A couple thoughts of mine on the topic of lay-elders. Just sort of hammering out some thoughts here, as it's a topic I'm still digging through Scripture to resolve. I grew up Presbyterian, where the church organization would feature a senior "teaching elder" accompanied by a number of lay elders, who were generally NOT seminary-educated but were simply full-time doctors or plumbers or whatever and who served as elders once a week, basically. Over the last few years I've really started to question this practice, because it seems to me that this invariably leads to a system of unqualified men serving in leadership roles in the church, and I wonder if this goes against a part of what the Apostle Paul described to Timothy as requirements for what the elder role should be, namely this particular passage:
1 Timothy 3:6: "He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil."
That term "new convert" in the ESV is νεόφυτος (neophytos) in Greek, meaning one who has recently become a Christian, but I think that the KJV rendering of this term is interesting, and telling, in that it uses "novice." And while I'm sure there are lay officers installed that have a solid Christian walk (and perhaps some Seminary education) it makes me wonder what the danger is in trusting the leadership of the church to men who haven't really been thoroughly tested in the faith through the rigors of seminary dedication (particularly in the Presbyterian situation where, as I recall, lay elders would teach/lead worship). I don't believe that seminary is mandatory, but it definitely plays a big part in training up men who have solid, comprehensive understanding of not just exegeting scripture, but church history, systematic theology, hermeneutics, counseling, teaching, etc.
Oak Ridge Reformed Baptist, where is attend now, is led by a plurality of two extremely-gifted teaching elders, one fully-seminary educated and the other very close. This model of multiple teaching elders seems like the right direction for a number of reasons: first, because, as I understand it, the term for overseer, ἐπισκοπή, is generally used in the plural in Paul's epistle to Timothy. I think there are other spots in the New Testament that talk about multiple men leading specific churches. But the second reason is that it appears that there's something of a blessing in relaxing the practice of only one guy being the "ringleader" of the church, and instead dividing up the teaching and leadership responsibilities between two or more men. Speaking as laity, I can see how that should mean less burden exclusively placed on one man, but rather one or more men work together, support each other, share teaching responsibilities together, handle issues of the church together, etc. Having become part of a model of elder plurality, I can't see ever going back to the singular model again.
That being said, I'm reminded of the last church we attended. Good ministry with solid teaching by two very talented seminary-educated men. But one of the things they did, which I found a little questionable, was the planting of an off-shoot church work led by two men who were NOT seminary educated, and who were instead privately educated by the church leadership prior to being installed at the church plant. I had some trouble with this, in that I think this goes against I Tim. 3:6 cited above: again, this seems to speak of installing "novices" in place of men who have undergone 2-3 years of dedicated, focused seminary training. The heavy-duty reading, the rigorous exegesis, the Hebrew/Greek/Aramaic, the living-breathing God's word. A man who dedicates those years of time to seminary reminds me of how the prophet Elijah had to spend 3 years living in the wilderness, waiting and trusting in God, or how the Apostle Paul spent 14 years in the desert drawing close to God before his ministry work began. There's something there about the importance of dedication, training, preparedness, that you don't pick up studying theology in someone's home. I could be wrong, but I'll say this much: when Pastor Justin comes back to visit from Southern to teach, it's such a blessing to be able to glean from the knowledge and understanding that God is cultivating in him during his seminary studies. Seminary education is so foundation to what the elder role needs to be.
Paul's warning in I Tim. 3:6 speaks of someone who is newly-planted that, in their immaturaity, risks being puffed up with pride. But more than that, I would be concerned that an inexperienced elder is just not tested, and would not be prepared for every situation to be expected as an elder, be it experience in teaching adn answering difficult questions, being able to provide deep, sound expositions of text, or even the ability to faithfully and Biblically offer council. I just can't see that being cultivated out of a dedicated seminary experience.
It's like the situation of needing heart surgery: I could go with the man who's studied the body in school for several years and has gained extensive, valuable experience, or the nurse who has watched, been involved, and participated in, heart surgery, but never went to school for it. Or even the intern - with some school but not the full training and degree. If I needed the surgery, I would INSIST on the doctor, not the nurse or the intern.