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.