By Donnie V. Rader
On Sunday March 10, 1996, Dave King, Padro Featherstone, Clayton Curtis, and George Gibbs were appointed as the elders of the El Bethel Church of Christ in Shelbyville, Tennessee. This El Bethel church began in April 1961. This is the first time elders have been appointed here. Obviously, this was a great milestone for this congregation.
This is more than just a report about the progress of one local church. There are several things to be learned from what took place at El Bethel. It may be that sharing this would be helpful to other churches.
There Are Still Churches That Want
To Follow God’s Plan
In too many places churches have gone for as many or more years than we did without elders and have no plans or goals for elders. I see more and more churches without elders. I see some churches that have had elders in the past and that have little prospect of elders in the future.
It seems to me that there are a number of churches that really don’t want elders. It seems that there is a trend away from an eldership to a men’s business meeting as a permanent substitute. Then the shift is away from having a men’s business meeting to congregational meetings where men and women meet together to decide the business of the church. These efforts are going in the wrong direction (away from scriptural organization, Phil. 1:1) instead of shooting toward the goal of having what God revealed in his word.
The appointment of elders here will let a few places know that there are still churches that want to follow God’s plan. May our example be followed by others.
Appointing Elders Can Be Done
Peacefully and Orderly
We worked toward this goal for two years. Throughout this period we had peace and harmony. In so many places trying to appoint elders is a tense and trying time. Some will threaten to leave and take some with them if elders are appointed (especially if a certain man is appointed). At times it can be divisive to go through this process.
Not only did we not have a storm, we didn’t even have the first ripple. We were all united on the need for having elders. We were together on God’s plan for elders. We all agreed on how to go about the selection process. When all was decided and finalized, we left our last business meeting united about the outcome and supportive of the four men who would be our elders.
This was possible because of the growth and maturity of the people who make up this congregation. I have witnessed considerable growth in the two years that I have been with them.
The Plan We Followed
When I talked with the church here about moving, I asked if there was any potential for elders in the near future. Most of the men agreed that there was not only a desire to have elders, but some men who were either qualified or would be soon. One brother spoke up (with others nodding in agreement) that this church would like for me (the new preacher) to help them work toward that goal of having elders.
Within two months of our moving we laid out a plan that covered a two-year period getting ready for an elder-ship. I realize that two years isn’t necessary in some places. However, when a church has never had elders it takes some time to get the church ready for elders. Like many other places some have grown up here and now their children have obeyed the gospel and there still were no elders. I am convinced that our two years of preparation had a lot to do with things going so smoothly. Below is a summary of the plan (which we simply called “A Two Year Plan For Elders At El Bethel) we adopted and presented to the congregation:
1. The purpose of this plan: Over a period of two years (Spring of 1994 to Spring of 1996) we will think, plan, teach, and work toward having elders. The goals of the plan are: (a) Prepare the congregation to follow elders, (b)Encourage young men (who now are not qualified) to work toward being elders someday, (c) Encourage men who are either now qualified or close to being qualified to prepare themselves to accept the office of the elder-ship, (d) Encourage the congregation to pray fervently during this period about having elders at El Bethel, and (e) To see if we have men who could serve well as elders.
2. The plan: The plan that is herein suggested involves several things: (a) Announcing to the congregation the plan so all the members are informed, (b) Frequently re-minding us that we need to pray for having elders in both public and private prayers. (Note: For two years I don’t think we had a service to pass that we didn’t have some-one mention our working toward elders in the prayers.) (c) Encourage the members to talk to those they think could be qualified. Those that they feel are qualified should be encouraged to serve. Those that may be lacking in some area should be kindly encouraged to improve, change, or grow as the case may be. (d) Teach several lessons and series of lessons to help prepare the congregation and any potential elders. (e) At the end of the two years (early 96), it is agreed to ask the congregation to look among them to see if there are a plurality of men qualified to serve. If we find a plurality of men qualified and willing to serve, we will appoint them immediately (early 1996). If we do not find men qualified at the time, we will discuss in a business meeting what the potential for future elders will be. (Note: We agreed that if elders were not selected in this effort that we would keep resetting a goal and target date until finally we were organized as the Bible teaches.) Agreeing to this plan does not say that we will or must appoint elders in early 1996. It only agrees that we study it and see if we can have elders at that time.
