Too Young to Be An Elder?
There have been conversations in our congregation and across the valley, I have heard them. You probably have even been in a discussion that included a similar statement to this: “How come your Church has so many young elders?”… or this…“We don’t have a pastor and we are nominating men as elders who are far too young to be elders.” Let me ask…What do you mean by far too young? I have heard similar statements from numerous people. Granted, we do have a pastoral vacancy, which means the responsibility of each elder is greater than usual. I admit that I even thought to myself, when preparing to choose who I would vote for, “Should a man with young kids take even more time away from his family to shepherd the flock?” For those of you that know me, I fervently proclaim the role of the husband and father as the spiritual head of primary importance for the Married Christian man, so I had to do some study on this for myself.
What about you? Have you had thoughts like this? Maybe you have said something similar, or perhaps you agree with some of these statements. So let me ask you this. What is the right age to become an elder? Do you agree with a man being an elder in his early 20’s who has a newborn baby at home? Do you agree with a man being an elder in his late 20’s if he has 3 kids at home? What if that man is self-employed and works until the late evening? What if he is 35 and has 2 young kids? What if he is 40 and has 6 school age kids? What if he is 50 and his kids are all grown? What if he is 60? 70? 80? Well? What is the right age to become an elder in the church?
What if I told you that the qualification to be an elder has nothing to do with age and everything to do with spiritual maturity? So, let’s define spiritual maturity. Let’s read the qualifications for an elder found in 1 Timothy. They are a good benchmark for what “spiritual maturity” is. Afterward I will take a look at the age issue in regard to these points.
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.
I see 10 points here:
(1) Above reproach. An Elder must not have committed any recent public sins. He must not have committed any public sins since becoming a leader in the church.
(2) Husband of one wife: An Elder must support the family and the holiness and sacredness of the marriage vows.
(3) Sober minded, self-controlled, respectable: The RSV translates this as “temperate, sensible, dignified,” What this means is that an elder must be alert and watchful, awake and active in the truth, genuinely fighting against the devil and his own sinful flesh.
(4) Hospitable: Welcoming, friendly, sociable, and caring…The Elder enjoys having guests at his home and he enjoys visiting others. An elder must have a love for serving others, getting to know and appreciate others. He must listen to other people’s problems without a judgemental attitude, he must be joyful in giving spiritual guidance to others. He should be active in the congregation using his gifts for the up building of the congregation and to God’s glory.
(5) Able to teach: He must love to learn the truths of God. He must be active in personal bible study and in group study. It takes patience to be a teacher, being gentle to everyone, as II Timothy 2:24-25 tells us. Ability to teach is not simply being scholarly and you do not need to be a theologian to be an elder. Rather, an elder must have the ability and desire to present the gospel message and apply biblical truths to any situation. A good teacher helps each student under his guidance to fulfill his or her potential; the elder must do the same with those under his spiritual care.
(6) Not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome: An elder must avoid drinking too much. He should not argue, he should not use his authority to get his way. A mark of a true overseer is being a gentle person, modest in everything, temperate, one who is not a gossip, backbiter or slanderer, but is gentle, showing meekness to everyone.
(7) Not a lover of money: That is, not a lover of money and material goods. Not placing unnecessary strain on his family by working too much, he should not have substantial financial debts; he should not show that he places earthly things above God or His people.
(8) He must manage his own household well: His Children should be disciplined, submit to his authority and be respectful. He must be involved in his family life. He must be an active, strong and able spiritual head of his home. As Paul asks, “For if a man knows not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?”
(9) He must not be a recent convert: He must not be new to the faith. J
(10) He must be well thought of by outsiders: Outsiders are very good at sniffing out the hypocrite – the person who does not practice what he preaches.
These are the criteria by which we are to nominate and select men to be elders in the church. Of these 10 points, I see only 2 points that might be areas of contention with regard to the age of an office bearer.
The first is in the ability to teach, as a man should study first, and know how to effectively communicate what he is presenting before he can teach. While this might have some impact on the age debate, I have seen men who are much younger than I, who are far better teachers than I am. If a young man is called to office he should study under an older office bearer, go on home visits with an older man and so on. The age issue has no real bearing on this point.
The second point where we could mention age is in regards to managing his household well. The argument could be made that a man in his early 20’s or with young children at home has not proven that he can manage his own household well. But in rebut I ask, “Has he proven that he does not manage his own household well?” I do agree that a man’s primary responsibility is to his family, he must be the leader of his own home before he can be a leader in the church. He must provide for them financially and spiritually…but nowhere does it say “he should be 40+ years old and his kids must be over 6 and in school and he must only work from 9-5…”
Although the word “elder” is used in the Bible, and it implies an “older man,” nowhere are we told that an age pre-requisite is necessary for an elder. It is believed, although not known for certain, that the ages of the disciples when they were called was between 17 and 30. Jesus completed his earthly ministry at 33. Paul was called in his 30’s. To be fair, I think that there is wisdom in having the experienced men in the congregation be those who by and large run the church. However, I do not think we should simply disallow a man from holding office because he is younger. I have seen elders who were in their 20s who have been very wise and capable leaders. Should we not encourage the young men in our churches to strive to this office?
Here is an applicable quote from theologian Douglas Wilson:
Age is a natural receptacle for wisdom and maturity, and we should desire such collective wisdom and maturity for our session of elders. But an essential part of this is learning how to bring young men into ministry in such a way that fifty years from now, we will not only have elders who are eighty-years-old, but also have elders who have been ministering to souls for fifty of those years. A sixty-year-old man who is made an elder may be wise in his household and business, but in the ministry he is still a novice.
If we want great wine decades from now, it is important to begin laying down the bottles now.
That sums up my view on this matter quite nicely.
Ultimately, it’s up to us as church members to prayerfully consider who you will nominate and vote for. If you really do have a problem with someone’s nomination, pray about it, and first see if it is just your own sinful opinion. If there is in fact a “lawful objection” then you are duty bound to make that known prior to elections. Don’t simply complain about who got in after the fact.
Let us now turn to the Belgic Confession, article 31, which states:
We believe that ministers of God’s Word, elders, and deacons ought to be chosen to their offices by lawful election of the church, with prayer and in good order, as stipulated by the Word of God.1Therefore everyone shall take care not to intrude by improper means. He shall wait for the time that he is called by God so that he may have sure testimony and thus be certain that his call comes from the Lord.2 Ministers of the Word, in whatever place they are, have equal power and authority, for they are all servants of Jesus Christ,3 the only universal Bishop and the only Head of the church.4 In order that this holy ordinance of God may not be violated or rejected, we declare that everyone must hold the ministers of the Word and the elders of the church in special esteem because of their work,5 and as much as possible be at peace with them without grumbling or arguing.
On a personal note, I feel that I am too young to be an elder, not in age – but spiritually – it has only been in the past 4 or 5 years that I have really had a relationship with my redeemer, that I have been maturing spiritually, so I take my hat off to those men who are much younger than I. Please pray for them, encourage them, respect them and be at peace with them without grumbling or arguing.
And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy (Acts 2:17-18).