Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

This past week one of the best elders I ever served with went home to glory. I lost a dear friend. This has led me to reflect on what makes for a good elder. Of course, a good elder will fulfill the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. That is foundational. He must be a man of character, the Word, and prayer. He should be hospitable, not a lover of money, rule his own household well, and the husband of one wife. These are just some of the biblical qualifications. However, there are also qualities that make for a good elder beyond the actual biblical requirements for service. Here are some that I have noticed over the years:

Theological, but Fiercely Practical: He will know the scriptures and revel in the doctrine and theology of God’s holy Word. And at the same time, he will know how to apply those truths of Scripture to the lives he is privileged to serve. As this man ministers, those under his care do not receive platitudes. Neither do they need to have a PhD in theology to sort through his advice and counsel. He is theologically minded and fiercely practical in applying that theology.

Leader, but a Willing Follower: People look to him. He doesn’t wear a sign that announces he is a leader. He isn’t loud and demands that people follow, they just do. His character and life in Christ almost demand it. However, he is also willing to follow the pastors and his fellow elders in the church. He does not always need to be in the front. It is not a matter ego with him. It is not a necessity.

Dignified, but Wonderfully Approachable: An elder should have an air of dignity about him. He is serious about the Christian faith. He knows that life is short and he does not waste it. However, this air of dignity does not drive people from him, but rather compels people to him. All find him approachable. He is the type of man that one naturally feels as though they should sit at his feet, look up, and say, “Talk to me about the things of God.”

Listener, but Wisely Vocal: He is slow to speak and quick to listen. He has a discerning ear that can sort the important from the mundane. Others are encouraged by his careful listening. However, he is also willing to voice an opinion if it is needed. He is not silent. And when he speaks, men listen. When his voice is exercised, he does not dominate by force. Rather, he persuades through wisdom.

Courageous, but Pastorally Winsome: The pastors of the church know that this elder will “have their backs.” Every elder in the church knows that this is “a brother in arms.” He does not shy away from the hard discussions, the difficult conflicts, or the trying personalities of the church. He is a man that stands in the gap. But not with bravado. He is not a reluctant engager, but he is winsome. He isn’t looking for conflict, but he also won’t run from it.

Dogmatic, but Flexible: He is a rock on the non-negotiables. He will not be moved from the teaching of the Scriptures. However, he is flexible and able to concede points to others when he is proven wrong or the issue is not of extreme importance. He does not always demand or insist upon his own way. He is willing to compromise and even happy to do so if the subject is not central.

Gifted, but Knowingly Humble: His gifts are readily used to serve the body. He is aware of how the Lord has gifted him for service in the church. In turn, he is also keenly aware of the gifts which he does not possess. He happily yields to other pastors and elders more gifted than him in whatever realm of service that may be.

Officer, but Servant First: He recognizes that the office of elder is an office. He has a mantle upon his shoulders. There is responsibility and privilege. However, this is not a position by which he seeks to lord over others. He recognizes that the office of elder is first and foremost an office of service.

Churchly, but a Lover of Men: He loves the church as a body. This leads him to weigh-in on big decisions and think through methodological and practical issues in the church. They concern him. However, this is always driven by a love for men. He loves the church, because he loves its people. He is able to echo the sentiment of Paul when he said to the Philippian church, “my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown…” (Phil. 4:1).

Loyal, but a Thoughtful Exhorter: There is a natural willingness to lend support to his pastors. He is inclined that way. He does not have a gate checker mentality. He is not a fault finder. However, when it is necessary, he is willing to challenge his pastors and fellow elders appropriately. He does not follow blindly.

Thank God for the elders he has called to serve in the church. I have had the distinct privilege of laboring alongside of some of the best men I have ever known. They have challenged, exhorted, encouraged, and shaped me. My friend was one of the best at doing so. Let us treasure them while we have them.

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18 thoughts on “What Makes for a Good Elder?”

  1. David B. says:

    There are great qualities. Really, I think they are the aim of authentic manhood that Scripture leads us to, and where there is a greater operation of grace, these qualities stand out more and more, thus singling out the individual for leadership. Nevertheless, they should be heart-aims for every man.

