What's the Role of a Dwell Elder?

In the New Testament era, local congregations were led by elders, a modern term translated from two related Greek words. Presbuteros generally means "older one" though key passages indicate this refers to spiritual maturity not physical age.

Episcopos means "overseer", and this describes how elders direct the mission and health of the church. Early churches, then, were helmed by spiritually mature believers appointed by God because they showed Christ-like characters and ministry effectiveness.

At Dwell, we follow this pattern.

Our elders constitute the church's board of trustees. They set the doctrinal and spiritual standards and strategic vision for the church. They also assist in tactical implementation of key policies and programs. They set certain budget parameters, authorize new spending, handle top-level staff issues and approve official literature, among other responsibilities. The role includes significant personal investment and time commitment, though the position is volunteer and unpaid.

Identifying New Eldership Candidates

One way to identify quality overseers is by focusing on those who build large, fruitful ministries clearly empowered by the Holy Spirit - effective home church leadership, disciplemaking and church planting. They also must evince the stringent character qualities outlined in the primary New Testament passages on eldership, Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3.

Historically, most Dwell elders have been staff members, though the church considers workers from other professions. Staff members considered for eldership are leaders who: have led a flourishing sphere for at least a year; feel comfortable in the role with plans to continue; and are open to dialog about readiness with top-level staff. Many factors must converge, and prospective candidates might be called to wait if they are too new or unproven in their current role or considering different ministry.

When vetting a candidate, elders carefully weigh many criteria - ministry, character and even circumstantial factors. For example, a sphere leader may have scheduling, geographical, health or family issues now or in the future that would prohibit extended tenure. We try to avoid nominating a candidate unless we are fairly certain he or she will be able to serve for some time. It takes significant time to learn the role, and it can be upsetting to the church when an elder steps down, even for good reason.

Generally, we tend to be very cautious, since elders exert significant influence on the church. Though it would be inappropriate to share all deliberations publicly, the church can rest assured that elders spend hours carefully and prayerfully assessing candidates. We appreciate the church's trust in supporting these complicated judgment calls.

Electing New Elders

When a candidate has been identified, vetted and nominated by the eldership, the board sends an announcement to the Dwell Servant Team. For at least three months, the candidate, elders and deacons provide feedback on the candidate's fitness for office. At a subsequent Servant Team meeting, all deacons in attendance vote. Elders serve a team of three or four years.

Elder Qualifications

Dwell elders must:

  1. Exhibit a high level of Christian character (outlined in the passages below).
  2. Attend and participate at two monthly elders’ meetings and three annual retreats.
  3. Move quickly to resolve any conflict with another elder or staffer.
  4. Exhibit mature, friendly, and reasonable demeanor in elders’ meetings.
  5. Be satisfied with getting their say but not always getting their way. Pouting or punishing behavior when not getting one’s way is unacceptable.
  6. Complete outside reading of proposals and policy papers in a timely manner in preparation for meetings.
  7. Complete any outside tasks in a timely way.
  8. Enjoy ongoing victory in ministry. If an elder’s personal ministry declines significantly, he or she might be called to withdraw from eldership to correct the situation.
  9. Pass a performance review to seek additional terms. Senior elders write the initial review, then make recommendations to the board. The board revises as needed, then votes whether to re-nominate the elder. Those re-nominated are put before the deacons for re-election.
  10. Be financially generous. To set a good example for the church, elders agree to give at least 10 percent of their annual household income to the Dwell general fund.
  11. Scripture expressly forbids lovers of money to be elders (1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:7). In an effort to discourage such people from being elders, Dwell elders have agreed to limit their household income. The limit is generous—125 percent of the highest paid employee in the church, adjusted for any advantage some employees might enjoy from tax exempt parsonages. Any excess in household income is given to the elder's charity of choice.

    This policy can, in principle, be applied to inherited estates. Elders agree to disclose any significant inheritance to each other, then either follow their instructions or withdraw from eldership. Elders are usually more flexible with inheritances, and may decide to exempt some or all of an inheritance from the income limit.

Dwell elders also must meet the stringent character requirements itemized in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3.

Above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6,7)

Anepilempton (1 Timothy 3:2) means un-accusable. Anegkleton (Titus 1:6) is similar, meaning —"un-reprovable". In other words, elders are not to be guilty of any flagrant sin that people could use against them.

Husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6)

Mais gunaikos andros literally means a “one-woman man”. In biblical Greek, the words for “man” and “woman” were the same as “husband” and “wife,” so context determines which is intended. This expression probably isn’t referring to polygamy which was uncommon in the Roman empire, but to sexual morality as an established lifestyle.

Some wrongly think this expression means that a prospective elder has never been involved with more than one woman, so divorcees and those who ran around earlier in life are disqualified. But all character requirements refer to one's present life, not to earlier sin. Peter flagrantly denied Christ and Paul murdered, yet both were qualified to serve as elders. Instead, this requirement prohibits flirting, pornography habits, inappropriate “counseling” of the opposite sex, or other signs that an elder lacks sexual self-control.

Exercises self-control (1 Timothy 3:2)

Nephalion means “restrained” and can refer to being self-controlled in a number of areas, including alcohol user. Some translations read “sober”. But heavy drinking is addressed later, so this probably urged restraint in other behaviors - not lunging, being a blabbermouth or jumping to unwarranted conclusions.

Live wisely (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8)

Sophrona can mean “thoughtful” or “sane.” It suggests the person is mentally healthy (Mark 5:15; 2 Corinthians 5:13) with an honest evaluation that is neither arrogant nor insecure (Romans 12:3). Thoughtful elders are reasonable, sensible and able to keep stable under stress (Titus 2:6; 1 Peter 4:7).

