Sunday: Elders in the Early Church

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Look up the following texts: Acts 6:1-6, Acts 14:23, Acts 15:6, 1 Tim. 5:17, 1 Pet. 5:2. What insights do these verses give us regarding the challenges facing the early church and the role of its leaders?

Early Church Elders

Image © Lifeway Collection

A large group of people becoming believers and joining the church is a great blessing from God. Yet, as the experience of the earliest Christians illustrates, rapid growth can bring problems.

For instance, Acts 1-5 documents the leading of the Holy Spirit and the conversion of many to Christianity. Acts 6:1-6 shows the result: the group became too big for its leadership, and it needed to put structures in place in order to manage the day-to-day functions of the church.

The issue that brought this weakness in organizational structure to a head was a complaint of discrimination. The Greek-speaking group complained that its widows were neglected in the daily distribution of food. As a response, a group of people, the deacons, were especially appointed to assist the 12 apostles with the management of the church’s resources.

It is true that the early church was led by the Holy Spirit in a special way. But even then there was a need to set up church structures. One key group of church leaders needed very early was the elders, who were established for each local congregation. In fact, appointing elders to lead these newly formed groups of Christians was something that Paul and Barnabas did as they went to places that had yet to hear about Jesus (Acts 14:23).

Elders were given many different roles in early Christianity. As leaders of their local community, from time to time they acted as instructors in teaching new converts. They preached, and they ensured the necessary things were done for the well-being of the community (Acts 15:6, 1 Timothy 5:17, 1 Peter 5:2).

What are ways that you can learn to work better with the leaders in your local church, even when you don’t always agree on things?

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Source: Daily Sabbath School Lessons