  2. Rick Owen says:

    Good thoughts. Thank you. But isn’t what makes a good elder also what makes a good pastor since the NT recognizes the two as the same ministry (e.g., Acts 20:17-35; 1 Peter 5:1-2)? Aren’t elders (i.e., the spiritually mature and, therefore, usually older men of the church) those who are to collectively shepherd (or pastor) the flock, as a team, over which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers (or bishops)? In light of this, I found this statement puzzling: “The pastors of the church know that this elder will ‘have their backs.’” Each of the elders, as co-pastors, should have each other’s backs.

    While the following quote focuses on the question of salaried pastors, it also unites the facets of eldership (or pastoral ministry) that should be shared by an entire team of men who watch over the flock and lead it by their instruction and exemplary life.

    “If our churches truly implemented New Testament patterns of ministry, one wonders whether there would be any real need to support one, full-time pastor. If the local church had a functioning priesthood (as opposed to the passive, spectator event that is the mark of most churches) and an equally shared eldership, there simply would not be the urgency or necessity to hire someone on a full-time basis. This is because (1) leadership responsibilities would be shared; (2) one man and his gifts would not become the focal-point of the meeting; (3) corporate teaching would be shared and not left to one sole pastor; and (4) each member would actively participate and contribute to the meeting.” (From

  3. Chris C. says:

    Great timing! As our Fire Department is changing over its leadership to a new Chief, I was thinking about leadership qualities. There is a difference between respecting the position (Chief, Elder, CEO, etc) and the person/man. Integrity was first and foremost in my mind. A man of integrity is a must for any Elder. There is also the “it” factor. I can’t yet nail down what that “it” factor is, but there is one. I can think of men that have integrity, yet I wouldn’t follow into a coffee shop. They are not leaders. Why? Maybe the “it” factor is a combination of the biblical qualities mentioned, along with the practical outworkings of the vast majority of what you wrote. Your post has given me much to think about, and has shown me a couple areas (I’m being very gracious) where I need to work on. Thanks!!

  4. Rick Owen says:

    Tim Chester also highlights being hospitable as a significant and practical characteristic of a faithful man who is qualified to be an elder in his book “A Meal With Jesus.” Elders (who shepherd and watch over the flock as a team) are men who are “given” to hospitality because of their love for people and genuine desire to care for them.

    “The New Testament commonly portrays churches as families, with God as Father, Jesus as older brother, and other members as brothers and sisters. Church leaders are family leaders, and must prove their ability to manage their own households before they can manage the household of God. One of the requirements for elders is that they must be “hospitable” (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8; see Rom. 16:23). Consider that many requirements churches typically have for leaders (like a seminary degree) are not required by Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. But what he does require is that they be hospitable. Perhaps this was because church meetings were family meals. How could you lead a meal-meeting if you weren’t hospitable? How could you extend the generous welcome of the gospel if you didn’t welcome people into your home?”

  5. Sarah Ingram says:

    Pastor Jason, this brought tears to my eyes, thank you. My Dad considered it one of the greatest joys and honors of his life to serve alongside of you, and yes, he loved with every part of himself the calling to sacrificially shepherd the people of God in ministry. It truly is a beautiful and unique brotherhood, united in purpose and love for the glory of God and the salvation of His people.

  6. John Koller says:

    Thanks Jason, I have forwarded this to my Elder group. Wonderful thoughts…

  7. Andrew Kringlen says:

    I love how this so well fit with my reading today of 1 Corinthians 12. The “Gifted, but knowingly humble” led me to write this down: “Great leaders know their gifts and are confident in them, but at the same time realize where they lack (and how others can make up the difference). Confident, not cocky. Humble, but prepared, dependent on others in the Body, yet a rock.” Thank you for shearing this. I hope to be like that man someday.

  8. Dave Troup says:

    I’m truly an unprofitable servant; being an Elder for over 3O years, in 3 different Reformed denominations, and I still don’t measure up. I truly wonder why the keep reelecting me.

  9. Dick Friedrich says:

    Paul also had a quality of endurance that he would readily attribute to God’s empowerment. I miss him but it’s only for a while and in the meantime he has left us with solid testimony and many encouraging memories.

  10. Paul Ridgewell says:

    I am an elder. After reading this description I think I will resign!

  11. AL says:

    Thankfully the requirements in Timothy and Titus are much more general. I feel that this blog post raising the bar quite substantially It may give parishioners unrealistic expectations for their elders and may cause significant discouragement to those who have been lawfully called and do meet God’s standards!

  12. Felix says:

    Thanks for the article! A good elder is someone who is still trying to make a difference.

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