God asks the church to be a community of people sharing a common purpose and fellowship, continually growing in faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God. Paul describes the church as “. . . his body, the fullness of him who filleth every thing in every way” (Ephesians 1:22).
God calls us into His body for the purpose of establishing a saving relationship with Him and community with one another. The Holy Spirit convicts our minds, leads us to repentance, and plants us within the church.
The symbol of water baptism marks our entrance into the body of Christ and also marks the baptism of the Holy Spirit experienced by a new disciple. “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of the water and the Spirit, He cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The Holy Spirit is the vital life force of the church. When you come to Christ, you are prepared by the Holy Spirit, who has already led you to repentance, for service.
When a church serves the world it is an expression of the love of Christ to the world. It is the body of Christ serving the world’s needs and being used by the Spirit as an agency of salvation. Thus, the church is a servant body. It was created for service. It serves the Lord in praise, serves one another in love, and serves the world in humility. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
God calls every member of the church into ministry. The church is a kingdom of priests set free to minister for Christ. Our priesthood is to each other within the church and to the world. An elder, like any other church officer, is a ministering servant of God. Every Christian believer is called to ministry, gifted by the Holy Spirit, and in baptism ordained for ministry (Ephesians 4:11–12).
It was during the middle ages that the clergy became distinct from other members as a superior element in the church. The biblical concept of laity includes all believers as ministers in the body. In actuality, the church today still has a great distance to go before effectively applying this concept. You should view the work of an elder as a ministry to which God calls people; it is His will operating in their lives.
Duties of the Elder
The ministry to which a person is called when he or she becomes an elder can best be described in the following ways:
- Visitation. Nurture develops on a horizontal level in the church, with members offering encouragement and spiritual counsel to one another. In such a caring community, even the pastor is nurtured through the membership of the church. An elder can be a vital element in this kind of caring church. The elder can actively visit members in their homes, encourage others to do so, and assist in the training of prospective members.
- Commitment. It is especially important for the local elder to be committed to the outreach of the church. The congregation needs to know that its leaders have a clear vision of the mission of the church. It has been said that church growth is “caught” rather than taught. When an elder enthusiastically models a commitment of his or her time to outreach ministry, others catch the same spirit and commit themselves to the mission of the church. An elder should schedule time for ministering to the unsaved.
- Worship leadership. The involvement and leadership of an elder can make a tremendous difference in the weekly worship celebration service of the church. Quality leadership and participation can transform a dull, lifeless worship service into meaningful celebration and praise. Skills in worship leadership, such as the reading of scripture, offering public prayers, planning the order of service, and in smaller churches at least, delivering the sermon, should be developed.
- A spiritual mentor. The spiritual life of an elder should constantly lead members of the church to seek a deeper spiritual experience for themselves. I Timothy, chapter 3, describes the Christian life of an elder in these words: “. . . above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle. . . .” An elder should model, by his or her devotional life, Christian personality and spiritual interest, a higher ideal for each member to reach. The elder should reflect the fruits of the Spirit in his or her relationship with others: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
- Church Administration. An elder should always attempt to make a positive contribution to the organisation and progress of the church. While doing this, he or she should not try to dominate or control but rather enable others to participate in decision-making in the church and ministry. An elder often serves in an advisory capacity to various departments, committees, and projects. In doing this, the elder provides unity among the various programmes of the church, communicates progress to the church board and encourages a unified mission.
Responsibilities in the Local Church, by the Church Resources Consortium, North American Division of Seventh-day Adventist Church. Copyright © 1997, Revised 2002.
Resources to Download
Planning an elders’ retreat? A guide for elders (Tips & Guidelines): view / download pdf
Local Church Elder Ministry Description: view / download pdf