"It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do." (1 Timothy 3:1)It appears that, while the church at Ephesus had been around for a while, it as yet had no formal leadership, otherwise there would be little reason for Paul to remind Timothy of the qualifications of an elder. Early on, the church at Ephesus, was just a collection of "some disciples." (Acts 19:1) It is very possible that this was part of the reason Paul left Timothy behind; to appoint elders for the church at Ephesus. We do know that this was part of Titus' ministry as he, like Timothy, was an extensions of Paul's apostolic ministry in Asia. "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you." (Titus 1:5) This also helps us understand further Paul's concern with women teaching in church, especially where there was as yet no established eldership to oversee the activity in a church.
What I find most interesting is that as Paul went around starting churches, these churches existed and thrived without any formal leadership. It was only later that Paul, and/or his team, would pass through and appoint elders as qualified men arose from within their midst. To do otherwise would violate on of his chief qualifications of an elder, that they be "not a new convert." (1 Timothy 3:6) This idea challenges some of the other church planting strategies that I have been apart of; where we first plant leadership and then try to form a church around them while Paul first called forth a church and then waited for leadership to arise. Perhaps our "new" ways needs to be challenged.
I have mentioned before that there is a difference between the position of an elder and the work of an elder. I once had a friend who said he used to be a writer until he realized that he liked being a writer more than writing. Many like the thought of the prestige and honor of being an elder, but are usually ignorant of the actual work involved. Over the years I have served as an elder in various churches I was a part of, each with their own particular style of "eldership." While most of the time is was a privilege and a joy to server, there were the other times; times when we were the focal point of people's complaints and blame for things going on in the church, most of the which I had nothing to do. This reality is, in part, why the writer of Hebrews said, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you." (Hebrews 13:17)
Eldership is an honor and a privilege, but it is not for everyone. Eldership should never been seen as something people are promoted into or as a reward for faithful service. Eldership is a calling and a service for those whom God has selected. Paul's process for selecting elders involved prayer and fasting to determine God's will and selection. "When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed." (Acts 14:23) In the following posts we will look at some of the specific qualifications that Paul lays out for elders.