When we look in the New Testament we see much more about elders than we do about pastors. But who are these guys? Where do they come from? What are they supposed to do? Do they even matter?
Elders do matter. If they didn't, then Paul wouldn't have bothered with them. However, we see the following in Acts 14:21-23, "When they had preached the gospel to that city (Derbe) and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed." Paul and his helpers were directly involved in appointing elders in these new churches that they had planted.
On a later missionary journey we read, "Now from Miletus he (Paul) sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him" (Acts 20:17). Paul could not call the entire church to come see him so he called the elders.
In light of what we read in the New Testament, what do we know about elders?
1. Elders were ALWAYS selected from within the body. They were not from the outside.
2. Elders were recognized for what they were already doing. Their behavior did not change once they were appointed.
3. Elders were godly men who obeyed the Lord. They were not primarily known for their teaching.
4. Elders served others. This was their form of leadership
In I Peter 5:1-3 we read, "So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock."
Peter's primary exhortation to elders is to shepherd. What does this look like? Peter is referring to guidance toward a life of holiness, godliness, and sacrificial love. The elders were to accomplish this through their actions of service. They modeled the behaviors they hoped to see in the remainder of the body. Notice that they were not to put others under compulsion. They were not to be domineering. Instead they were to be "examples to the flock."
In the modern church we have in general lost sight of what elders are and what they do. This is to our detriment. Elders are important because they are godly men from inside the church family who model godly behavior to the rest of the body and lead by doing this.