Yesterday in my post about the source of authority in the church I stated:
"Church leadership does not follow the same exact pattern as our government. Church leaders are not answerable to the people of the church in the same exact way. (This doesn't mean that the Elders are not subject to church discipline like everyone else in the church.) What it does mean is that we run into problems when we start picking our church leaders because we like the way that they run the church. Rather the questions that we should be asking when we choose leaders is whether or not they meet the Biblical requirements for church leadership and whether or not they are going to do a good job leading us in the ways of God. We must remember that because we are sinful human beings that we may not always like it when the Elders do a good job of leading us in the ways of God. And that is not a good reason to challenge their authority."
One of the more common and well known passages about the Biblical requirements for Elder come from Paul in 1 Timothy 3:
"The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil."
Paul gives a slightly different list of requirements in Titus 1:
"This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you–if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."
There is a third passage that I would also like to bring to mind. 1 Peter 5:1-5 says:
"So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'"
This third passage is not a list of qualifications per se. But it does speak to how we know whether or not an elder is doing a good job in leading us in the ways of God. The Elders should be someone that is in a position of leadership because they are willingly following God and not because the nominating committee has done a good job of convincing them to serve. An Elder also needs to have the right motivation for serving. Being in a position of authority can be very attractive for the wrong reasons. Peter tells us that Elders should not be looking for "shameful gain." And while is a warning against "doing it for the money" there are many other ways to realize a "shameful gain" that have nothing to do with money.
There are all sorts of glory and accolades that come with being in a position of authority and we can lust after those in the same exact way we lust after money. When we lust after the glory that we receive from men we can very easily fall into the trap of domineering over others. But the glory that Peter tells us to seek after is not the glory that we receive from men but rather the glory that we receive from God for having done a good and Godly job.
When we run into an Elder that is obviously doing their job for selfish reasons and is domineering over the church, then that Elder is subject to the same discipline as every other Christian. This does not mean that we can openly and disrespectfully challenge the authority of every Elder we disagree with. We are still bound by the discipline rules that Christ laid out in Matthew 18:15-20. When an Elder truly meets the requirements for being an Elder, they should be easily approachable when you have an issue. It might be hard to muster the courage to talk to them but your conversation should be well worth the effort.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.