By Larry Ray Hafley
Elders-have awesome tasks. They lead and feed the flock of God which is among them (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). They rule the church, “taking the oversight thereof” (1 Them. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Pet. 5:2). Among the many important duties of shepherds is keeping the flock together, maintaining its unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Acts 20:28-32). Some pastors, due to negligence or ignorance, court division. They may unknowingly incite strife and invite rebellion. Their request for trouble is seen when the church is untaught, uninformed, unchallenged, and undisciplined.
An untrained, untaught flock will soon bolt, jump the fence, and eat loco weed, sneeze weed, and Johnson gram — that is, they will turn away their ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables unless the word is preached (2 Tim. 4:24). Elders are charged, not once but twice, to feed the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). It must be something they ought to do I If shepherds of literal sheep fed their flocks like some elders pastor or feed theirs, wool would be a scarce commodity.
Elders may feed by filling the trough full of meetings, classes and home studies, but they should not turn the entire burden of feeding over to others. When a preacher does all the teaching, there is error and danger. First, error comes in that elders are to teach. Secondly, danger develops due to the fact that a flock looks to those who actually feed and lead it and not to those who are supposed to do so. I may own some sheep. If I turn them over to a hired hand to nurture and admonish and step completely aside, when the shepherd says, “Let’s go to the back forty,” and I attempt to step in and say, “No, follow me over here,” they will follow him and not me, even though I am the official leader. Many sad eyed elders have turned over the flock to pastor preachers. Then when they sought to step in during a period of crisis and conflict, the church followed the preacher and the elders were abandoned to the wolves.
Elders must keep the church informed. An unenlightened church is a seething source of potential strife. Overlords do not inform the church as to their plans, purposes or programs. Elders are not the CIA, the secret service portion of the church. Their deeds are not to be performed in a mysterious cloak and closet atmosphere. The saints should not only know what is “going on” but why it is “going on,” since they are the ones who should be integrally involved in the “goings on.”
The New Testament shows that churches, not just elderships, were informed of activities of common interest. The advances and successes and the frustrations and hindrances of the work of Christ should all be reported and recorded (Acts 14:27; Col. 4:7, 16; 1 Thess. 2:2). Let there be no questions arise due to a lack of information and there will be more patience and understanding when sticky situations and difficult decisions are encountered.
Churches and individuals have different capacities. Depending upon their state and stage of growth in grace, brethren can be challenged to accept weightier works. Elders should cultivate maturity and envision the resultant ability to take on accelerated activity. A man may begin by lifting fifty pound weights on a regular basis, but six months later we would not expect him to be carrying the same poundage. He needs to “abound yet more and more.” So with churches. But how many elders challenge the church to flex their added muscles of spiritual strength? Periods of study and preparation must he followed by a proportionate increase in labors of love. The brethren may be fed and fattened on the good word of God, but, lest they grow listless and lethargic, they must work out their own salvation with greater demands of duty. A congregation filled with trained servants can become stale and discontent without a challenge of work. Elders, being elders, should know this. Challenge the church in every scriptural way.
Discipline is done when the church is instructed in righteousness. When a congregation is properly taught, it is disciplined, for teaching is a form of discipline. However, when this fails, disorder is the result and the guilty must be dealt with (2 Thess. 3:6-15). Withdrawing from the disorderly is for the mutual benefit of the offender and the church. The disciple who walks disorderly is to be brought to shame and repentance “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5). This putting away “from among yourselves that wicked person” will remove the evil leaven that may leaven (corrupt) the whole lump (church).
Discipline, when administered with a proper spirit and in accordance with scriptural order, will cause others also to fear (Acts 5: 1-11; 1 Tim. 5: 20). A church that refuses to discipline the disorderly causes a callous disregard and disrespect for authority and a light view of sin to grow in their hearts. A congregation, with no fear of God in their eyes, will certainly not be led to submit themselves to their overseers as they are commanded to do (Heb. 13:17).
Conclusion: When a local body of Christ is left battered, bruised and bleeding in the aftermath of quarrels and division, the question is asked, “What was done to cause such alienation and bitterness?” The question, however, is often not, “What was done?” but rather it is, “What was left undone?” If bishops do not teach, inform, challenge and participate in discipline, they will wake up to find a scattered flock, a divided church, and sickly souls for which they “must give account.”
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 19, pp. 10-11
March 16, 1972