Elder attended the Virginia Military Institute for three years before transferring to Baylor University in Waco, Texas to pursue a career in ministry. He completed his bachelor of arts in religion in 1964 and married the former Linda Newman the following year. He continued his studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, completing a master of divinity in 1968.
In 1971 Elder was named chair of the Bible department at Memphis University School. He left after a year to become an assistant professor of religion at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas. He completed a Ph.D. in biblical studies at Baylor in 1974 and accepted a job with the Southern Baptist Convention in 1978.
In 1981 Elder became pastor of the St Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. In 1985 he took the pulpit at Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1989 he moved to Birmingham to become senior pastor for Vestavia Hills Baptist Church. He left in 1992 to found MountainTop Community Church, with a goal of reaching people who did not attend church, employing extensive outreach programs and contemporary-style worship services. He began leading services in homes with as few as 10 people in attendance. In 2001, MountainTop moved into a 34-acre, $11.5 million campus on U. S. Highway 31 in Vestavia Hills with a 1,700 seat sanctuary.
Elder and his wife, Linda, have one son, Bill IV, two daughters, Kristin, and Sally, and five granddaughters.
- Garrison, Greg (September 26, 2010) "MountainTop Community Church founder Bill Elder returns to the pulpit." Birmingham News
- Pastor Bill at mountaintopchurch.com