Respectable (1 Timothy 3:2)

Kosmion means “well-ordered.” It suggests orderliness and stability (1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:4). People who are falling apart functionally or slovenly in their habits would be disqualified.

Hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8)

Philoxenos can mean “hospitable,” but that might be a weak translation. The word literally means “loving strangers,” which goes well beyond hosting people in your home. This word suggests elders should actively love those outside the church, with a heart for evangelism.

Not addicted to wine (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7)

Me paroinon means “not a drunk.” Elders can and often do drink in moderation, but must not have a drinking problem. They must not use illegal drugs or other mind-altering substances.

Not self-willed (Titus 1:7)

Me autheda can mean “arrogant” or “overbearing, as a result of stubbornness or self-will.” Peter links this negative trait with rebelliousness (2 Peter 2:10). Paul uses it to refer to usurping rightful authority (1 Timothy 2:12). Elders should demonstrate the ability to defer to others. Those who always have to have their way - and punish those around them when they don't - are not mature enough for the role. Deferring to others includes actively getting behind the another's way to help it succeed. Elders must apologize quickly when in the wrong.

Not quick-tempered (Titus 1:7)

Me orgilon means “not inclined to anger” or “not hot-tempered.” Elders have their patience tried often and anyone who has not gained control of his temper will discredit himself. When leaders misrepresent God by making Him seem angrier than He really is, it’s a serious matter. Moses learned the hard way (Numbers 20). Elders may get angry, but they should be slow to anger rather than having a short fuse (James 1:19-20). They should be under control, avoiding aggressive outbursts.

Not violent (Titus 1:7; 1 Timothy 3:3)

Me plektes means “not a striker.” Elders should not be prone to physical or verbal abuse (i.e. slander, put-downs, etc.). They shouldn’t enjoy fighting.

Gentle (1 Timothy 3:3). Elders should not be dismissive hard-liners

Epieike means “gracious,” or “forbearing.” Those who are unduly rigorous or legalistic in their treatment of people won't gain a following. Instead, they should be kind, empathetic and patient with all. People can be fragile. Elders need to consider how their words and actions affect others (2 Timothy 2:24-25; 1 Thessalonians 2:7).

Not quarrelsome (1 Timothy 3:3)

Amachon means peaceable and not contentious. In other words, this means not seeking ways to disagree or oppose, not loving to fight or quarrel. Elders should have a positive and constructive point of view, regularly cooperating with others.

Free from the love of money (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7). As discussed above, it's highly important that elders avoid greed and materialism.

Aphilagruron literally means not a lover of silver. Elders have to value spiritual things more than money. Some versions translate Titus 1:7 to mean “not dishonest with money” but this is doubtful. Paul’s point in both passages is not that elders should avoid getting money in a dishonest way, but that they shouldn't focus on getting money.

The church needs models who know what's important in life, and the devotion needed to become wealthy is incompatible with real spirituality. Elders should be content with what they have materially (1 Timothy 6:8). They should not be motivated by financial considerations in ministry decisions (Acts 20:33). They realize that true love for Christ and his work can be eclipsed by greed (Matthew 6:24; 1 Timothy 6:6-11). Our day is replete with scandals involving money-loving in the church. Mature elders should give generously to others and live a simple lifestyle to curb temptation.

Not a new convert (1 Timothy 3:6)

Me neophuton means “not newly planted.” Elders should have been walking long enough to be tested by God (1 Timothy 3:10) and should have experienced success without becoming conceited.

Having a good reputation with those outside (1 Timothy 3:7)

Elders should be viewed as good people by non-Christians in their neighborhoods and workplaces. These people must be spiritually authentic, not two-faced. They should be sensitive to what leads to good evangelism.

Loving what is good (Titus 1:8)

This straightforward term implies an elder's lifestyle should demonstrate that he or she enjoys God’s ways and is excited to follow them (Romans 12:2).

Just (Titus 1:8)

To be just, elders should be fair and impartial in their dealings with people (1 Timothy 5:21). People need to feel confident that elders don’t play favorites, including with family members or friends. Some decisions come down to biblically-informed judgment calls, and navigating them wisely requires commitment to fairness and to avoiding self-interest.

Devout (Titus 1:8)

Hosios is one of the words sometimes translated “holy.” It means to be committed to and serious about spiritual matters. Elders should be zealous for God’s will. Single-mindedness for God and His work provides a good model for the church.

Must manage his own family well, with obedient children (1 Timothy 3:6)
Having children who believe (Titus 1:6)

This expression actually means “leading his family well” rather than managing it. When an elder's children and spouse are following, that's an indication that an elder is able to lead.

Arguably, the term here for children refers to younger children, as opposed to adult children. Should elders be responsible for the behavior of their adult children? This would have been more plausible in the ancient world, where parents had more control. It’s not as clear today. Even so, a person’s family knows them like no one else, so Paul’s call to watch the family is wise - “if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:5). Strong Christian leaders develop strong families.

Able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict (Titus 1:9)
Able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2)

The translation “able to teach” is probably weak for didaktikos, which really means “skilled at teaching.” A skilled teacher is one who can cause others to learn. For Christians learning means to do what the word teaches, not just to know it. In Titus, Paul adds the extra condition that elders must know the word well enough to refute those who contradict. In both passages, teaching is associated with eldership. An elder need not be gifted at teaching, but should be able to do a good job when needed. Elders are to lead based on biblical teaching, not their own opinions.