Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Soul Watchers

Why we need elders if we are to have strong souls.

The Primacy of the Soul (6)

So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Acts 14.23

Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Hebrews 13.17

Unordered churches?
Even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals that elders played a prominent role in the churches of that time.

Paul made a point to ordain elders to oversee every church he started, as we see in our text and other places. He explained to Timothy that serving as an elder was a high and noble calling, and that only those who were qualified should be appointed to that office (1 Tim. 3.1-7). Elders are called “overseers” and “shepherds” in their relationship to the congregations of the Lord (1 Pet. 5.1-3). Believers in the New Testament were expected to submit to the elders of their churches, who were appointed to serve them in their Kingdom-and-glory callings from the Lord (1 Cor. 15.15, 16; 1 Thess. 5.12, 13). Elders were charged with the responsibility of watching over the flocks of the Lord (Acts 20.28), preserving sound doctrine and right practice in the churches (Acts 15.1-6; Titus 1), and, in particular, keeping watch over the souls of God’s people (2 Cor. 12.15; Heb. 13.17).

The work of elders in the churches of the New Testament carried over from their work among the communities of Israel. There the elders were judges and teachers of the people, instructing them in the ways of the Lord and leading their communities in the practice of justice and shalom. The elders appointed to serve the churches of the New Testament were called to be shepherds, leading the Lord’s flocks into fuller realization of His Kingdom and promises. In fact, so vital were elders to the churches of the New Testament that Paul insisted that any church that didn’t have elders was to that extent not “in order” (Titus 1.3).

God is determined that those who believe in Jesus should be strong in their souls. And to that end, He established the office of elder to watch over, nurture, edify, and strengthen the followers of Christ within the very depths of their being.

Where have all the elders gone?
In the Church today we seem not to believe in elders. At least, not as shepherds and watchers over the souls of God’s people. The New Testament believes in them, but we don’t. Many – perhaps even most – churches do not have elders, and those that do, organize their elders as a kind of board of directors, overseeing departments and programs and committees and the like. No such role for elders can be found in the New Testament.

Meanwhile, no one is watching over the souls of God’s people, strengthening them with Kingdom vision, courage, and discipline, leading and defending and nurturing them, like elders did in the New Testament. Discipleship – which grows out of strong souls – is these days a matter of individual preference and pace. Church leaders provide opportunities and encourage church members to get involved, but if they choose not to, well, what can you do?

What’s going on here? Have we just decided that we don’t need elders? That elders watching over our souls is an optional matter, or that we’re free to define the work of elders according to our own ideas rather than those of the Scriptures? And if no one is watching over our souls, to strengthen them for the Kingdom, then that would perhaps explain why there is so little evidence of the Kingdom – book-of-Acts-Kingdom evidence – in the lives of believers and churches in our time.

It’s not necessary, necessarily, to call our shepherds elders. Pastors, church board members, teachers of all kinds, small group leaders – all these who function in roles which the Scriptures assign to elders must take up the task of watching over the souls of God’s people. Disciples are not made, churches do not grow, and the Kingdom does not advance through programs, committees, and events. God intends by the strengthening of the souls of His people to bring His divine economy to glorious fruition on earth as it is in heaven. Our part is to understand the workings of God’s plan and embrace them wholeheartedly according to His Word.

And that would seem to require that we revisit the work of elders in our churches.

Warning to church leaders
This is a serious matter. Paul appointed elders to continue his work of strengthening the souls of God’s people. The result was progress in the Kingdom of God such as we have not witnessed in our lifetimes. We appoint elders, when we bother to appoint them at all, to make sure our committees and programs are working as we think they should, and that budgets and facilities and staff are all rightly employed. However, we do not expect them to watch over the souls of every member of the Body of Christ. The result, year after year, is that the Church is ceding more ground – spiritually, morally, socially, and culturally – to the kingdom of darkness.

Jesus condemned the religious leaders of His day who did not enter the Kingdom of God and, by their failure to enter it, barred the way for others to do so (Matt. 23.13). The Lord condemned elders and church leaders who did not watch over their flocks, allowing His sheep to stray into sin and trouble, and failing to lead them into the green meadows of the Lord (Ezek. 34.1-10).

Strengthening the souls of God’s people is the work of the Lord, which He has entrusted into our care. Doing that work is the most important thing we can do in this life. If we expect God to bless our efforts at strengthening the souls of His people, then we must take up that work in His way and appoint elders to watch over the souls of every one of the followers of Jesus Christ.

That supreme objective – strong souls – will not be possible without effective shepherding elders to watch over and nurture us.

For reflection
1. Why do we need someone other than ourselves to watch over our soul? Who is watching over your soul?

2. Why do you think it has come about that we require elders to do everything but watch over our souls?

3. Do you think you would benefit from having someone with the qualifications of a New Testament elder watching over your soul? Explain.

Next steps Preparation: Pray for the elders of your church, or for those who function in that role. Pray that God will give them a strong desire and loving skills to shepherd the flock entrusted to their care.

T. M. Moore

The Work of Shepherds
Pastors, elders, church leaders of all sorts, and even church members are called to the work of shepherding in the Lord’s flock. But what does that entail? How can we do this work? Our workbook, Shepherding God’s Flock, can help you get started in this important soul-watching work. Order your free copy by clicking here.

Thanks for your prayers and support
If you find ReVision helpful in your walk with the Lord, please seek the Lord, asking Him whether you should contribute to the support of this ministry with your financial gifts. As the Lord leads, you can use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card, or you can send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore

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