In his parting address to the elders of the church in Ephesus, Paul prophesied:
“I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Wherefore watch ...” (Acts 20:29-31).
Elders have a sober responsibility of guarding the flock against grievous wolves. Within such a framework, a number of things are necessarily implied.
Personal Bible Study
First, the elder himself must be a diligent student of the Bible. His knowledge of the Scriptures must be beyond that of the average member of the congregation that he oversees.
The elder who superficially studies the Word and evinces such in the classes he teaches will not motivate the church to know the Bible.
Elders should build good personal libraries and take in-depth Bible courses when such are available. They should constantly strive to enhance their qualifications as stewards of God.
Awareness of Doctrinal Threats
To some degree, the elder must inform himself of popularly circulated false religious doctrines.
He may do this by subscribing to good religious periodicals that call attention to current trends. Journals such as the Spiritual Sword and Christian Courier have rendered an invaluable service to the church in this connection.
He ought to attend Bible lectureships and keep in close touch with the activities of our brotherhood. Far too frequently error has swept like wild-fire through a congregation while the elders were totally unaware of the threat.
Be prepared, brethren.
Defend the Faith
The elders must take seriously their responsibility to guard the church. They must be absolutely dedicated to that end.
Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4), characterizes those shepherds not committed to a defense of the flock as hirelings who do not care for the sheep (Jn. 10:12, 13).
Elders will give account to God for those souls that they lose to false doctrine through their neglect (cf. Heb. 13:17).
Elderships must know the doctrinal needs of the church and accordingly inoculate against the errors with which our people are sure to be confronted.
How many elderships, for instance, have had the wisdom to require classes in the local congregation in Christian evidences and moral values?
Such is needed from the primary grades onward. And why not? Children are being taught the theories of evolution and homosexual legitimacy from the moment they enter the public school system or even earlier through cartoon entertainment.
Know Thy Flocks
God’s bishops must know the teachers who labor under their oversight. They need to be assured of their soundness in the faith.
Preachers who teach error or who are unsure of where they stand on matters of faith should be removed, even if they are popular with many of the congregation.
I once knew of a preacher who openly declared that he believed the use of mechanical instrumental music in Christian worship is optional. His elders said that they disagree, but would defend his right to hold that opinion. They are unworthy of the name they wear!
Moreover, elders should be familiar with the teachers in the Bible school program — both men and women. Efforts should be made to oversee what is being taught in the classroom.
They should be thoroughly aware of the literature being used in the Bible classes. Through lapses in such oversight, unsound teaching occasionally has been smuggled into the local church to do its damage.
Monitoring Social Media
The ease of publication in the internet age has created a new area of concern for elders. No longer do false teachers need an eldership’s permission to influence the flock.
Social media, online videos, and brotherhood blogs can teach error and sow doctrinal division by means of electronic access long before Sunday arrives. This new method of teaching by electronic methods can originate within the local congregation or enter in from without.
Elders have the added burden of at least being aware of what their own members may be publishing or sharing. These observations will inform good elderships of what teaching needs to be done.
Courage for Confrontation
Elders must have the courage and the willingness to meet error head-on. They must not only be able to exhort in sound doctrine but also to convict the gainsayers (Tit. 1:9).
God through His inspired prophet of the Old Testament era pronounced a woe upon shepherds who allow the sheep to become “food to all the beasts of the field” (Ezek. 34:5).
The elder’s task of protecting the church is certainly a stressful one. Dealing with false teachers is never pleasant.
At times, an obstinate error must be confronted and rebuked.
Contrary to the view of some, the church will grow mightily when she kindly but forcefully meets the opposition of sectarian influence from without and hobbyists from within.
Perhaps the reason some elderships have an aversion to religious debates today is that some who are weak and uninformed just do not have total confidence in the doctrine we proclaim.
Churches will never be strong in defense of the gospel until leaderships become strong in what they believe, teach and defend.
The times are crucial. Elders must arise to meet the challenges of the day. Future generations of the church are depending on good elderships.