Bible Q&A – How Old Should an Elder Be?

We’ve discussed installing some new elders.  Some of the men under consideration are in their late 30s.  Are they old enough to be elders? –A Christian from Indiana.

That is a great question that really needs to be discussed.

It was about eleven years ago when the knocking of a hand against my front door got my attention.  Upon opening the door, I was faced with two Mormon boys who could not have been older than 19.  I asked the customary question, “Can I help you?”  Instead of answering the question, they proceeded to introduce themselves.  “My name is Elder Bob, and this is Elder Joe.”  Knowing that these boys had no idea what the word “elder” meant, I asked them a simple question.  “How are your wife and kids?”  The look of confusion across their face told me they also didn’t know what the Bible teaches about elders.  Upon explaining that an elder was the husband of one wife and had believing children, I asked them the question again.  They said “thank you” and shortly thereafter were on their way to the next house.

The word “elder” signifies, by its very definition, someone who is older.  How old?  Ask the members of the congregation what they consider to be an “older man” and you’ll have a pretty good guess.  But let’s look at some of the other things the Bible says on this matter.  There are certain “benchmarks” that also help us in determining a minimum age for an “elder.”

The first place to look is in the qualifications for elders which were laid out by the apostle Paul in I Timothy 3.  The person desiring the office of bishop (elder) must be the husband of one wife.  Literally, the wording is “a one-woman man.”  This man must have proven himself to be faithful to his wife, a dedicated husband.  Obviously this is not something a 19-year old can prove.  This is something that is proven over a period of time.  According to some sources, most men during the first century did not marry until they were in their 30’s.  Imagine, then, the age at which these people would have been known as dedicated husbands by the rest of the congregation.

Also, the elder must have faithful children (Titus 1:6).  Does this mean faithful to him or faithful to God?  Skipping this question for a moment, let us look at the simple point that the man must have children who are old enough to show they are faithful.  The children must be old enough to make decisions and show that they have been raised to make the right ones.  They obey their father because they are in subjection to him (I Timothy 3:4).  This does not describe children under the teenage years.  If this means children who are faithful to God, it means that the children must be faithful Christians.  If it means faithful to their father, this age of accountability would be about the same, wouldn’t you think?  This man’s children must be known to be obedient.  This again is something that takes time to prove, especially if it is referring to being a faithful Christian.

Looking at the likely age of marriage (say 30-35), adding the time it would take for their children to get to be teenagers (add another 15 or more years), as well as tacking on the time it would take for the children to prove themselves “faithful” once they reach the age of accountability, and you get someone who meets these first two qualifications for being an elder probably around age 50.

Let us also consider one last point.  The apostle Peter, approximately 61-63 AD, said he was an elder of the Lord’s church (I Peter 5:1).  If we accept that he was about Jesus’ age when he became a disciple of the Lord, then Peter would be about 65 years old when he wrote this.  He commanded the elders to whom he wrote, using the fact that he was an elder as back-up for his commands (I Peter 5:1-4).  This is not something that a newly-appointed elder would likely do, so Peter had likely been an elder at the church in Jerusalem for some time, perhaps a decade?

From a Biblical perspective, there is no way that a 19-year old could be an elder.  It would be pushing it to say someone in their 40s would qualify as “older,” as the word “elder” necessitates.  Though the Bible gives no specific age, it does give certain milestones (faithful husband and faithful children) which would be very difficult to reach and prove before their late 40s/early 50s.

Plus, unless you’re asking teenagers, no one considers a 40-year old to be an “older man.”

-Bradley S. Cobb

8 thoughts on “Bible Q&A – How Old Should an Elder Be?”

  1. Three comments about your good article. 1) In the 3 volume set of NT Greek Words edited by Colin Brown, the word study for “elder” addresses your question, saying in NT times “Elder” refers to one at least 50 years of age. 2) To determine if an Elder’s children are “faithful,” they must be “out on their own” for several years and making their “own” faithful decisions for long enough to insure they are stably mature in the faith — and will likely remain this way. This maturity requires more than some minimal, “technical” faithfulness” of a recently immersed teenager. Such “faithfulness” requires all his children must have grown to the mature spirituality commanded in Colossians 3:1–17 — nothing less! ….. All his children must be “faithful” to prove he can “oversee” the spiritual growth and continued faithfulness of the entire congregation. ……. 3) After studying the Brotherhood for @ 65 years, the number-of-churches having massive internal problems indicates this qualification is possibly ignored on a wide-scale.

    1. Excellent thoughts, Jim. I believe we’re in 100% agreement on that. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

  2. The most rapid growth the congregation I serve has ever had was in a period where they had somewhere around 6-7 shepherds that were all in their late 30’s and early 40’s. That was in the 70’s. A couple of those are still serving and a couple have stepped down very recently. They were extremely well grounded men and I don’t think that growth was completely coincidental. I think it’s a testament to the autonomy of a Church that they answer the question for themselves of who would qualify (on scriptural qualifications that are somewhat subjective). An Elder (older person) in some churches might not be the same age as in other churches. Likely the case in the first century as well because people did not live as long as they do today but they were married with children much younger.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m not arguing that someone can’t be an effective leader in their late 30s. But leadership skills (and encouragement skills) doesn’t mean that person meets the qualification of being an “older” person. The evidence I’ve seen actually argues that people in the first century were married with children at a much older age than is normal today. According to the inspired David, the average lifespan was about 75 years in his day.

