Serving as Part of an Eldership Team
Possibly the sensations of serving on an eldership are as individual as individual elderships. Each congregation has its own set of elders or other leaders and these elderships boil down to personalities.
So often we glide over what Paul said to Titus as he began to commission young Titus to appoint or ordain elders in titus 1: 5, 6--the RSV said that Titus was to "amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town . . . " Something is defective when a congregation has been in existence for very long and they can't get elders. There may be some men who are not maturing as fast as they should, or there are some men who are not assuming responsibility as they should, the upcoming supply of possible elders and deacons are getting ambushed in The Killing Fields, or there is someone at that congregation who is concocting an extra-Biblical set of standards that no one could reach. The churches at Iconium and Lystra of Acts 14 had elders in no more than a year after they were founded (Yeakley, p. 130). One wonders at congregations that have been around for forty or fifty years and still can't find qualified elders. Typically what happens in congregations with no elders is that they hit a "glass ceiling" at about 75 members and can't grow any more. Then they start losing members. The poor preachers in those situations are especially victimized. Who could do a job if he had 75 bosses? It is so much better when there are a few elders to work with. Our congregation is grateful for having an eldership, but we as an eldership are also glad there is one (even though we are it) because having an eldership is part of God's design for the church and we want what's best.
I work with a really good eldership. The three men I share the eldership with are much bigger spiritual giants when the door is closed on the elders' meeting than any of the members may ever know. They care for the church, will and sometimes do give of their reputations and well-being for the sake of the church, and do far more work behind the scenes than anyone will ever know. These guys do the personal work that I scarcely get around to. Perhaps some of my work is a little more public than some of what they do, but it is all absolutely essential. I couldn't do what I do without them. I wish I could give more details, but the door to the elders' meetings is closed for some good reasons. I will tell you that these are men of sincere, prolonged prayer, and of deep thinking. And I am the "kid elder" of the bunch, and they help keep me out of trouble. I don't do much without consulting them.
It is a good idea to have an understanding within the eldership of how far anyone goes with spending money without consultation. About the furtherest I have gone extrabudgetarily has been approximately $300. That's not to say that I haven't gone further if the money was coming out of part of the budget that had already been defined by agreement with the eldership and/or the finance committee. In our operation at Dover, there is no part of the treasury that an elder can just go spend with no transparency and no accountability. Not even one cent.
The eldership is keenly aware of the preacher shortage and of its implications. In the brotherhood, a dismal statistic is that preachers are being able to stay at one congregation for an average of only 2.2 years before finding himself out of a job. This constant turnover in many congregations means turmoil, and, short of some absolutely insurmountable challenge, we don't want that kind of change. "Raising our own and watching him grow" is working well for us. Changing preachers is one of the most stressful events a congregation can go through. We stand behind our preacher and stand ready to help him in whatever way we can. And we are working very hard to keep him from ever feeling like he is having to do "elder work." Do we make his life a bit easy? We hope so.
The one litmus test I had to pass in order to join this eldership in 2005 was that if things continued as they were or got better, we would not instigate a change of preachers. I agreed.
None of our decisions are 2-2 and very few are 3-1; what comes out of the elders' meeting and that goes to the congregation is usually 4-0. For one thing, in spite of our very dissimilar backgrounds, on spiritual matters we are pretty much of like mind. In consideration of an issue, we spend enough time on it that we are able to proclaim it as "a decision of the elders." In a case or two where were deadlocked, we just left the issue alone. A high degree of resistance to an idea or an issue says that some of the elders see grave danger out there in the future if we go through with the idea. Here the presbuteros or older man concept comes into play, and we have elders so we can obtain counsel of older men. Why have presbuteros if we aren't going to listen to them, even among ourselves?
What do we do when people come forward during invitation time to ask for the prayers of the congregation and elders? Usually the elder who knows the respondents best is the one who joins them at the front pew. This concurs with the episkopos or "visitation" concept of the overseer or elder. It also fits with poimen (the sheep know the shepherd's voice and respond only to it, John 10).
As the class participants read this description of what it is like to serve on an eldership--Which of the above would you keep, if you were part of a brand new eldership that did not include anyone who is now serving? Which would you change? What would you add that was brand new?
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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