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What is an Elder, Anyway?

 Rick Carr

Elder basically means "older." It is someone who is more mature. They can be recognized, in part, by the characteristics Paul listed in Timothy & Titus (usually ascribed in the IC to pastors or bishops.)

These aren't so much qualifications to become elders, as a description to help you identify those who are elders.

The responsibility given to elders is primarily to shepherd the flock. This includes feeding and protecting (from false doctrine). Paul uses both the masculine and feminine forms of the word when he exhorts older men to teach the younger men & older women to teach the younger women in Titus 2.

It's a shame that the church has chosen thru the years to sometimes translate the word one way when it was useful to support heirarchical leadership, and another, when it was too obvious that it could not be applied in that way (at least not without justifying women elders, or worse, women pastors!)

This isn't a heirarchical role, it's just what happens when someone with more knowledge and experience shares what God has taught them. It doesn't have to be thru lecture or "teaching" in the traditional sense. It is best accomplished in the context of relational sharing and living example.

I belong to a couple of professional photography associations. It has been refreshing to attend the meetings where the teaching is very often hands on. The person with experience shows how he or she poses a person, lights the set, builds the set, dyes the backdrops, and the participants are given the opportunity to look thru the camera, bring their own cameras to take photos that show what's being demonstrated, to make their own backdrops, etc. Rather than a lecture, it is usually done by the instructor being right among the "class" showing them how to do it themselves. In a sense, it is the younger learning from the elder, as equals, but acknowledging the experienced.

    "Well, what about 1 Thes 5:12 ... 1 Tim 5:17?"

In these and most passages which refer to the elders ruling, the word used means to stand before. The emphasis is on the "care and diligence" shown by those who lead. Leading or ruling in this sense doesn't have to be authoritative. It's a serving leadership that encourages, supports, and exemplifies -- rather than lectures, commands, and controls.

    Doesn't Hebrews 13:7,and17 tell us to remember them which have the rule over us?"

Here in particular the word translated rule over literally means "lead the way, go first." It's just learning from someone who's been there ahead of us. It's a shame that our whole society seems to shuffle off it's older people and fails to learn from their experience.

We're so intent on liberty that we blindly and stubbornly head off in our own direction to learn thru our own experience (and often pain and heartbreak) what we could learn from those who went before. Wouldn't it be great to build on their experience instead of having to repeat it for ourselves!?!?!

    What do these scriptures mean? I read somewhere on this site that being ruled over is not biblical?

The same Christ who lives in me, lives in you.

The same Holy Spirit Who is leading me into all truth, is leading you as well.

We should honor the Christ in each other, and learn from one another.

Jesus told His disciples, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant...." Peter echoed this encouraging the older believers to shepherd the flock, "not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge [in your care or sphere of influence], but proving to be examples to the flock." (1P5)