Carl Trueman writes well of the distinictive qualification for elders:
Last week, I posted a note on Ref21 concerning the importance of guarding the teaching office in the church. As a result of that, I was asked what the implications of such might be for those often called 'ruling elders' in Presbyterianism, men who are called to leadership roles within the church which involve significant doctrinal responsibility but who are not regularly engaged in preaching or the administration of the sacraments.
Such elders are, according to Paul, to be competent to teach (1 Tim. 3:2) and doctrinally sound and trustworthy (Tit. 1:9), in addition to being competent managers of their own lives, above reproach and respected in the wider community outside the church. Needless to say, the vows they take are as serious and as binding as those who preach (incidentally, membership vows are just as solemnly binding; a vow is, after all, a vow). And they do need to take such vows -- accountability is critical for all involved in any way in the public teaching of God's word.
Doctrinal competence is non-negotiable. It is the one major difference between qualifications for being a deacon and being an elder and it speaks clearly to the nature of the office. Elders have responsibility for the doctrinal integrity of the congregations in which they are placed. They are to be sound in life and doctrine and be able to teach. This does not necessarily mean pulpit ministry; but it does mean the ability to instruct others in the faith in some church context, as, for example Sunday school or pastoral visitation or in so
This means that the elders are have a responsibility to make sure that the minister's teaching each week is orthodox. If it is not so, and if they then fail to act, they are as culpable for the propagation of error as the minister himself.
It also means that the elders are to help ensure an environment conducive to the sound teaching of the word. This may take many forms. Most significant, I believe, is the consistent protection of the minister from hypercritical members of the congregation. This is not because the minister is above criticism but because he is always vulnerable to discouragement at the hands of cranks with assorted axes to grind. Elders should function as his bodyguard, weeding out unfair criticism and rebuking crackpots.
Because of the huge responsibility towards the church which elders carry, they are also to continue to study diligently and thus to make sure that their knowledge of theology is constantly being strengthened.
Finally, elders find their place in a structure of accountability which connects
congregation to eldership to presbytery, at least if one is a Presbyterian. The call comes from the congregation. There is no self-appointment to this role any more than there is with ministers. Public accountability to the church is the name of the game. After all, when it comes to the public teaching of the Word and the promotion of that teaching, there are no biblical structures of accountability which are not simultaneously churchly structures of accountability.