome this kind of assistance.