Friday, March 18, 2011

March 2011: What is an Elder?

Strictly Speaking, the word "elder" in the Bible, episcopos, means overseer. The present day equivalent of the episcopos is the pastor. What we commonly call "elders" today are members who have been appointed to serve the congregation in its temporal affairs and to assist the pastor in ministry. According to the Constitution of Immanuel First Lutheran, the Elders, together with the Pastor, shall be concerned with the spiritual welfare of the congregation.

What do the Elders do?

The Elders do more than just read scriptures during the Sunday worship service. They are responsible for overseeing all the aspects of the service, making sure that the proper elements are available, the altar properly prepared and that the worship liturgy leads the people into proper worship of God. Elders also oversee worship attendance. Primarily they analyze communion attendance and call upon those who are lax.

Elders also oversee the baptisms of newborn children in the congregation, and the proper instruction of new members and youth. In order to foster this, the elders, with the Pastor, provide adult and youth confirmation classes.

Some of the more enjoyable tasks of an elder is the care of shut-ins, members who are unable to come to Sunday worship either due to inability to drive or due to illness. Elders will frequently visit shut-ins, helping with personal needs and with the pastor, serve communion. (Sometimes we get bags of oranges.) In addition to the care of members, Elders are also responsible for the pastoral care of the pastors, praying for them and assisting them with difficult problems of ministry.

One of the tougher responsibilities of an elder, with the pastor, is that of church discipline. Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 state that if a person consistently lives in rebellion to Scripture, they are to be denied the sacrament of communion and removed from the fellowship. The is called excommunication. The process of excommunication is never done vengefully or unilaterally, but in love. The goal is that "the [person's] sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved." The ultimate goal of excommunication is reconciliation, between the erring member and the church, and the erring member and God.

What kind of person becomes an Elder?

1 Timothy 3:1-20 outlines the requirements for an Elder, some of which is the following: "...must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money..."

When the Board of Elders of Immanuel First look for new Elders, several other criteria are used in addition to 1 Timothy 3. Active membership for at least five years and regular worship and Bible study is a sign of a commitment to the church. It is also important that they are familiar with the Bible and have had training in the Lutheran confessions. In order that they have enough life experiences, we expect them to be at least 30 years old.

The position of elder is a great honor and also a great responsibility. We have been blessed by the men who have served our congregation and we owe them our love, respect and support. God bless our Elders.