Saturday, 12 June 2010


My church is doing some studies in Acts in our adult Sunday School. Tomorrow we are asking the question, "What are elders, and what do they do?". Here are the notes for the handout. These notes of course always reflect something of my own burden as a missionary - to eventually see and leave behind a "three-selves" church (self-governing, self-sustaining, self-propagating) that will carry on the work, understanding that it needs nothing more than full obedience to God's truth enabled by God's Spirit:

We have been studying Acts. We have chosen it because it is the record of the first churches – the original. It tells us what churches really should be. Last week we asked the questions, “What is baptism, who is it for, what does it do?” This week we have a new question – what are elders, and what do they do?

The word “elders” is first used in Acts in 4:5-8. There we see that the Jewish nation was led by elders (as well as others). This is how God prepared his church to be led by elders – it was not a new idea for them. (Remember that at the beginning, all the believers were Jews). In the church, the first time we read the word “elders” is in 11:27-30. But this passage does not tell us much.

In 14:21-23 we see the first missionaries (Paul and Barnabas) travelling through some towns – Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Antioch. These were places they had preached, and where churches had begun. Now they returned to strengthen and encourage the churches again – and to appoint elders. Here we can see that: 1) Each church had its own elders to lead the work. Paul and Barnabas were not staying, and so could not be leaders, nor could anyone else who was not staying there. 2) There was more than one elder in each church – God's way is not to have people on their own in difficult work (e.g. Luke 10:1) because the temptations are too great. 3) The elders were chosen from each church – from among the people. They were not brought in from outside. This also is the wisest way – a local church needs to belong to the local people.

Acts 20:17-38 is the longest and most important passage of teaching on elders. Here, Paul called the elders from Ephesus to come and see him before he travelled. It was the last time he expected to see them, so he spoke to them directly about their work as elders. Firstly, Paul showed them his own example. Elders are to lead, first of all, by example – an example of continued, godly, self-sacrificing service. Elders are not trained firstly by sending them away to a school, but by seeing and learning from real men of God doing real work.

Paul told them that elders are shepherds, looking after God's flock. They must feed them all of God's truth. They must watch – always – against spiritual dangers. They are not kings, to reign – but servants, to give themselves. They must always be looking at the flock, and trying to build them up in God's truth. Paul then spoke again about his own example, in particular in the areas of hard work and money. He had always worked hard, did not lead for his own profit, but showed the people how to be generous, helping the weak. He showed them in practice that giving is better than getting, which is what Jesus taught. These are the kinds of men that God wants to lead churches: not the mighty and powerful, but humble, self-sacrificing servants of Christ.

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