Paul gave an account of his own service (20:18-27) to the believers in Ephesus at this meeting with the Christian Ephesian elders. He then gave a solemn charge to the group of elders he was speaking with (20:28-31): 20:28 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. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
During a recent extended congregational conversation, the question arose “what are elders?” This is an exceptional question! The New Testament speaks about elders a LOT. Some of the time New Testament writers (especially in the gospels) wrote about elders referring to the Jewish leaders of communities. In other words, not Christian elders. There is certainly a distinction to be made between Jewish elders, and Christian elders.
For reference, the Gospels speak of elders in the following places as Jewish religious and community leaders: Matthew 15:2, 16:21, 21:23, 26:3, 26:47, 26:57, 27:1, 27:3, 27:12, 27:20, 27:41, 28:12, Mark 7:3, 7:5, 8:31, 11:27, 12:12, 14:43, 14:53, 15:1, Luke 7:3, 9:22, 20:1, 22:52, and 22:66.
The rest of the New Testament speak of Elders (almost) exclusively as Christian’s serving within the local church. The few exceptions are in spots that refer to the actions of Jewish elders within Jerusalem (Like Acts 4:5, 4:8, 4:23, 5:21, 6:12, 23:14, 24:1, 25:15). Besides these passages the rest of the New Testament speak of elders as servants of Jesus caring for and administering Godly decision making in the church.
To give us a starting point for learning about Christian elders I’m going to cite several passages below which speak about Christian elders in the New Testament. Some of these passages are descriptive (describing elders), some are narrative (stories that includes elders), some are prescriptive (instructions for elders).
In Acts 14 we read that it was the Apostle Paul’s pattern to appoint Christian elders within churches:
Acts 14:23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
In Acts 15:1-2 we read that Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement with another group and their teachings. The group who would settle this disagreement was the apostles and Christian elders: