By W.R. Jones
Serving as an elder of the church is a rather awesome responsibility if a man takes it seriously. If he doesn’t take it seriously, then he shouldn’t be one in the first place. Thus, in admonishing Christians to obey the elders the Hebrew writer states, “for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account” (Heb. 13:17). Watching for souls, and this generally includes quite a number who really don’t want to be watched for in the first place, is no little task. The burden is made lighter by remembering what an honor it is before God to serve in this capacity. To be a good elder there are several things which are absolutely necessary. In selecting elders many Christians look no further than family requirements. If a man has some lovely children who are obedient, they consider the prospect well qualified. Others are well satisfied if the prospect has proven himself to be a good business man. Christians with such attitudes are spiritually ignorant and have limited vision.
An Elder Must Desire the Work!
This is not an “office seeking” attitude, but a free and genuine desire and willingness to “use and be used” in God’s work. “This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work” (1 Tim. 3:1). He is not to desire the office for prestige, power or prominence, but to serve the Lord in all humility. Elders who are offering a reluctant sacrifice need to change their attitude. There is no way to find happiness in half-hearted service. An elder’s wife needs to understand the nature of the work and encourage her husband in every possible way. I have known of elders who not only carried the burden of the office, which is enough within itself, but carried an additional home burden because their wives resented their work for the Lord. What a shame!
An Elder Must Desire to Lead!
As shepherds, elders must lead God’s people. Lead them into the “riches of his grace.” Lead them into “purity” and “unity.” Lead them into “spiritual productivity.” Therefore, elders ought to be thinking out ahead of the people. I have known many elders who only did what they were compelled to do by pressure applied by the members. This is not leading! I have known elders who were like a hound dog I once knew. He would run just in front of the horses who were pulling the wagon. It looked like he was leading, but when he came to a fork in the road he ran over to the side and waited to see which way the team was going, and then he took up his fake lead position again. That is just not leading! True leadership demands thought, time, patience, prayer and courage. There is no way to truly lead without these things in an elder’s life.
An Elder Must Be Willing To Rebuke the Wayward!
There is no easy way to do this. In the work of overseeing, this is the most difficult task I encountered while serving as an elder. It is not all that difficult as an evangelist to stand behind the pulpit and rebuke the people for their sins, but “face to face” it is not so easy. But, it must be done! Elders must be sensitive enough to detect a straying sheep quickly, and loving enough to act without delay that a soul may not be lost. Elders often excuse themselves with a “wait and see” attitude. Of course, they must be patient, but most of the time “wait and see” is simply a “cop-out from duty.” Overseers must be willing to take the lead in discipline, both instructive and corrective. This can’t be accomplished by the “faint hearted.”
An Elder Must Understand the Value of Teamwork!
God authorized “elders” (plural). When you have a number of men who are leading “together,” it demands teamwork. Those involved may not have exactly the same talents and temperaments, but they all can and must contribute their part. A failure to do this will result in one or more taking too much lead and that it not good. An elder should not be simply an “objector, ” but a “contributor. ” You cannot have good teamwork without good communication and that means overseers need to keep their heads together.
I don’t believe there is anyway to do this without talking. They may not always agree one-hundred percent, but if they truly love the Lord and his church then something good will always come from their talking. Sometimes elders become too busy to communicate except briefly “on the run,” and this doesn’t give time for much thought. When elders become too busy to properly oversee they have become too busy!
There isn’t anything the church of the Lord needs more than godly elders. We badly need men who are willing to prepare for this great work. But, alas, there are many who are not willing to study, grow, work, and prepare for this great effort. We will never just “accidentally” have good overseers. Young men should start preparing and then be ready when the time comes. Instead of this, the time comes and then we scramble to get someone acceptable enough to get in. This is a poor way to run God’s business. Then in some places we have the “extra critical” members who make it impossible for the very best of men to serve God in this capacity. These people may mean well, but they do harm to the progress of the kingdom. In conclusion, let us remember, there is nothing that will stablize and strengthen the Lord’s church more than godly elders. May their tribe increase.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 24, p. 751
December 19, 1991