By Ron Halbrook
One of the steps taken by the elders to strengthen the church here in 1985 was an effort to reach the weak and erring before they fell away from Christ completely. When some new deacons were appointed, the specific assignments made to various deacons were discussed and reviewed, and a new task was divided among them all. A peg board was already in use to keep tabs on attendance patterns; at each service, every members pulls his peg and drops it in a box, and a deacon records each member’s attendance on a chart in a notebook. The members’ names were divided among the deacons as a new step, so that each deacon is responsible to check on anyone on his list who is absent. An announcement was made and the lists were posted matching the deacons with the other families in the church. Additional members are added to the lists as they joined themselves to the disciples here (Acts 9:26). If a person knows in advance he will be absent, he can call the appropriate deacon.
When a problem or pattern of absence appears, not only does the deacon try to help and encourage the person involved but also the matter is discussed in the regular meeting of elders and deacons. As a result, counsel is shared on how to best approach the matter and visits are made in an effort to resolve the problem and to help the person grow.
The deacons perform a wide range of tasks, many of them involving physical aspects of the work, but the fact is that there is an interplay between physical and spiritual aspects of the Lord’s work (study Acts 6:1-7). Deacons are selected on the basis of qualifications which reflect spiritual maturity (1 Tim. 3:8-13; Acts 6:1-7). Their office and work cannot encroach upon that of the eldership, but wise elders will find the skills and counsel of deacons to be a great asset in every aspect of the Lord’s work. This does not mean that deacons are “junior elders,” sharing the oversight and rule. Deacons are servants and helpers who minister under the oversight of elders. Elders need the help of such godly men to make their own leadership more effective.
Communication was vital to the effort to identify problems and strengthen the weak. The whole church had to understand the importance of this goal. In addition to public statements, teaching, and admonition, a letter was sent to each family seeking their help and prayers. The elders asked that the letter admit their own neglect in some aspects of dealing with the weak in the past. They wanted everyone to know that they were setting higher goals for themselves in the role of overseers, as well as for the whole church.
The result of communication with and through the evangelist, with and through the deacons, and with each family in the church was that everyone knew exactly what the goals were, what the plan of action was, and what was expected of everyone. The whole church began to pull together and the elders have continued to do a more effective job in helping the weak. This does not mean that we have no more weak Christians among us. It does mean that we are trying more earnestly to help them grow and to reach them before they fall away completely.
The letter which the elders sent as one phase of communications higher goals in this area of their work is published below.
Letter from the Elders to Every Member of the Church Here at West Columbia
Dear brother and sisters in Christ,
As elders, overseers, and shepherds, we bear two heavy responsibilities according to Hebrew 13:17. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”
First, we must “watch for your souls.” That means to watch with love and care for the well-being of each soul here. We watch for signs of growth and progress so that we may encourage you to continue in that direction. We also watch for signs of weakness and wavering so that we may help you to change your direction for the better. Every effort is for your profit and for your gain spiritually.
Second, we are responsible to give an account of our efforts to Christ himself. There will be great joy when we tell the story of the progress of those who are growing. We will have grief and sorrow when we must tell of those who wavered and then fell away. On that Last Great Day, we cannot profit you any longer.
We are constantly looking for ways to profit and help you more. As you know from your home life and other relationships, some acts of love are difficult and painful to perform, but they must be performed if the bonds of love are to grow. This letter speaks of some difficult and painful duties of love, but it will bear fruit for the good of us all if we can be united in doing what God teaches us to do. We ask for your prayers, your moral support, and your help in every possible way.
As elders we confess our neglect in following to completion God’s plan to strengthen the weak and to restore the fallen. There is the need for greater diligence in following every step of God’s plan, including the final withdrawal of fellowship. With God’s help and your help, we want to be better leaders in this area.
One of the danger signs in a Christian’s life is a lukewarm attitude toward the duty of assembling with the saints each time they meet (Heb. 10:25; Rev. 3:15-16). Such things as old age, sickness, and job requirements are not sinful; we do not have them in mind. But willful absence is sinful. Willful absence sears the conscience (1 Tim. 4:2), sets the wrong example (Matt. 18:6), and leads to other kinds of unfaithfulness (Gal. 5:19-21). After much exhortation and warning, the church must “withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly” (1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:6).
We want to do a better job and encourage everyone to help us in calling, visiting, teaching, admonishing, and rebuking those who are willfully absent. When we see a Christian missing from our assembly, let us inquire where they are and contact them to see if they need our help in any way. Please expect someone to contact you when you are absent. You can help by getting the word to one of the elders or deacons if you get sick or when you know in advance you cannot be here. Any time you learn that a person is absent only a few times or is habitually absent, please help us to be more effective in reaching that person.
Some of you can help us by being more careful to pull your peg on the attendance board. With the appointment of new deacons shortly, we will divide the names or our members among the deacons so they can help us to stay in better touch with you about your attendance.
When a person obeys the gospel, he is asking Christ and the people of God to follow God’s plan completely if he begins to stumble or if he falls away. We fail in our duty to God and to our erring brother if we fail to do everything the Bible teaches in an effort to reach the erring. The church must continue in the relationship, fellowship, and process of working with these people until the point of a final withdrawal of fellowship. Final withdrawal is designed to bring the erring to repentance (1 Cor. 5:5), to assure the removal of the leaven of sin from the church (1 Cor. 5:6-7), and to cause others to fear (1 Tim. 5:20). Final withdrawal is a part of God’s plan and must not be neglected.
The church at West Columbia continues to have a great potential for good in the service of the Lord. Let us unite in love and patience toward the weak and the erring. Let us work closely with them as long as they show any desire to grow and to correct their lives. If there are spiritual problems in Your life and you are willing to talk with us, please contact us and we will get together with you. If you have any suggestions on this matter, let us know. May all of us unite in following every step of God’s plan regarding those who stumble or fall away. We ask the prayers and the help of every deacon, of all our teachers, of the evangelist, and of each member of the church.
With our love and care for each of you,
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 21, pp. 648-649
November 1, 1990