Four Types of Elders

Did you know that the New Testament portrays to us that there are four different types of Elders in the Body of Christ? Let’s take a look at each one and as we do, let us be aware of which ones we may be and which ones we are not.

The word elder in the Greek is presbuteros and very simply means older or senior. In Hebrew the word is zâqên and has a similar meaning—old, aged man, elder. In both the Greek and the Hebrew the word is also used to describe older women. But in most cases in both the Old and New Testament it is used to describe older men who have some leadership role. Women are not Elders; therefore they are not pastors, overseers/bishops or leaders of the church either.

So here are the four types of Elders in the Body of Christ:

1. Elders who are simply older, mature men: These are older, mature men in the faith. They are not novices or young. They are simply Elders by virtue of age and maturity. They don’t have a God-given calling to shepherd a flock, they are not the leaders of the flock, but are men that can be called upon to serve and give council (1 Timothy 5:1).

2. Elders who are called to oversee and shepherd the flock (1 Peter 5:1-4): These men are not only mature in the faith, they also have been divinely called by God to shepherd i.e. pastor a flock and equip the saints (Ephesians 4:11-12). This is a powerful, apparent and many times, an all consuming calling.

The Holy Spirit has made them overseers (Acts 20:28). And they have been appointed by Apostles, other Elders or if necessary the flock (Acts 14:23).

These men must be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2), that means they must have sound understanding of the Word and be able to handle it well. They do not need the gift of teaching, but must be able to do so. In addition, they are responsible for ruling and leading the body, without lording it over them. (1 Timothy 5:17).

Elders are to function as both overseers (bishops) and pastors (shepherds). As overseers they are to make sure that the body is functioning well, members are living holy and distinct lives, gifts are being exercised and exercised properly, the body is gathering to worship God and is spreading the Gospel. As pastors they are to fulfill the calling of Ephesians 4:11-12 and “equip the saints for the work of ministry” and protect the flock by exhorting in sound doctrine and refuting those who contradict (Titus 1:9).

These are not men who simply serve on some advisory board. There is no such thing in the bible as Lay Elders. If you are an Elder but don’t feel called or don’t qualify to pastor/shepherd a church, then you should immediately step down.

3. Elders who are called to shepherd the flock and rule well at it: These brothers are Elders who rule and lead well. It is obvious that some Elders are more gifted at ruling and leading the flock than others—they may have the gift of administration to aid them in this. Some Elders have a greater ability to rule and lead. The ability to rule and lead well could come from multiple sources:
  • God-given
  • Training
  • Experience
Men that are gifted this way will by nature and desire typically stand out amongst the body. Men, which by giftedness, ability, nature and desire that can rule and lead, should lead well and not lord their leadership over the flock. They are under-shepherds to the Great Shepherd. The flock should also not quench these brothers, but be thankful to God for Him giving them to the church. Elders and the flock are part of the same body. They are members of the same body together. They are not outside the body telling the body what to do. They are not the head, Christ is the head!

These brothers are worthy of “double honor.” The Greek word used for honor here is timē. It not only means respect, but also means money paid. Whereas the Greek word for honor used when mentioning widows is timaō and just means to prize, revere, and value. So these brothers are worthy of some financial compensation—not because they are hired hands, but because of the value they are to the flock and the time the spend caring for the flock (1 Timothy 5:17).

4. Elders who are called to shepherd the flock, rule well at it and work hard/labor at preaching and teaching: These Elders are especially due double honor because they labor hard at preaching and teaching the flock. These brothers spent much time studying God’s Word, wrestling with the Word’s instruction and meaning and then taking the time to teach it to others. Teaching the Word to others is the number one way they equip the saints for ministry. This teaching should not be confined to the Sunday pulpit. Much of their teaching should be done one-on-one and in small gatherings wherever they are…not just “in church.”

Conclusion: All four types of Elders are blessings from God to His body and should be appreciated. The body should be able to recognize which men fall into each Elder category and which ones don’t. Each brother in the body should recognize whether or not he is an Elder and if so, whether or not he is truly called by God to shepherd/pastor the flock that he is a member of. And whether or not the Holy Spirit has truly made him an overseer/bishop of the flock…else he is a hireling and will flee when the wolves come.