  3. With respect to DC. —– Elders in their “30’s”? No principle of autonomy gives any congregation the right to overrule Scripture. No preacher is at liberty to overrule or twist the meaning of Scripture (II Tm. 2:15; 4:1-3ff). …… DC’s situation is based on man’s evaluation of a practice. Another “leader” in a congregation removing the name ‘church of Christ” from their building, and adding a bit of instrumental music, while offering “worship” at some point during the week has claimed — the Lord has really blessed us with greater attendance and new members. We are reaching so many people that we could never reach before. Well, bless your heart! Of course Satan is going to bless some of his works–at least enough to confuse the shallow minded. ….. Some Christians have married “outside the Church” and their mate was later converted, so they want to claim — see it works out OK. However, in the majority of cases I’ve observed such marriages either lead to intense heartache and the loss of any children to the Lord, or — in the majority of cases — the Christian falling away. ……. We are never at liberty to endorse a practice acceptable to men that denies a principle revealed by God. We are never at liberty to take scriptural terms and define them in a way that seems right to a man. We are obligated to take the clear sense of that Spoken by the Lord, and cling closely to it for the entirety of our lives (Hb. 1:1-3; 2:1-4; 12:25). …… May God bless His word rightly applied in our life.

  4. A few years ago, when I was about 60, I concluded no man should be an elder under the age of 50. We are “idea” men until leavened by life. Lots of new ideas lead young men into apostasy. Let the young men bring their ideas to the “elders” who as the word simply means older men.
    Now I am 68 and more than ever convinced that elders must be older men. My mentors are both 80. Yes at 68, I still bounce off my mentors, who have been so for 20 years. When I forwarded the position that no man should be an elder under age 50. Both disagreed. They say no man should be an elder under age 60. And one of my mentors says a whole lot of those over 60 should not be either.
    Both mentors have been preachers and Bible class teachers for nearly 60 years. Both have been elders. One has been a missionary, short term and long term. The other has also been a book publisher. (Lev 19:32).
    Additionally, we have been leadershipped to death. In my observations, we have more CEOs and boards of directors, rather than shepherds. When will we become biblical, truly following the scripture????
    When I came out of the baptistery 40 years ago, I thought everyone should hear the gospel, from “me” a mere Christian. And I stumbled around trying to bring folks to the Lord. I did not need a “program” or someone to tell me what I must do to fulfill the great commission. Why is it that folks wait for leaders to tell them, when Jesus, “the leader” has already done so? Have they not been truly converted?
    I moved just a few months after I was baptized in Thailand, to the first larger congregation (about 45), without elders, we started a bus ministry, about 20% of us were teaching the lost individually. We eventually had elders (??), but only for a few months. They were not qualified and soon realized that.
    The next congregation (about 100), had elders, all under age 40 but allowed false teaching and a division. A deacon and I were trying to restore the erring, but the elders (???) did not.
    I could go on, but this will suffice about young elders.
    After leaving the military, I became aware that it seems so many elders are businessmen. But the best elders with whom I became acquainted were not. They were shepherds, in the true spiritual sense.
    One stuttered and worked in a warehouse. I noted, his concern for the flock immediately. If someone was not in worship, he had phoned or called by early Sunday afternoon. The other elder that had a strong impact on me was a retired railroad worker. He established several congregations in Wyoming after he was 65, would not tolerate false doctrine for a minute. Although at the time I knew him, he was 81 and no longer an elder, I recall when an elder (?) attempted to teach a false position on eldership qualifications, , he challenged him immediately, demanding biblical sanction for such error. One evening, his wife told me when he was an elder, he did not get home from “shepherding” before 11 pm every night.
    Nuff said!
    The best elder

  5. So what you are saying is an unmarried man or a married man with no children can NEVER be an elder no matter his age. By this standard, Jesus Christ was not considered an elder nor qualified to Shepard a flock and many of his Apostles also were not qualified to Shepard the flicks and could not have been considered elders. I find your conclusions severely flawed.

    1. So what you are saying is an unmarried man or a married man with no children can NEVER be an elder no matter his age.

      First, let’s be honest with each other. It doesn’t matter what I say. It matters what God says. And God is the one who said an elder MUST (that is, it is a necessity, a non-negotiable) be the husband of one wife. So it is GOD who is saying an unmarried man can never be an elder. God is also the one who said an elder MUST have faithful children. So it is God who says a married man without children cannot be an elder.

      Do you believe the words that God wrote?

      By this standard, Jesus Christ was not considered an elder nor qualified to Shepard a flock and many of his Apostles also were not qualified to Shepard the flicks and could not have been considered elders.

      Jesus wasn’t an elder. And since it is His church, therefore His rules, He is the one who says an unmarried man cannot be an elder in the church.

      All of the apostles, except for Paul, were married (1 Corinthians 9 says this). John was an elder, as was Peter. We aren’t told whether the others ever served in such a capacity. Paul is the one that wrote that an elder “MUST be the husband of one wife.” He understood the words he wrote down, as they are very clear and straight-forward.

      Do you believe the words that God inspired Paul to write down regarding elders?

      I find your conclusions severely flawed.

      By that, I assume you mean you disagree with what God put in the Bible regarding an elder having a wife and children. I recommend you open up your Bible and read what is actually written in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Then ask yourself, did God mean what He said when He said an elder “MUST be the husband of one wife”?

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