Knowing When It is Time to Hang it Up
This lesson was originally developed in the 2000s when a group formed to study the eldership. It is being updated in February 2019, about ten years later. Sid Womack did the editing.
Key ideas of this lesson--see Flavil Yeakley Jr.'s book. He makes the point well that the eldership has no tenure. There is no right of an eldership to succeed itself. Shepherds are shepherds as long as a majority of the flock is willing to follow and the candidate has or maintains his qualifications. A decline in one's ability to teach, a loss of one's reputation in the community, or a loss of mental faculties so that the person can no longer "refute the gainsayer" can mean that it is time for an elder to step down.
Elders will occasionally sin. Sin is not a reason for stepping down. If it were, few elderships would survive their first Sunday afternoons. Becoming unqualified is. Read Yeakley's book, re-examine the passages in the scriptures about the qualifications or characteristics of elders.
Same could be true of deacons. Deaconships in the New Testament were always specific to some work. Deacon was not an honorary office. Deacon is not a junior eldership. One could serve his whole life as a deacon honorably and go to Heaven a very happy man. There is nothing wrong or incomplete about a man who serves as a deacon and never becomes an elder.
New ideas: Scripture does not put any age limits on the earliest time of a man's life when he could begin serving as an elder, nor does Scripture mention a mandatory retirement age. The Greek word presbuteros indicates an older, more experienced man, one who has learned some lessons from having experienced a number of years of life. The contemporary science of human development finds that the ideal blend of experience and energy occurs for most of us between the ages of 50 and 65. People are living longer these days, and for Scripture to have legislated exact age numbers might have left the church without leaders in many of the centuries already gone by.
As one gets older--say, in our contemporary culture of the 21st century--one finds that he can visualize the solutions to problems but has difficulty in enacting them. The eyesight isn't what it used to be. The hearing begins to fade, first in the frequency ranges of the suffixes of words that denote plurals, so that it may be difficult to know if a speaker was talking about dogs or a dog, boxes or a box, coats or a coat. Energy is less as one passes age 65 for higher numbers. Memory becomes more difficult, not so much because of feebleness, but because at that point in life, there is so much more to keep track of. For these and other reasons, it may not be wise to continue as an elder until the day of one's death.
Paul spoke of equipping or perfecting the saints in Ephesians 4: 12. This is what the elder class in 2009 was attempting to do when these lessons were originally being written. Not very many years after being appointed for the work, we need to be training our replacements. The day will come when we no longer qualify for the job due to old age, disease, or lack of energy. It is a joy to serve, but there is no tenure at the position. Rather we take satisfaction that perhaps something we did pleased our Lord.
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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