It would seem that in the earliest days of the church, the local congregations in diverse places were led by a plurality of elders. There is no sign, in the New Testament, of the proverbial ‘one man band’ who does it all by himself. Here are five clear instructions Paul gives to Timothy regarding the elders:
Honour them appropriately (17, 18): Where an elder is released from other work to serve the church full time he should be properly recompensed. ‘’Give a bonus to leaders who do a good job, especially the ones who work hard at preaching and teaching.’’ The Message. The old and much-vaunted attitude that went, ‘’Lord, you keep him humble and we’ll keep him power’’ is unworthy of any church. Okay, it’s probably a caricature, but there was a day and age when, for whatever reasons, many pastors were ‘on the bread line’. Good leaders should be rewarded with generosity. I believe it is true to say that we also need to look for appropriate ways to honour the faithful elders whose salaries may come from other sources. Let them never feel unloved or unappreciated. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25: 4 (see also Luke 10:7). Those who give up other earning opportunities to serve the church full time should be properly supported.
Hold them accountable (19): Paul does not envisage a situation where the elders become ‘the untouchables.’ He is realistic. He knows that some will fall into serious sin. It cannot be the case that they can get away with stuff just because of their position. But they have to be protected from trivial or unfair attacks. Leadership is not easy and church leaders can be lied about on occasions. When the devil is on the prowl this is only to be expected. He is an expert in the diabolical art of lies and half-truths. He is the master of deception. ‘’Don’t listen to a complaint against a leader that isn’t backed up by two or three responsible witnesses.’’ The Message.
Discipline them publicly (20): As a general rule, private sins should be dealt with privately and public sins publicly. In the case of elders, because of the public nature of their rule, church discipline will regularly have to be carried out publicly. This sends out a clear message to the whole church that sin is serious. It also serves as a warning to any other leaders who may be in danger of going down the same route. ‘’If anyone falls into sin, call that person on the carpet. Those who are inclined that way will know right off they can’t get by with it.’’ The Message.
Be impartial (21): Don’t be inclined to go easier on some leaders more than others because they are friends, or because you like them more etc. Let there be strict fairness in dealing with these matters.
Don’t appoint lightly or quickly (22): Take the necessary time to do due diligence. Think it through; above all pray it through. Consult with others. Get references if needed. A bit like with marriage, if you do this in haste you may find yourself repenting at leisure.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, Head of the church, I pray for the under-shepherds you have appointed. Keep them faithful to you and to your people right to the end of their days. Preserve them in temptation and deliver them from the evil one. Give to them the honour which matters most – that which comes from you. Help us to always gratefully and lovingly support them in their often difficult work. Remind me to show appreciation when I should.