Who Qualifies to Be an Elder?
“Tend the flock of God which is with you, overseeing not by constraint, but voluntarily; neither for base gain, but readily.”—1 Pet. 5:2, Emphatic Diaglott.
1. How important does God consider his flock?
DOES GOD consider his flock important, meriting special consideration by those appointed by him as undershepherds? How important does God consider his “sheep” to be? His Son stated: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) His interest was sufficient for him to allow his Son to leave heaven for a period of thirty-four and a quarter years to come to earth as a man and to open the way for his “sheep” who strayed to come back into the fold.
2. Can we have confidence in Jehovah and Jesus as shepherds? Explain?
2 We are part of that “world” that God loved so much and that requires reconciliation with God. His plea to the Israelites who returned from foreign bondage applies with equal force to us today: “Return to me . . . and I shall return to you.” (Zech. 1:3) The apostle Peter wrote to the early Christian congregation: “You were like sheep, going astray; but now you have returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls.” (1 Pet. 2:25) For those returning to him, God provides protection: “Like a shepherd he will shepherd his own drove. With his arm he will collect together the lambs; and in his bosom he will carry them. Those giving suck he will conduct with care.” (Isa. 40:11) He has also appointed as his aide the Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who surrendered “his soul in behalf of the sheep.”—John 10:7-15.
3. How did Paul prove to be a responsible shepherd?
3 Jehovah has also arranged for undershepherds interested in caring for the “sheep.” The apostle Paul is one of such, and he said: “We became gentle in the midst of you, as when a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, having a tender affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not only the good news of God, but also our own souls, because you became beloved to us.” The extent to which he was willing to impart his soul is shown by what he wrote to the Corinthian congregation: “For my part I will most gladly spend and be completely spent for your souls.”—1 Thess. 2:7, 8; 2 Cor. 12:15; 11:28.
4. Because of our view of those shepherds, what should be the aim and obligation of Christians today?
4 We can pattern our lives after those shepherds, namely, the Great Shepherd, the Fine Shepherd, and the apostle Paul. The apostle John says that “we are under obligation to surrender our souls for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16) He was familiar with Jesus’ words: “For I set the pattern for you, that, just as I did to you, you should do also. Most truly I say to you, A slave is not greater than his master, nor is one that is sent forth greater than the one that sent him.”—John 13:15, 16; compare John 15:12, 13.
5. Why have some not yet found the way back to Jehovah?
5 Since the Bible says of Jehovah that “he is our God, and we are the people of his pasturage and the sheep of his hand,” what is it that holds people back from serving Jehovah? They just do not know the way back to him; they have had no one to lead them, or, rather, their human leaders, supposedly shepherds, have led them astray. Jesus identified as false shepherds those of his day that would “come to you in sheep’s covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves.” On the other hand, the people “were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.” They needed proper shepherding, and Jesus accepted the job.—Ps. 95:6, 7; Matt. 7:15; 9:36.
SPECIAL CHARGE TO SHEPHERDS
6, 7. (a) Who constitute the flock that must be shepherded? (b) What accounting is required of the shepherds?
6 When Jesus returned to his heavenly home, he arranged for undershepherds to care for his “sheep.” Today, a special obligation to feed Jesus’ “sheep” rests upon those whom the Fine Shepherd appoints. Peter, whom Jesus specially commissioned to do this (see John 21:15-17), relays the same command to Christian overseers today, saying: “Therefore, to the older men [spiritual overseers in the congregation] among you [the congregation] I give this exhortation, . . . Shepherd the flock of God in your care, . . . willingly . . . eagerly.”—1 Pet. 5:1, 2.
7 While all dedicated Christians are required to “make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them . . . [and] teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you,” the shepherds’ special charge is to care for “the flock of God,” those already members of the congregation. Concerning these, they must render an account to Jehovah.—Matt. 28:19, 20; Heb. 13:17; 4:13.
