The leadership structure of the Lord’s church is spelled out in the pages of the New Testament. Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23), which He purchased with His blood (Acts 20:28). In particular localities where congregations of the Lord’s church meet, the inspired text explains that leaders who are called shepherds (or pastors), elders, or bishops are to direct the activities of each individual congregation (Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1-4). These terms are used interchangeably to describe the same position of leadership in the local church (Lewis, 1985, p. 14). The multiple terms are used in order to provide a complete picture of what these leaders are to do and be.

In addition, the New Testament provides consistent teaching that each local congregation should strive to maintain a plurality of elders/pastors/bishops. As the late Bible scholar J.W. McGarvey once wrote: “There is no proposition in reference to the organization of the primitive churches upon which scholars and critics are more perfectly agreed than that every fully organized church had a plurality of Elders” (1950, pp. 66-67). McGarvey went on to correctly conclude that there is New Testament authority and example for only a plurality of elders, and no authority for a singular pastor or bishop to rule an entire congregation or group of congregations.

If a plurality of men should be established as the overseers of any given congregation, what qualities or characteristics should these men possess that would enable them to fulfill their duties? Thankfully, the Lord, through the inspired New Testament, has not left us to guess what traits are needed for such a position. There are two very clear lists of qualities that elders should possess in order for them to be appointed to the eldership—1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. It is understood that biblical passages are often complimentary, in which certain passages include additional, supplemental information. With that in view, we will consider these two lists as complimentary, and therefore as one “master” list of the qualities that every elder should maintain….

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