For the past few weeks we have been praying about and considering today’s addition of three elders to the leadership of our church. This is a significant milestone for our church and it is a special time for us all. When we talk about “elders” we might all have a little different idea about the work of Shepherding in our church.
Today I want to briefly look at six key New Testament words that describe this immensely important work. By nature word studies can seem tedious. These six Greek words have given us in English the words pastor, shepherd, bishop, overseer, elder, and presbyter – all emphasizing aspects of the service of one group of men. We are going to be brief in our look at these words, but we ask that they inform us as to the roles these men will fulfill.
1. Poimen – Pastor, Shepherd
It is used in the NT of literal shepherds with sheep. It also describes the idea of leadership in passages. It also is applied to Jesus, our “Chief Shepherd”. It is used in verb form to mean to ‘feed, tend, rule’. As it relates to elders:
Ephesians 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…
Acts 20:28 [AMP] Take care and be on guard for yourselves and the whole flock over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you bishops and guardians, to shepherd (tend and feed and guide) the church of the Lord ….
1 Peter 5:2 [AMP] Tend (nurture, guard, guide, and fold) the flock of God that is [your responsibility]…
2. Presbuteros – Older; Council
Has some OT connection to the elders of the city, the rulers, council which governed the city. Several instances in the NT:
Acts 14:23 … they had appointed elders for them in each church…
1 Timothy 5:1 [KJV] Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father. (Most modern translations have ‘older man’.)
1 Timothy 5:17, 19 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching … Never admit any charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
Titus 1:5 …appoint elders in every town…
“…Points to leadership by men of seniority, prominence, experience, and wisdom … A specific age for such a person is not given; and age alone does not qualify one.” – Jack P. Lewis
3. Episkopos – Overseer, Bishop, Superintendent
Jesus is called the ‘overseers of our souls” in 1 Peter 2:25. Four times this word is used to describe the work of an elder.
Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers…
1 Timothy 3:1 [AMP] If any man [eagerly] seeks the office of bishop (superintendent, overseer), he desires an excellent task (work).
4. Tous hegoumenous humon – Rule Over You
This unusual description is only found in Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24.
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith. … Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you. … Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings.
This is not the kind of ruling that is unjust, uncaring, or unyielding. It is, though, an authoritative word. If the elders are to do their work well, they must oversee us and rule our church well.
5. Proistanai – Rules Well
1 Timothy 5:17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching…
Romans 12:8 …the leader, in diligence…. [Ruler, KJV]
1 Thess 5:12 But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you…
6. Oikonomos – A Steward
Titus 1:7 For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless…
Often overlooked, but an important concept. A steward is someone who manages something for someone else. The elders are not gods, they are managing the church for God. The elders are not autonomous, nor legislators, but they are accountable to God and under God.
An elder is a shepherd, older, overseer, rules well, a steward.
“One must be impressed with how the terms used for elders are two-edge swords. They are humbling so that the possessor has no ground for boasting; yet they are exalting, demanding recognition on the part of those led.” – Jack P. Lewis
Each of these NT words gives us a picture of the kind of man God desires to serve as elders in the church. Elders are men who are shepherding the flock, exercising their wisdom and faith, keeping the church on track with God’s Word, serving and loving the church, and all with a view that the church belongs to God.
Today as we ordain three men to serve in this capacity, I believe we have found three such men.
Paul Benjamin Sol Graves Kevin Smith
God has spoken graciously through his church calling you to tend his sheep. You are being asked to assume the responsibilities of shepherd, overseer, and elder.
Will you serve Jesus Christ as your Lord?
Will you teach and model the gospel of Christ?
Will you ensure the healthy teaching that strengthens us?
Will you guide us patiently and prayerfully?
Will you lean on the Spirit of God as you equip the church for acts of faithfulness?
Will you mentor and shepherd the other leaders God gives to the church?
Will you lead us rather than appease us, resolving to keep us focused on God’s purposes?
Will you pray for us when we are sick, minister to us when we are hurting, and rejoice with us when we are blessed?
Will you work in harmony with your fellow shepherds and with the church?
Will you be great among us by serving as Christ did?
Elders’ Response: “With God’s help we will.”
A Pledge of Support:
The Commitment of the Congregation
Church, our worship today confesses our belief that God has called these men to shepherd our congregation. Our actions from this point forward ought to reflect that belief and it requires commitment on our part.
Brothers and sisters …
Will you follow these men in service for the sake of Christ?
Will you be respectful of their leadership and imitate their faith?
Will you support them in prayer and serve them in peace?
Will you “lift up their arms” even as they care for our souls?
Will you do all of this knowing that it pleases the Lord and shows the world the perfection of his ways?
If you so agree and pledge, then I ask you to affirm by saying:
“With God’s help we will!”
Prayer of blessing for the church: White Graves
Note: Tonight there will be a Fish Fry at the home of Sol and Jana Graves. That will be our evening assembly today.
Greek Words for Elders by Jack P. Lewis, June & July 1979, Firm Foundation
“Elders” New Testament Word List by Cecil May, Jr. , undated.
Elder Ordination Service, West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR (LINK)