HOW ELDERS ARE FURNISHED TO THE CHURCH
We must not shrink back from the acceptance of this truth. If the church belongs to Christ, it is certainly reasonable that its leaders are Divinely granted, or given, to the church. When Paul admonished the elders of Ephesus, he reminded them of their appointment. "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with his own blood" NIV (Acts 20:28). This is a significant revelation. Duly considered, it will protect us against fleshly intrusions within the eldership.
The Holy Spirit does not make men "overseers" by appointments unrelated to the human will and personal faith. That is, men cannot fulfill this ministry by a sort of Divine automation. Their hearts and minds enter into the work – their preferences and their wills. The care of God's people is critical. The Holy Spirit knows this, and provides "overseers" for the realization of divine objectives. It is inconceivable that a person in conflict with the Holy Spirit could be a God-recognized "elder." The true "overseer" does not "quench" (1 Thess. 5:19) or "grieve" (Eph. 4:30) the Spirit. He does not "resist" the Spirit (Acts 7:51), but is, rather, "led by the Spirit" (Rom. 8:14). The role of the elder has more to do with what the Spirit desires than what the man himself desires. His will is to be brought into conformity with "the mind of the Spirit" (Rom 8:27).
"This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men . . . It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers"
– Ephesians 4:11 –
This is not an office concocted by men, but a gift given by Christ. Just as God provided the church with Apostles and prophets, so has He provided it with elders. Men can no more determine who can be elders than they can who were to be apostles and prophets. Their role is to recognize these gifts, not create them. The means of their appointment is not identical with that of Apostles and prophets, but the Source is the same.
Jesus has dispensed these "gifts" from His exalted throne. It is after He "ascended on high" that these provisions were given. As with all of the gifts, they are dispensed within the confines of the life of faith. Those that "live by faith" and "walk in the Spirit" thus have kingdom potential. Such individuals are more aware of God than man, and of heaven than this world. They have an appetite for the Word of God, and a desire to minister to God's people. Apostles had a heart for apostleship. Prophets had a heart to prophecy. Elders have a heart for shepherding. This is the manner of God's kingdom. Those that are "laborers together with God" are willing to do so. Jesus came to save us because He wanted to. Paul ministered to the Gentiles because he desired to do so. Elders feed the flock of God because they want to. This is the reason for Peter's instruction to elders about their attitude; "willingly, and not by constraint" (1 Pet. 5:2).
It is important to consider the overall purpose of "gifts." They are always for the betterment of Christ's people. They are never for self-gratification. Whether we are talking about "gifts" provided to the church during the first century, or about those given to the 20th century church, the principle remains the same. They are given "for the common good" NIV (1 Cor. 12:7). If believers are not advantaged in a spiritual way by their leaders, they will be hurt by them. There is no neutrality here. All saints are engaged in spiritual warfare. If they are not strengthened, they will suffer setbacks; our "adversary, the devil" is that aggressive in his attack against the church. Under ordinary circumstances, weak leaders produce a weak church. The only exception to this rule comes when people rise higher than their leadership, something David the sweet psalmist of Israel experienced (Psa. 119:99). However, this is not the preferred way. God forbid that any of us should have to overcome elders and deacons, or any other professed Christ, to get to heaven!