It was under the love, guardianship, mentorship and influence of a church elder that I was grounded into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I learned the beauty of home worship, Sabbath fellowship, delicious vegetarian meals, care and nurture, deeper practical insights of the Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy, the joy and conscientiousness of church serving from an elder. Having been newly baptized, he was assigned to me as myspiritual guardian. He picked me up for church on Sabbaths and Wednesday night prayer meetings. Under his tutelage, he was used by God toreinforce my calling to become a minister of the gospel within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The work of elders in the Seventh-day Adventist church is extensive and varied. Churches differ in size and complexities, necessitating careful,diligent “elder” leadership.

Let’s take a look at some of the leadership responsibilities of an elder, for the call of an elder is serious business.

Elders are shepherds.
The Bible repeatedly employs the metaphor of "shepherding" to describe the spiritual leadership of God's people (e.g., Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5: 1-4). The elders' mission is to lead, teach, train, protect and love their church members the way shepherds care for the sheep in a flock, so that churchmembers spiritually mature.

Elders are pastoral.
The word "pastor" means "shepherd." We often refer, in our organizational system, to paid ministers as "pastors" and lay leaders "elders." However, let’s not get myopic in our thinking by only seeing pastors as “the professional” ministers and elders only as support for the ministers. Biblically, apastor is an elder and an elder also engages in pastoral work like a pastor. Elders should collaborate with the pastor and do those things in a local church that in many ways parallel what a pastor would do. Though not financially renumerated by being on the payroll of the church organization, the sacrifice and service of elders should be appreciated, valued,

encouraged and gratitude should be expressed not only verbally but tangibly.

Elders are godly.
Of great importance in reference to the office of an elder are the character qualities (e.g., Titus 1:5-9). Elders must be self- controlled, sensible, holy, and hospitable. They shouldn’t be imbibing in alcohol or bullies or money-grubbers, numbers- players or family-wreckers. Elders who are called must be "above reproach" by daily being in Jesus Christ. Church members should be able to see in their elders inspiring, albeit imperfect, examplesof the character of Jesus.

Elders are teachers.
Elders must be able to teach and explain with clarity the word of God so that they can build up the church in sound doctrine and refute falseteachers. Such teaching may be one-to-one instruction, small groups, Sabbath School and/or Bible classes, or preaching. An elder doesn't need a doctorate degree (Ph.D./Th.D.) in biblical studies, but an elder does need to be able to faithfully explain biblical truth.

Elders are leaders.
Elders have a measure of authority within the local church. The elders' authority is not absolute or unquestionable, nor should it be exercised in a domineering manner. An unknown source is quoted as saying, “Treat people the way you want to be treated. Talk to people the way you want to be talked to. Respect is earned not given.” God calls elders to provide servant- leadership for the flock, and for the flock, to reciprocate by respectingthat leadership.

Elders are not Jesus.
Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, and elders are His temporary helpers. Elders should model Jesus' character, teach Jesus' word, and lead the church by pointing it to Jesus and His mission. Elders must maintain the awareness that they also are sheep, utterly dependent on the grace of the GoodShepherd.

--Pastor Michael A. Smith Ministerial Director, Atlantic Caribbean Union of Seventh-day Adventists