Complexities of the Modern Eldership
Maintaining Your Own Close Relationship to the Lord
Part, or much, of what elders do in the Lord's church is manage. They are even called to be managers (1Ti 3:5 For if a man does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?). But it is so easy to get so caught up in the act of managing the Lord's church that the elder forgets the reason for managing in the first place: To walk closer to Jesus Christ.
The management trap is an alluring one. If you didn't have at least some administrative talent, you wouldn't likely have been selected as an elder in the first place. You get into solving a problem with one ministry, then another, then another, helping people work with each other to serve the Lord more effectively. As you work through those problems, your own managerial ability subtly becomes the focus of your activities rather than the real why you are doing it. You look around after awhile and realize that narcissism is what is taking place. Things begin to seem as if they were all about you. You are worshipping yourself and your managerial abilities instead of worshipping the Lord who gave all those abilities to you.
In time you come to realize that an hour spent doing a systems analysis of a ministry to figure out what isn't working is not the same thing as spending an hour reading about Jesus from one of the Gospels. The ministry needed your hour, but you needed an hour with the Lord also. DO BOTH. That's part of being an elder. Take care of your problems and other people's too. Yes, it takes time. That's what you got into when you became an elder.
It's interesting about what happens when an elder remembers to keep his own relationship with the Lord in addition to doing the managing. A lot of potential problems just never come up. People sense when an elder is deep in God's word and in prayer. They spend a little less time asking him to manage things and a lot more time just studying his life. Paul was talking about this when he said "Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ," I Corinthians 11: 1.
Staying Up with the Reading
Someone once said "The only thing more pitiful than the man who cannot read is the man who will not read." If you are about to become an elder, get ready to have quite a bit of print and non-print material stuck in front of your face. Everybody will send you "stuff."
You will be handed written proposals from people in your congregation who want to create new ministries or modify existing ones. You'll be handed budgets and expenditure reports. Somehow your name will get on the distribution lists of brotherhood periodicals. Preachers and others sense that to really bring about positive change in the Lord's church, they must contact elders. So they send you the brotherhood newspapers. And, within effective elderships, there will be the email and/or texting or other written communications between you.
You have a choice about dealing with all the reading. You can make time to do the reading, or you can become irrelevant. Irrelevant elder ought to be an oxymoron. You will know that you have become an irrelevant elder when all the mail stops, all the email stops, the phone calls stop, and all people ask you about is "How's your health? How are you feeling?"
From 6: 30 to 7: 00 on weekdays is becoming my time for dealing with the non-Bible reading. There's doesn't seem to be much that's good or interesting on TV during that half-hour anyway. So those thirty minutes make a good time to catch up on what is happening in the brotherhood, read someone's proposal for a ministry, or catch up on the materials that a class is studying in Sunday school. That we have a regular time for studying God's word is a given. Read the Bible even if you don't have time for all the memos.
If you are going to be an elder, READ. Otherwise you will be out of touch most of the time. What's "out there" in the brotherhood will be at your doorstep before you know it.
Making Headway Against Your Own Weaknesses
Heb 12:1,2 "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. " Being selected as an elder is a nice honor. But it doesn't for a minute mean that the old weaknesses went away. Satan lurks, wanting to use our gluttony or pornography or greed or whatever weakness as a tool in His rebellion against God.
I have yet to hear of an elder being asked to step down after he voluntarily admitted a weakness to a congregation and asked for their prayers and support. People in the position of elder have confessed to a lot of things and have been forgiven for a lot of things. The ones who have a secret sin that has become rampant and then is discovered by the church do often get asked to resign--the number of examples of that are legion.
There are benefits of "going public" if the going-public happens before the sin becomes eggregious and word gets out. Elders are not just elders, they are still members too. They sometimes have burdens they need help with ("Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ," Galatians 6: 2). It is sometimes instructive to members to see elders take on their own personal weaknesses and conquer them. It gives members courage to see an elder put away a long-held sin. The main thing is that there needs to be progress on the sin. It does little good to just admit that there is a "sin which clings so closely" but then do nothing about it. All members are expected (by the above Hebrews 12 passage) to make some headway.
Affirming the Identity and Uniqueness of the Church
It is so easy to be politically correct these days. Political correctness is the essence of denominationalism. It begins with the idea that any church is going to have its flaws, so let's entitle you to your flaws and me to mine, right? Everybody gets to have some?
In concept, the church our Lord designed for this earth is not flawed, and does not entitle any human to make changes in Christ's design for His church.. What He set down through his apostles was not a product of faulty engineering. When we look at the individuals who make up the church on the earth, yes, each and every one of us has his shortcomings (Romans 3: 23). But that's not a design problem; it's an implementation problem. As long as there are people, there will be implementation problems; the other words for "implementation problem" is "sin." Jesus designed the church to be the perfect support group to help people overcome sin as much as possible while they are upon the earth.
Those who love to trivialize the church seem to like to dwell on the a cappella aspect of our worship, as if our aversion to the use of instruments in worship was the only difference between us and them. There are few if any religiious bodies whose only difference from the church of Christ is the use of the instrument in worship. There are always or almost always other differences such as church organization, the essentiality of baptism for the remission of sins, the role of women in the church, or in the interpretation of what grace actually means.
Members of the church need to have the identity and uniqueness of the church upheld to them. All roads do not lead to Heaven.
Going Beyond "Peace at Home" to Teach the World
The early church at Jerusalem was not allowed to stay put and enjoy the good fellowship while the rest of the world remained untaught. Persecution drove them out of their comfort zone (Acts 8:1), and everywhere the Christians went, they told others about Jesus Christ.
In our prosperous times--even with the strange economics going on right now in March 2009--there is an enormous temptation to try to make things perfect (materially if not otherwise) in our home congregations and to make the Great commission secondary to "peace at home.". "Mission" has more than one meaning. Mission is about a benefit to people somewhere else who will receive our teaching and our benevolence, but it is also about the reason we were placed upon this earth. We will not be acceptable to our Lord if we do not do the mission of leading others to Christ. There will be strife in our congregations if we concentrate only upon having comfortable buildings and worship services that are just the right duration instead of concentrating on the real mission.
The Lord's church is much more like a tank than a limousine. It is designed to fight the Lord's battles against spiritual ignorance (2 Timothy 4: 2), not to be a luxury vehicle for those who have already been saved. Elderships have difficulties in maintaining discipline within the church when they spoil people too much. People will not be content if the church is not going forward in its mission--evangelizing the world.
Beware when people try to tell you that all the lost are at home. If you (plural) really are at work evangelizing those within your community, maybe the lost are at home. But usually "The lost are at home" is a signal that the local church is going nowhere. We lose the sense of urgency when we let ourselves say "The lost are at home." It will be difficult to get support from people to maintain a church that is not trying to do the mission for which it was designed by Christ to do. And really, why should they support it?
Think of the Lord's church as the Lord's army.
Books that have been useful in preparing these lessons include:
Anderson, L. (1993). They smell like sheep. West Monroe, Louisiana: Howard Publishing.
Gangel, K. O. (1984). So you want to be a leader! Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications.
Grimsley, R. W. (1964). The Church and its elders. Abilene, Texas: Quality Printing Company.
Lewis, J. P. (1985). Leadership questions confronting the church. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate.
Lewis, J. P. (2008). The question of instrumental music in worship. Searcy, AR: Truth for Today World Mission School.
Sanders, J. O. (1989). Spiritual leadership. Chicago, Ill: Moody Press.
Strauch, A. (1991). A study guide to biblical eldership: An urgent call to restore Biblical church leadership. Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth Publishers.
White, J., & Blue, K. (1985). Church discipline that heals: Putting costly love into action. Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press.
Yeakley, F. R. jr. (1980). Church leadership and organization. Arvada, CO: Christian Communications.
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