8. Who are chosen, and who not, as shepherds of the flock of God?
8 “A great crowd of priests” became “obedient to the faith” by accepting Jesus as the Messiah. But no scribes or Pharisees were appointed as shepherds in the Christian congregation because they had “seated themselves in the seat of Moses.” Those “wise in a fleshly way” who gloried in being greeted in public places and being called “Rabbi” were not called. That type of “leader” is not found in the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses. Jehovah’s witnesses recognize but one leader, Christ. They shun any kind of title that would call for adulation. Jesus said: “All you are brothers.”—Acts 6:7; Matt. chap. 23; 1 Cor. 1:26-29.
9. How many elders should there be in a congregation, and from among whom are they selected?
9 To care for the interests of the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses properly, “God has set the respective ones in the congregation,” including teachers, overseers, shepherds. In the early congregation all who qualified Scripturally so served. No specified number of persons was designated; there were several in Ephesus, as is evident by Paul’s sending word to the “older men” to meet him at Miletus in order to receive instructions as to their duties. Likewise, no specified number is designated in the modern Christian congregation. They do not need, as in Christendom’s churches, to be graduates of some man-made seminary. But they should be diligently engaged in the preaching work, regular and active students of God’s Word, and exercising what is stated in the two great commandments, namely, love of God and of neighbor.—1 Cor. 12:28; Matt. 22:36-39.
10, 11. How is it possible for one to be “irreprehensible,” and why is such a high standard set?
10 In 1 Timothy the third chapter, Paul sets out Scriptural qualifications for one reaching out for the office of overseer. He must be irreprehensible. Is this possible for an imperfect human creature? Would this not call for perfection? So is Paul being unreasonable, too exacting? We may not so conclude, for Paul was undoubtedly aware of Jesus’ statement at Matthew 5:48: “You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Paul also knew that King David was unable to be entirely irreprehensible, but Paul recognized, as part of the inspired Scriptures, David’s plea to Jehovah: “Judge me, O Jehovah, for I myself have walked in my own integrity.”—Ps. 26:1; compare 2 Kings 20:3.
11 It is clear that it is impossible for man to be like God in an absolute sense, to an infinite degree, without limitation. If that were not true, the office of an overseer in the Christian congregation would remain vacant. The fact that the Scriptural requirements are set high means, therefore, that each one aspiring for or occupying such office would earnestly strive to meet them. In the matter of being irreprehensible, for example, an elder would certainly not be in position to care for those in his charge were he sadly lacking in this respect. An overseer must be able to “keep on exhorting the younger men to be sound in mind, in all things showing [himself] an example of fine works; showing uncorruptness in [his] teaching.”—Titus 2:6-8.
12. Need one be married to qualify as an overseer? Explain.
12 The overseer should be “a husband of one wife.” This does not mean that a widower or a bachelor is disqualified. It means now, as it did in Paul’s day, that one practicing polygamy or living with a woman without benefit of marriage may not serve as overseer in the Christian congregation. Indeed, the right hand of fellowship may not be extended to him. Coupled with the further requirement in 1 Ti 3 verse 4 (1 Timothy 3), it would indicate that to be an overseer one would have to be no longer a teen-ager, but old enough to have a family.
13. Why must the extreme habits of the day be shunned by elders?
13 Today’s youths and even older ones are often infected with the outlandish habits of the present system of things. Rubbing shoulders at school or in business with those so inclined tends to tempt Christians to conform. Christians in the first century must have had the same thing to contend with, for Paul’s further counsel (1 Tim. 3:2) to be “moderate in habits” was to be considered in making appointments of older men. Conforming to the habits of the old world would preclude one’s having God’s approval and being considered eligible for an assignment that calls for exhorting younger men. The apostle Peter says that there may have been a time when we ignorantly went along with such customs but that now we must live for God’s will. It may puzzle our former associates and cause them to be speaking abusively of us, but Jesus said that this should not disturb us.—John 15:19; 1 Tim. 4:11, 12; 1 Pet. 4:3, 4; Rom. 12:2.
