The office of elder in the first century church was an important one. As such, Scripture includes specific qualifications for church elder. To be clear, we should note that Scripture uses several words to refer to “elder” including bishop, overseer, elder, presbyter, shepherd and pastor. These are all used interchangeably across different Bible translations from the same Greek words, “presbuteros,” “poimen,” and “episkopos.”

“Church” today has become a big business. Given the complex and legal challenges that a church might be faced with, it might seem logical to consider business, management, or even legal experience for church elder qualification. What does Scripture show us?

how Scripture answers "What are the qualifications for church elder?"

The church elder is one of several official roles in the local church3. The qualifications for a church elder that are found in Scripture are:

  1. An office that is desired1 and aspired toward2.
  2. A man1,2 that has demonstrated he manages his household with all dignity2 (since he will have oversight of God’s household)1,2
    • …of one wife1,2, with
    • believing children1 that are under control2 and respect his authority1.
  3. From those outside the church he should have a perfect reputation1 and well thought of2 so that he does not fall into a trap by the devil2.
  4. His personal character should be hospitable1,2 and looking for ways to do good1, serious-minded2, self-controlled1,2 and temperate1, gentle2, and not arrogant1, greedy or after money1,2, hot-headed1, given to wine1,2, violent1,2 or argumentative2.
  5. He must be upright and holy1 in the faith and not a recent convert2, being true to the word of the gospel and able to not only effectively teach the truth2 but also stand against false doctrine1.

It should be noted that we see no requirements around business, management, legal experience. If these qualifications for church elder as laid out in Scripture seem inadequate in some way, maybe our understanding of “church” and the “body of Christ” need realignment?

the answer above is based on and footnoted with the following Scripture Blocks

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

I left you in Crete to put things in order and appoint elders in every town as I directed.  They should be above reproach, the husband of one wife and believing children who don’t indulge in excessive sensual pleasure and respect authority.  This is because an overseer is God’s steward, therefore he must have an impeccable reputation.  He cannot be arrogant, quick-tempered, a drunkard, violent, or looking out for material gain.  Instead, he should be hospitable, always looking to do good, self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.  He must be true to the gospel, so that he can teach sound doctrine and oppose those that distort it.
Paul is writing to a young preacher, Titus.  After giving these qualifications for a church elder, he continues to give instruction regarding behavior to certain segments/groups within the church: older men (2:2), older women (2:3), younger women (2:4), younger men (2:6) and finally slaves (2:9).  With all of these, their behavior is to be exhibited as would “accord with sound doctrine” (1:9, 2:1, 2:10).
How does it inform?

Paul gives explicit characteristics of elder qualifications.

Does it apply? Yes

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

It’s a true statement that anyone reaching for the office of elder is a noble pursuit since an elder must be above any charge, a one woman man, serious, self-controlled, respected, gracious, able to teach, not given to wine or violent but gentle, not argumentative or in love with material things. He must manage his household well with honor, keeping his children under control because how else would he know how or be able to care for God’s household?  He must not be new to the faith, otherwise he might become arrogant and become condemned.  Finally, he must be well-respected in the community so as not to bring shame and be entrapped by the devil.

Paul is writing to a young preacher, Timothy.  After giving these qualifications for elders, he also gives the qualifications for deacons in order that “you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” (3:15)

How does it inform?

Paul gives explicit characteristics of elder qualifications.

Does it apply? Yes


And he himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

He [Christ] appointed some apostles, some prophets, some as evangelists [preachers], and others as pastors [elders] and teachers, in order that each might arm the saints for the work of gospel, for building up the church,

Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, is using a body metaphorically to describe the church.  Jesus is the head that supplies all the other members of the body (vss 15-16).

How does it inform?

The office of pastor (e.g. elder) is an official and distinct position in the church.

Does it apply? Yes

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