A Word About "Elder Rule"

In recent years a debate has surfaced which argues for "elder rule" for the government of the church. In this case proponents argue that the elders are to be the ruling or governing body of the church. This concept has thrust elders into managerial roles rather than the biblical exemplary and spiritual role God intended.

There is a danger in thinking of elders as "rulers." Peter dealt with this issue in I Peter 5. In the early church we already see that some elders were operating as "lords over God's heritage." Peter condemns this as ungodly. Elders are to be "role models," leading by example more than by legislation. The danger of elder rule is that it creates a scenario of politics of power. The church addressed the issue early on in Acts 6 when complaints arose that the Greek women were being left out in the administration. The elders (the apostles) established that the elders were to give themselves to "the Word of God and prayer." The clear message was that administrative duties were "waiting on tables" ministries better suited for deacons.

"Episkopos" is the Greek word used to describe an elder's leadership role. It means "overseer" as a watchman over the flocks in Israel that stood in a tower above the flock to gain a view of all that was happening. We would do well to understand what God commanded Ezekiel as a "watchman over the house of Israel." This is what God means for elders.

"So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me." - Ezekiel 33:7

Protectors and Guardians
The management principles of the church of God are not the same as management principles of the world. The New Testament sense of management is that elders are to superintend, as guardians and protectors. There is no lordship intended here. The Greek words are all consistent with the watchman principle.

One that ruleth<4291> well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule<4291> his own house, how shall he take care<1959> of the church of God?) - 1 Timothy 3:4-5

"Let the elders that rule <4291> well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." - 1 Timothy 5:17

4291 proistemi (pro-is'-tay-mee)
from 4253 and 2476;
AV-rule 5, maintain 2, be over 1; 8
1) to set or place before 2) to be over, to superintend, preside over 3) to be a protector or guardian 4) to care for, give attention to
2)"Rule" = To protect, and guard

Care Givers of...Attend to
Elders are those who take care of the House of God.

"For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of <1959> the church of God?" - 1 Timothy 3:5

1959 epimeleomai (ep-ee-mel-eh'-om-ahee)
middle voice from 1909 and the same as 3199; ;v
AV-take care of 3; 3
1) to take care of a person or thing
Used in Luke 10:35 of the Good Samaritan who took on responsibility for the wounded man.
Used in I Timothy 3:5 to describe the taking care of the church of God.

"Taking care" of the house of God should be looked at more as a medical term than a managerial term. A doctor is to "care for" his patients. It does not mean he is to manage them except in the sense of providing for their health. The same is true in the church context. We are a hospital, not a business.

Managing Stewards
"For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward <3623> of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;"- Titus 1:7

3623 oikonomos (oy-kon-om'-os)
from 3624 and the base of 3551;
AV-steward 8, chamberlain 1, governor 1; 10
1) the manager of household or of household affairs
1a) esp. a steward, manager, superintendent (whether free-born or as was usually the case, a freed-man or a slave) to whom the head of the house or proprietor has entrusted the management of his affairs, the care of receipts and expenditures, and the duty of dealing out the proper portion to every servant and even to the children not yet of age
1b) the manager of a farm or landed estate, an overseer
1c) the superintendent of the city's finances, the treasurer of a city (or of treasurers or quaestors of kings)
2) metaph. the apostles and other Christian teachers and bishops and overseers

Leadership Over
"Obey them that have the rule over you<2233>, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." - Hebrews 13:17

2233 hegeomai (hayg-eh'-om-ahee)
middle voice of a (presumed) strengthened form of 71;
AV-count 10, think 4, esteem 3, have rule over 3, be governor 2, misc 6; 28
1) to lead
1a) to go before 1b) to be a leader 1b1) to rule, command 1b2) to have authority over
1b3) a prince, of regal power, governor, viceroy, chief, leading as respects influence, controlling in counsel, overseers or leaders of the churches 1b4) used of any kind of leader, chief, commander
1b5) the leader in speech, chief, spokesman
2) to consider, deem, account, think

Not Lords Over
Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock. - 1 Peter 5:3

2634 katakurieuo (kat-ak-oo-ree-yoo'-o)
from 2596 and 2961;
AV-exercise dominion over 1, overcome 1, be lord over 1, exercise lordship over 1; 4
1) to bring under one's power, to subject one's self, to subdue, master
2) to hold in subjection, to be master of, exercise lordship over


Elders are not called to rule. Indeed, Jesus redefined leadership as servanthood. "He who is greatest among your let him be your servant." Peter commands his fellow elders not to be as "lords over God's heritage." Leadership in the house of God is by example not by legislation. Let us as elders focus on our own lives, being sure they are godly, and exempliary, as a pattern for others to follow. May we be able to say with the apostle Paul to his congregation, "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ."