By Dorvall L. McClister
Elders and Business Meetings
I do not oppose business meetings which are conducted to discuss matters which pertain to the building, maintenance of property, and other matters which may arise. However, the business meeting can become a very sorry substitute for the eldership, and it can easily become the decision-making body within the church even where there are elders. Elders sit down once each month with all the men of the congregation and listen to wranglings and arguments over matters which should never be discussed in a business meeting. Another problem with the business meeting is that it can also function as a steering committee to influence the elders to make decisions which favor the majority of the members. I have known of business meetings being conducted and after discussing an issue it would be brought to a vote and a decision rendered by the voice of the majority. When elders allow a matter to be settled by majority rule, they surrender their position as elders of the church. Where there are elders who do their job sincerely and according to the Scriptures and where there are deacons who render the services needed within the local congregation, there is not a great need for conducting monthly business meetings other than to report on the work accomplished and to account for the money spent from the treasury. The business meeting must never be allowed to become a substitute for the eldership, nor as a committee which renders the decisions, thus becoming the overseeing body within the church. If the local church has no elders to oversee the work, then it becomes necessary for the members to meet and discuss those matters which involve the work of the church. Yet in the final analysis; the business meeting concept generally follows the principle of rule by the majority.
Preacher Serving Also As Elder
In many cases a preacher can serve as an elder if he has been with the local church for a long time. In selecting the preacher to serve, he must be given the same scrutiny as any other man. Just because he is a preacher, this does not qualify him for an elder. He must also meet the other qualifications. It is my personal convictions that it would be difficult for a preacher to serve where he and only one other man were the elders. I do not believe it is unscriptural for the preacher to serve with one other man, but it is not an ideal situation. He must constantly guard against the accusation of “the pastor” position, as it will easily appear to be such in -the eyes of some of the members. Where there are three or four men who comprise the eldership, the relationship is much more relaxed. And there is always a problem when there are only two elders over a congregation. Often one of the elders is away and this leaves the church with really no oversight if a situation should arise where there had to be a decision rendered. Three or more elders would be ideal, but two elders will probably have problems, especially if one is the local preacher.
Problems Within The Church
Seldom, if ever, do we find a congregation without a single problem. Elders of the church have the responsibility of keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Yet there will be misunderstandings and elders will, at times, make a wrong decision. Elders are not infallible men, and they ought to correct their mistakes immediately. In so doing they will not only correct an error but they will also establish a greater degree of confidence and respect among those whom they lead.
False teachers find their way into the local church, and elders must guard at all times to detect and identify the false teachers. When error is taught, the elders must approach the teacher and discuss the matter. Here is where the important qualification of being able to convince the gainsayers will count (Titus 1:9). This is where his ability to instruct someone in the way of truth must be applied. If the false teacher refuses to accept the truth, then the elders must stand before the church, point out the error, and name the false teacher. Such leavening must be purged out before the entire church is contaminated.
Elders are to feed the flock of God which is among them (1 Pet. 5:2). But what happens when some of the members refuse to be fed? Elders must provide spiritual nourishment for the flock, but what happens when some members of the church refuse to be present and partake? In such cases, elders must sit down and have a talk with those who disregard the matter of faithful attendance to duty. Weak and weary Christians must be handled with patience. Individually, it must be made certain that they understand their spiritual problem. Admonition is in order at first with gentle persuasion and study. Other periods may require reproof of strong rebuke. If it proves to be a case where no heed is given to scriptural warnings, then the unfaithful must be marked and disfellowshipped.
The problem of worldliness often raises its head among God’s people. They become so bogged down with the job, social functions, recreational trips, ball games, and other activities that the church and its work suffers at their absence. Teaching, and more teaching upon putting first the kingdom of God is the first attack upon worldliness. Point out the sin for what it is and let it be known that the problem is known by all and that it involves a lack of love for God (I John 2:15). Worldliness becomes the cause for unfaithfulness, and it must be treated the same.
Disputes Among Members
Disputes will often arise among members of the church, and such disputes and anger must be subdued. Guilty parties should be contacted by the elders and brought together, and their problems solved before gossip leads to taking sides and unfriendliness develops. If a personal feud gets to the point where it disrupts the unity within the church, the elders must step in and settle the problem.
