"And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves" (I Thessalonians 5:12-13). What are we doing when we recognize elders? I believe this scripture, along with the statement of Paul in Acts 20:28, gives us the answer. We can only recognize what God has done--what He has given. When Paul and Timothy "appointed" elders, I believe they were "pointing out" what God had already done. It is God who gives men the grace to function in this position, so men only point out what God has done so that it may be clear to all.
I think it is important to see that men do not make an elder an elder. We cannot give grace to a man, and we cannot give him authority. Our place is simply to recognize (or not recognize) the authority of God's grace coming to us through a human vessel. If grace is there, it is because God has given it and our responsibility is just to recognize and benefit from it. The brother who has received this grace from God is responsible to function in that grace (before God) and lay down his life for the flock. It is not a "lording over" but a serving of Christ to every member according to the leading of God. He is responsible for this before God and will give an answer for his labor.
"Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct" (Hebrews 13:7). "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17). This is a passage in scripture that many would like to eliminate because it seems contrary to their understanding. But if we understand authority and recognition properly, I don't think we need to fear or ignore this scripture. We are not obeying the man separate from God. We are obeying the grace of God coming to us through the man. That is a very different thing. As we obey, we will benefit and grow in our relationship with God. That is the final test.
As we have mentioned several times, eldership is God's design, not man's idea. If we see God's design clearly, we will realize that it is the responsibility of elders to move in the authority and the love of God--they must go together. It is the responsibility of every member to submit to God (in a right relationship), and if we do that, we will be able to hear the voice of God through men and respond to God properly. Again, recognition is simply recognizing what God has already done. Our response is unto God, never just to men. If the word of God is coming to us through men, then we are hearing God and the vessel is forgotten.
So many times, the problem is that we are not hearing God through men, but just the men themselves. This can happen for many reasons, but if this is the case, our relationship with God will not be benefited. We may receive ideas (even good ideas) or truth, but no power with it, or glory to God. We may even do what an elder tells us to do, but if we have not heard God and seen clearly for ourselves, we will probably take the direction wrongly and not benefit. So again, why is eldership so often misunderstood, ignored, or abused? It is because it is done on a natural level instead of in a proper relationship with God. The command is to recognize those who are laboring in the grace of God and to benefit from that grace. Can we do that?