By Andy Alexander
The local church of Christ is to be overseen by men who meet all of the qualifications given in the New Testament (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 3:1-7). These men are to rule in the congregation as taught by the Scriptures (Heb. 13:17; Acts 20:28-30). They are to, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof not be constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (I Pet. 5:2-3). This job, when properly fulfilled, is tremendous blessing to a local congregation. And congregations who have dedicated men faithfully carrying out this difficult task should be ever thankful to God for this blessing.
The apostle Paul instructed the Thessalonians, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (1 Thess. 5:12-13). Many of us (members of the local church) do not witness all the effort that is put into overseeing the work; therefore we may fail to fully appreciate their work. For that reason the admonition of the apostle Paul is needed. We need to consider the work that is being done and let the elders know that we are grateful to them for taking the time to study and make decisions that help the congregation grow spiritually.
Too often we are quick to find fault or let it be known that if we were making the decisions we would operate in a different fashion than those men who are currently serving and making decisions. However, if we were in exactly the same position and had access to the same facts the elders had access to, we may very well have made the exact same decision. Let us always think good of the men who lead the local church. They are human and they will make mistakes at times, but rarely, if ever, will the elders of a local congregation knowingly do anything that will hurt the work. If they are qualified, then they surely understand that they will give account to God for their stewardship (Heb. 13:17).
Managers or owners of most businesses will often hear from customers who are dissatisfied with their product or service. Ninety-eight percent of their customers may be completely satisfied and they may never hear a word from them. Silence is one form of approval and most business-men know this to be the case, so it is not too discouraging when no one calls or writes to extol the virtues of their product or service. However, the two percent who are unhappy will most certainly be heard and these can be a grief to a company. Sometimes the fault lies with the purchaser and not the company who manufactured the product, but still the company will hear the complaints.
This same scenario can happen in the local church. The elders may hear from those who are upset about some decision that is made or action that is taken. That is fine; it is part of the work of the overseers and they expect to hear criticism from time to time. In fact, constructive criticism is welcomed because they will always want to serve God and the brethren better. We should never be afraid to approach the elders with some problem or question that we may have.
Like the illustration above, there are many times when everything is going well and things are progressing steadily and we neglect to tell the elders that we appreciate the work they are doing. Not that they have to have us thank them, but it is good to know that people notice. All of us in our jobs or hobbies like to feel appreciated. It lifts our spirits when someone thanks us or commends us for a job well done and it also causes us to want to do a better job. The elders are no different, it is a boost to their spirit when someone lets them know they are appreciated. This is one form of exhortation that we can practice (Heb. 3:13).
Consider the work the elders do for the local congregation and remember this work is in addition to their work as husbands and fathers, providers for the family, and the ordinary activities of life.
They oversee the teaching program, the material and the teachers who will teach. This is an on-going responsibility and one that takes much time. Also included in this is the selection of men who will hold meetings in the future. Suggestions are welcomed from the members, but these suggestions must be checked out and arrangements made for their coming.
The elders usually handle an extra load of correspondence. Men who write and request financial support need to be answered. Questions or comments sometimes arrive in the mail and these deserve their attention, so some of their time will be used in reading and responding to these inquiries.
Individual problems arise from time to time that will require the attention of the elders. Personal visits to erring members sometimes have to be made and many times more than a few visits are required before a problem can be resolved. Sometimes the elders will have to help two brothers work out differences so that peace in the local church can be maintained. Again, this takes time, sometimes much time, and this is being done while the rest of the congregation is going about its ordinary daily activities.
In addition to these activities, the elders are usually called to the hospital or home of a sick brother or sister in Christ for their prayers and/or help in some situation that the sickness has created.
Many elders also teach Bible classes during the year and this adds to their work load. They must find time to study their lesson as any other teacher, but also continue to shepherd the flock in all the ways that we have discussed.
Remember, much of this type of work goes unnoticed by the congregation as a whole. While we are busy attending ball games, watching television, visiting our relatives, fishing, playing golf, or working overtime to bring additional revenue for the house-hold, the elders are quietly giving their time to overseeing the flock. Let us be thankful for the men who are fulfilling this responsibility and let us remember to thank them as well, thus encouraging them to better service for the Lord.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 7 p. 9-10
April 6, 1995