SOUND THINKING REQUIRED
14. How should an older man view his position?
14 An older man in the congregation occupies no elevated position. One’s being an elder should not cause one to “think more of himself than it is necessary to think; but to think so as to have a sound mind.” The New English Bible renders this statement as not to be “conceited” but have a “sober estimate” of oneself. This would prevent one from expecting to be treated as are the “pastors” of Christendom, who love to have, and who expect, people to fawn over them.—Rom. 12:3.
15. What does being “orderly” entail?
15 Overseers must be “orderly, hospitable.” (1 Tim. 3:2) The false shepherds were not orderly in any sense of the word. Jehovah condemned them, saying: “Woe to the shepherds [in Israel] who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasturage!” (Jer. 23:1, 2) Their claim to being shepherds did not save them from Jehovah’s judgment. Jesus also condemned the false shepherds of his day. So Christian shepherds must be orderly, working for the peace of the congregation. At times they may be called on to “admonish the disorderly,” those “not working at all but meddling with what does not concern them.” (1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:11) In order for their admonition to be acceptable they must themselves set the pattern by strictly adhering to Bible laws and principles, never propagating ideas not in harmony with the truth.—1 Cor. 4:6; 14:33; Titus 2:6-8.
16. Is being hospitable confined to merely welcoming new ones at the Kingdom Hall?
16 When King Solomon prayed for prosperity at the time of the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, he referred to the ‘foreigners,’ non-Israelites coming to worship there. Undoubtedly he made provision for them. Today Jehovah is blessing us with a large increase of ‘foreigners,’ that is to say, those not heretofore worshipers of Jehovah. Adequate provision must be made to welcome them. This places a burden on the overseers, not in merely greeting them at the Kingdom Hall, but in assisting them to progress in the Christian way. This is true hospitality, a requirement for one to be an overseer.—1 Ki. 8:41-43; Mic. 4:1, 2; Matt. 9:37; Heb. 13:1, 2; 3 John 5.
17, 18. (a) Is teaching confined to the platform? (b) What is the aim of the overseer as a teacher?
17 “It is written in the Prophets,” Jesus said, “And they will all be taught by Jehovah.” (John 6:45; Isa. 54:13) This becomes increasingly important as we near the close of the old system of things and the ushering in of the new under the direction of the anointed Priest and King, Jesus Christ. Jehovah God is the Foremost Teacher, but Jesus said that his disciples properly addressed him also as Teacher. Additionally, the glorified Jesus Christ “gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, [why?] with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work.”—Eph. 4:11, 12.
18 Elders must be teachers of God’s Word, therefore. They are not to ‘tickle the ears’ of the congregation, but to reach the minds and hearts of their sheeplike congregation. This does not place them on a pedestal like a “professor” or “doctor of divinity.” The Christian elder’s teaching is, not necessarily from the platform, but more properly on a personal basis. It is Bible teaching.
19. What “works of the flesh” would bar one’s appointment as an overseer?
19 An elder cannot be “a drunken brawler.” Overuse of alcohol deadens the senses so that one’s judgment is impaired, and one loses control of one’s mind. An elder may not be a “smiter,” either physically or with his tongue. He must not be belligerent or a lover of money or unreasonable. Such would disqualify him to be a person taking the lead in the congregation of Christians. While it may not foreclose his serving in a church of Babylon the Great, these “works of the flesh” would bar him from serving in a congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses.—1 Tim. 3:3; 6:10.
20. (a) Why should presiding over one’s own household enter into the consideration of one for appointment as an elder? (b) But what may be taken into account?