Problems With The Preacher
The local evangelist is not “the pastor” of the church, even within a congregation where there are no elders. Some preachers have a strong urge to run the church and become the leader of the group. They believe that elders are only figureheads without any authority, and such a preacher will soon become busy undermining the eldership by meeting with members and circulating petitions to get rid of the elders. When a church hires a man who wants to be “the pastor,” then the church is on a course for serious trouble. The preacher can generally manipulate a sufficient number of the members on his side to divide the church before his scheme can be uncovered.
A problem of this nature generally divides the church and leaves in shambles years of faithful toil and labor. Elders, at times, seem to become desperate for a preacher and accept a man without looking into his background. A preacher can generally get someone from among his followers to recommend him for a preaching position. If the man is unknown by the church where he seeks to work, the elders ought to contact congregations where he has previously worked or worshiped and get some facts about the man. If he has a history of problems with other congregations, he will probably be a problem wherever he goes.
A preacher who seeks to undermine the eldership and gain a following of his own must be dealt with immediately and effectively. He should be considered as a false teacher and a busybody. The only effective solution to the problem is immediate dismissal of the man and a complete and documented report made public.
Swaying The Elders
Family, friends, and relatives often have bearings upon our decisions, and pressures from these relationships can be used to affect a decision by the elders of the church. Elders must not allow such to enter in and influence their work. The church did not appoint the elder’s wife, children, relatives, or friends as advisers to him. An elder who can be swayed or influenced, or who must need to counsel with his wife or relatives before he can reach a decision is a man lacking in sobriety. He either cannot think for himself or he is afraid to do so.
Popular opinion or the majority of the members should never be allowed to influence elders in their work. When elders keep their ears tuned to the beat of the majority they become nothing more than puppets to be manipulated to endorse whatever the members want. Every major apostasy, and most of the evil which enters in and destroys the Lord’s people generally enter the church by the endorsement of elders who have been influenced by popular demand or the majority of the members wanting it. As an elder, let the New Testament Scriptures be the only scales upon which you weigh your decisions on any matter.
As elders are to be the overseers of the local church, they are also responsible for overseeing the discipline of the church. The New Testament teaches us “to withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly” (I Thess. 3:6). This is never a pleasant task, yet nevertheless it is essential to the spiritual purity of the church. The procedure also requires great patience and wisdom. It is easy at times for anger to be stirred against the guilty party or against the elders. There are occasions when the execution of disciplinary action against a member creates a problem greater than the one which it was originally designed to solve. Questions and more questions arise such as, “Why discipline one when there are others who need the same?” This is the problem which arises when discipline is not practiced with consistency. Some churches will put off this difficult task because no one wants to get involved. Then a backlog of offenses are accumulated over the years and no one knows where to begin and where to end. Nothing is accomplished in withdrawing from a member who has not attended the services in the past five years. Effective discipline must be administered concurrently with the offense. Make sure that every member of the church is well informed and every member has been encouraged to do in a personal way what they can to restore the erring member (Gal. 6:1). Every member of the church has a responsibility here. When every effort has been made to restore the erring member and there is no indication of repentance, then an announcement of withdrawal of fellowship must be made before the church.
A question is asked at times concerning 1 Corinthians 5:11, where Paul instructs the Corinthians not to keep company with certain people – and not to eat. How does this apply in a family relationship where one has been disfellowshipped? Can the family eat together? In the case of husband and wife, must one withdraw and cease from all martial relationships? I am aware that this question poses a problem, and my comments may not provide a satisfactory answer. But the question raises other questions to be considered. Does withdrawal of fellowship from a member divorce a man and wife or annul the marriage? When the family sits down to eat must they exclude from the table the one withdrawn from? Is the husband and father relieved of his responsibilities to the one withdrawn from? Withdrawal of fellowship will bring about sadness within the church and within the home involved. Members of the family must impress upon the one withdrawn from that they do not endorse his or her sinful conduct. Yet, even though fellowship has been withdrawn from one member of the family by the church, there still remains the family relationship of husband and wife, father and mother, son and daughter. Withdrawal of fellowship may finally result in altering the marriage relationship to the extent that 1 Corinthians 7:10-15 becomes applicable, yet it seems to me that it was never designed to destroy these relationships.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 6, pp. 199-201
April 7, 1983