The importance of the leadership of elders is evident thoughout the teachings of Paul in the Bible. He delivered the famine gift from the church at Antioch to the elders of the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:30). He appointed elders on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:23) and addressed the holders of this office later in Phillipi (Phil. 1:1) He charged the Ephesian elders to "be on guard"  and to "shepherd the church of God" (Acts 20:28). He even wrote down instructions about the qualifications that should be considered when choosing elders (1 Tim3;Titus 1). The book of Phillipians (letter to the church at Phillipi) is specifically addressed to the "overseers (elders) and deacons". In 1st Timothy chapters 3 & 5, Paul states that the duties of an overseer (elder) were to teach and preach, direct the affairs of the church, to shepherd the flock of God, and to guard the church from error (false teachings and preachings).

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The Greek for this word means simply "one who serves". The men chosen in the book of Acts were probably not only the first deacons mentioned in the New Testament, but also the first to be appointed in the church. Generally, their service was meant to free the elders to give full attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.