20 Paul raises a question, after stating that an elder must be a man presiding over his own household in a fine manner, having children in subjection, namely, “If indeed any man does not know how to preside over his own household, how will he take care of God’s congregation?” (1 Tim. 3:5) Paul recognized that in God’s household more lives are at stake than in the man’s household. So there is need that he be well qualified in his ability to handle matters in his own household in the general interest of all. But does this mean that his household will necessarily be an ideal model in every respect? Possibly not. He may be doing all he reasonably can, and yet someone in his household may not respond as he would like him to. His wife may be very rebellious, even one opposed to Jehovah and his Word. (Matt. 10:36) But the important questions are: To what extent is the man of the house responsible for her rebellion, and is the disunity in the household due to any delinquency on his part? The congregation’s view of the situation must also be considered.
21. Why is it wise not to designate “a newly converted man” as an overseer?
21 Weighty decisions need to be made by overseers. Such decisions may involve lives or the prosecution of the all-important work of preaching the good news. Bans may be imposed. So good, mature judgment will be needed. Consequently an overseer should not be “a newly converted man.” (1 Tim. 3:6) He may possess all the enthusiasm and zeal of those long in the faith but may lack “perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.” (Heb. 5:13, 14) Newly associated ones need to be “seasoned.” In the meantime, observe “those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith.”—Heb. 13:7.
CARE FOR “OTHER SHEEP”
22. How should fads be viewed, and, in this, whose example should we follow?
22 Being “no part of the world,” Jehovah’s witnesses do not copy prevalent fads that would identify them with people viewed as rebels against society. So young brothers in the congregation should have in mind the exhortation of Peter that shepherds of the flock of God must set the proper example. Paul was such a good example. He said: “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.” People notice that Jehovah’s witnesses are different; Christian deportment, especially on the part of the overseers, should provide basis for the needed “fine testimony from people on the outside” of the congregation.—1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Tim. 3:7; John 17:16; 1 Pet. 5:2, 3.
23. What other things should be looked for in overseers?
23 In the first chapter of the book of Titus, Paul gave counsel as to what to look for in elders. One must be “free from accusation,” of unimpeachable qualities. No one may be able to point the finger at him as being of questionable personal traits. He must not be “self-willed” or overbearing; not “prone to wrath,” short-tempered; “not greedy of dishonest gain,” but, rather, outstandingly honest in his dealings inside and outside the congregation.—Titus 1:6, 7; see also 1 Peter 5:2, 3.
24. How is an overseer’s loyalty demonstrated?
24 Being “loyal” is especially important for an overseer, in imitation of Jesus Christ. His loyalty to right principles may require him to administer reproof to “those who contradict.” (Titus 1:9) This may not be a pleasant task, but his withholding reproof where it is required may indicate that he is taking sides with the one sinning, thus becoming a partner with him. (Prov. 29:24) The reproof administered is a kindness to one who may take a false step unawares. (Gal. 6:1) Some improper actions may easily be forgotten, overlooked or ignored; not so those that may grieve the holy spirit by causing divisions and sects in the congregation. So, in some instances, loyalty demands giving reproof.—Luke 17:3, 4; Eph. 4:30.
25, 26. (a) Why is it especially necessary for shepherds to pay attention to themselves and the congregation of God? (b) Can new ones expect good shepherding in God’s congregation today?
25 As Paul gave his farewell to the elders of Ephesus, he pleaded with them to pay attention to themselves and “to all the flock . . . [and] shepherd the congregation of God . . . [because now] oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness.” (Acts 20:28, 29) These “wolves” would be, in effect, flaying the flock, tearing away their garments of Christian identification. The admonition, at this crucial time, is more timely. No overseer wants to be responsible, through dereliction, for the loss of any of Jehovah’s “sheep.”
26 The Yearbook shows to what extent many of Jesus’ “other sheep” have associated themselves with Jehovah’s Christian witnesses. There remain others whom Jesus “must bring” because they “will listen” to his voice. In this “final part of the days” of the old system of things those streaming into the one flock of the one shepherd are receiving instruction in the ways of Jehovah. They can have assurance of receiving loving, tender care from those to whom Jehovah has seen fit to entrust shepherding work.—John 10:16; Luke 12:32; Mic. 4:1-4; Isa. 32:1, 2.