I’ve had several conversations lately regarding the qualifications for being an elder in the church, specifically in regard to how much a man’s age should play into that qualification. I’m still wrestling with the answers myself.
Let me start out by giving some background: I am 28 years old, and an “elder apprentice” in my church. That basically means that we have identified that I have the gifting of an elder and the desire to be one. The apprenticeship entails attending elders meetings, and performing any tasks they assign me. I’ve been helping lead Bible studies, have preached a couple times, and have had a lot of input on the administrative side of things (which is where my gifting really is). We have 4 elders right now (including the 2 pastors) in a church of about 200. There are two of us that are starting our second year of apprenticeship.
So, back to qualifications before I add my 2 cents. On one hand, the qualifications given in Timothy and Titus don’t mention age at all. They do mention:
- Without reproach
- a “one-woman” man
- able to teach
- not given to drunkenness
- not quarrelsome
- not a lover of money
- a good manager of his own family
There’s nothing there about age at all. In fact, in 2 Timothy, Paul specifically tells Timothy to not let people look down on him because of his youth… and we can be certain that Timothy was an elder in the assemblies he founded. So, I don’t see that “youth” (however that is defined) is a disqualification.
My wife is of the opinion that men should at least be somewhat older – enough to have a family and some track record with how they manage their household. I didn’t ask her then how single men would meet that qualification, but it seems like a reasonable question. My wife’s bigger concern is just how much time it’ll require of me if I become an elder… but that’s an entirely different subject.
I had a discussion last night with an older woman whom I have a good deal of respect for. She is the mom of a good friend of mine, a woman who has raised 7 great kids and dealt with a difficult husband for 30+ years. She is prone to having slightly odd views on some things, though, so I take everything with a grain of salt.
Her opinion was that to truly perform the “shepherd” function of eldering, a man really needs to have the experience that comes with age. She thought that maybe in one’s 60’s does one finally have the experience necessary to be a good shepherd. She has seen younger guys attempt it, and has seen them chewed up and spit out by churches that they were not ready to handle. She agreed with me that the gifts that an elder may have (i.e. teaching, administration, etc) should be used immediately, but that the true “eldering” (by which I think she means shepherding) requires people of a more senior age.
I’m really trying to understand where I fall on the subject, seeing as it affects how I want to serve in the body. Of our 4 elders right now, only 1 would fall into the “60-and-above” category that my friend suggests. He is over 70, recently suffered a stroke, and is struggling to see how much he can still serve in that role as he goes through rehabilitation. Two others are 50-ish, and the third is almost 40. They’re all in different places in their lives and walks, some of them are more gifted at administration, others at teaching, but I see all these activities as “shepherding” in a way. So I just don’t think I can accept the “60-and-above” rule.
My bigger question is whether I am ready. My spiritual walk could use improvement; I feel like I should work on that before thinking I’m ready to be an elder. Otherwise I think I meet the 1 Timothy 3 qualifications. But I’m not very senior. But the elders think I’m qualified and would be a good fit sometime in the next year or two. I guess I’ve got to keep praying about it.
My real wish is that there were a few more senior mature men who could step in as elders so I didn’t feel like I was so “needed”. I would be happy to see a couple other guys in those roles, teaching and mentoring guys like me, so that maybe in 10 years I’d be in a better place to step into the role myself. But those guys don’t exist in my church. There’s only two who want to/are qualified to be apprentices. We’re it. The church needs shepherding. I don’t want to resist that call.