During the Middle Ages the clergy became distinct from other members as a superior element. The Adventist Church today still struggles to reform that medieval tradition, seeking to restore the biblical concept that all believers are ministers together (see Eph. 4:11, 12). To fulfill your own ministry as a local church elder, it will be helpful to consider your role in the light of New Testament principles.
The role of the elder
First, you are an undershepherd, working in close relationship with the pastor and accountable to the pastor and church board. Regularly scheduled fellowship among elders and the pastor enhances their spiritual and social bond and provides opportunity to discuss the needs of the congregation.
As an elder you also serve as a member of the church board. In addition, you are often assigned to one or more planning groups, such as an evangelism council, worship committee, Sabbath school council, or youth ministry committee. Beyond that, there should be some involvement in outreach ministries and visitation.
The multitude of these functions may cause you to wonder just how much time is required to be a local elder. Obviously, you must manage your schedule wisely and balance priorities. Generally, two to four hours a week represent an appropriate commitment for your ministry. Since it is possible to be so busy in the Lord's service that one's own spirituality might suffer, you will want to maintain a balanced Christian lifestyle by preserving time for spiritual growth mingled with family and personal recreation. At the same time, investing less than two to four hours of ministry per week fails to represent sufficient involvement as an elder of the church.
Appropriate spiritual gifts
Spiritual gifts that can be employed in the work of a local elder include exhortation, pastoring/shepherding, administration, leadership, hospitality, and extraordinary faith.
Exhortation is a special ability God gives some to bring encouragement and comfort to others. It is a helping and healing ministry. The literal meaning of the Greek word translated exhortation is "to call to one's side." In Acts 16:40 and 20:1 Paul is spoken of as giving encouragement to the churches. This ministry may be exercised with the bereaved, lonely, or discouraged. It is also employed in offering members spiritual counseling.
The gift of pastoring/shepherding is the ability to shoulder personal responsibility for the spiritual welfare of a group of believers, serving them as a shepherd, overseer, protector, and guide (1 Peter 5:1-5). You may be surprised that the professional pastor is not the only member in your church entrusted with the spiritual gift of pastoring. Any church has a number of members endowed with the ability to be a pastor/shepherd, able to provide spiritual food and nurture.
Administration appears as a spiritual gift in 1 Corinthians 12:28. The Greek word for administration describes the service of directing or steering some thing. In Revelation 18:17 and Acts 27:11 the word describes a ship's master. An administrator guides the church toward its destination; that is, fulfilling its stated goals. Faithful lay administrators serve the church with love and selflessness.
Leadership describes the ability to (1) help a congregation set goals in accordance with the purpose of God for the church, and (2) communicate those goals to others in such a way that they work together harmoniously to accomplish them to the glory of God. Romans 12:8 speaks of this spiritual gift of leadership, explaining that a leader should exercise diligence and faith in this aspect of ministry.
Hospitality is the ability to offer the fellowship of an open home and a warm heart. The Bible says: "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others" (1 Peter 4:9, 10, NIV). A good elder extends hospitality not just to church members but to visitors and unbelieving neighbors as well.
Extraordinary faith is a specific perception of God's will in a particular situation along with extraordinary confidence that God will act on behalf of the church.
Next month we will examine further New Testament principles concerning your role as a local church elder.
Adapted from The Ministry of the Elder, a pamphlet available from the North American Division Church Ministries Department.