3. The lessons and time frame: Below are the sermons and classes that we laid out before the congregation in advance. (a) In February, March, and April of 1994 a series of five sermons on “God has a plan.” This series shows that God has given us a pattern or plan to follow. Just as God has a plan for worship, the church, etc., he has a plan for each church having elders. (b) March 1994 through the rest of the year study the book of Acts in the Sunday auditorium class. This study will give emphasis to the development of local churches. We will see how they appointed elders in a short period of time. (c) Summer 1994 A series of ten lessons on “We Are Brethren.” The emphasis here is to work together as brethren. It involves a plea to work together and not pull in different directions. This is needed when going through two critical times: selecting elders and selecting a preacher.
(d) Fall 1994 A sermon or two on why some churches don’t want elders. In this we will deal with some common ideas that stand in the way of having elders such as: “We are doing alright without elders,” men’s business meetings becoming a permanent substitute for elders and how some men are afraid of losing their “say so” if elders are appointed. (e) January and February 1995 a special study on Sunday evenings for one hour prior to services on “Leadership.” This will be six lessons. This will be for men and women. This will deal with principles of leadership. We will look at the type of things elders have to deal with. Students in the class will be asked how they think the elders should handle this or that situation. This will have three objectives: 1. Prepare men to lead. 2. Prepare wives for their husbands to lead. 3. Prepare others to understand what the elders deal with as they lead. (f) Spring 1995 a series of five lessons on “Goals For Every Church.” This will include studies on: 1. Being scriptural, 2. Growing, 3. Being united, 4. Being a clean and strong church, and 5. Developing and appointing elders. (g) Summer 1995 A series of three to five lessons on the New Testament church with an emphasis on God’s plan for the church to have elders. (h) Fall 1995 a thorough series on the eldership (ten lessons or more).
We had planned our work then we set out to work our plan. The studies climaxed with the series of ten lessons on the eldership. The sermons included: 1. The organization of the church (Oct. 8), 2. Misconceptions about elders (Oct. 29), 3. The authority of elders (Nov. 5), 4. The work of elders (Nov. 12), 5. Attitudes toward the qualifications (Nov. 19), 6. The qualifications (part 1 – Nov. 26), 7. The qualifications (part 2 – Dec. 10), 8. Responsibility toward elders (Dec. 17), 9. The elder’s wife (Dec. 24) and 10. Questions about the eldership (Dec. 31). In this study we followed H.E. Phillips’ book Scriptural Elders And Deacons as an outline and study guide. Many brought the book to services and followed by underlining and making marginal notes in the book during the sermons.
Plan For The Selection, Objections and Appointing
1. The congregation was asked to turn names in. We printed up some forms that had all the qualifications listed with two boxes to mark beside each qualification. The first was to be checked showing that you have given serious thought and study to that qualification and you feel that you understand what it means. The second box was to be checked showing that you have given consideration to whether the man you are suggesting meets this qualification or not. This kept names from coming in without thought and consideration. Two week were given to gathering suggested names.
2. The names were put before the congregation to ask if there were any objections. We printed up another form for objections that listed every qualification. We asked that anyone objecting to a man cite which qualification he/she felt he did not meet. We asked that the form be signed. We all agreed that only those objections that were written down and signed would be given serious consideration. We asked that those objecting do more than just cite a qualification that they felt this brother did not meet. We urged that they give an explanation. All were encouraged to go to the brother they were objecting to and let him know of the objections and why. This, we felt, would prevent some “frivolous” objection keeping a qualified man from serving.
3. The men met in a business meeting and decided whether the objections were valid or not. We took each objection up and discussed them thoroughly. Each man who had a question or objection was given ample time to state, develop or argue his case. Then we had to decide whether the objections were valid.
4. Elders were appointed March 10, 1996.
We are already at work on selecting deacons. In fact, by the time this is printed deacons will have been appointed. Also, the future looks bright as far as more elders are concerned. We have a number of young men who are shaping their lives and their families in such a way that there is no doubt about future elders.
I recognize that it is not an unusual thing for a church to appoint elders. However, I felt that there might be a few things in this that might be helpful to a few other churches.
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 16, p. 12-14
August 15, 1996