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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

God's plan for church leadership: Elders

God's will for every congregation is to appoint qualified men to oversee the
work of that congregation. (Titus 1:5; Acts 14:23.) The qualifications
for such an office are found in Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Their role
is one of authority (Hebrews 13:17) with the protection, feeding and leading
of that congregation in mind. (Acts 20:17, 28, 32.) "Every" church needs
an eldership. (Acts 14:23.) Where an eldership is not present, a
determined effort must be consistently made toward raising up men that are
qualified to be elders.

Instilling within a congregation a desire to have shepherds over them is
sometimes quite difficult. This is especially true of congregations that
have done for years, perhaps even decades, without an eldership. Often
times it is the case that a congregation is "satisfied" with the way things
are (without elders) and have little or no desire to work toward the
establishment of an eldership. It is with the problems that commonly arise
in a situation such as this with which this article is concerned.

One of the most common barriers encountered in a church when discussion of
appointment of men as elders takes place is that of apathy. It is not
uncommon, rather to be expected, for some members to have absolutely no
interest or concern about the appointment of elders. Those who are
indifferent to this matter often look at the need for an eldership in a
church as a purely "optional" or "secondary" command of Scripture. That
this is hardly a scriptural position is readily recognized when passages
such as Titus 1:5 and Acts 14:23 are consulted. A congregation with an
attitude such as this is a congregation that may have the knowledge of
scripture but with a lack of zeal. A zeal to obey the Lord as well as a
correct knowledge of what the scripture teaches is what is needed by those
who desire to please God. (Romans 10:2.) How true it is that "faith
without works is dead." (James 2:26.) Commonly this viewpoint is expressed
by statements such as "things are just fine the way they are now" or " I don't
see what would be gained by having elders." It would do us well to remember
that God has knowledge of all things and his wisdom is unlimited. (Psalm
147:5.) Man must not rely only on reasoning as to what is "just fine" for
man must rely on revelation and not mere reason alone. (Jeremiah 10-23.)

Another common obstacle that may be encountered is fear. Some will be
fearful of appointing an unqualified man while others will fear the
possibility of breeding problems that are known to exist in neighboring
congregations that happen to have elderships. Perhaps if the congregation
has had elders in the past, some will fear reviving a past bad experience
while congregations that have never had elders and have existed for years
may have a fear of entering "the unknown." All of these statements reflect
a lack of courage. There is nothing to fear when it is the Lord's own
directions that we follow. (Psalm 16:8.) It is not from God from which the
spirit of fear proceeds (2 Timothy 1:7) and when we have a genuine love,
fear is dispelled.

Tradition is another hurdle that must be cleared. Sometimes this obstacle
is linked with fear. There is something about having been set in a
particular position so long that makes any change from that position appear
to be at best questionable. Maturity is spiritual growth gives freedom from
being bound by the customs and traditions of time. Though it may be
"traditional" for a congregation to not have an eldership, the length of
time this condition has prevailed or the number who accept it does not
justify it. Though an eldership may appear to be "some new thing" to a
congregation, it is still God's desire for the church. Tradition can void
the word.

Perhaps the most difficult impediment that must be removed is the desire
for power. In a congregation without elders, everyman who attends the
business meetings is a man with a say whether or not he is a man with a way.
To put it another way, there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians.
Whether many will admit it or not - or even be able to actually recognize it
for what it is - some would rather do without an eldership rather than have
one simply because they might lose their ability to influence (or even
dominate) the decisions that are made in regard to the overall work program
of the church. Humility is the lacking factor in this case and the great
need of all. Our service for the Lord's cause must be done with all
humility. (Acts 20:19.) God resists those who seek to be the "greatest" in
the kingdom by being the greatest in power. The way to the top of the
kingdom is by staying at the bottom. (Luke 14:11.) Undoubtedly, many of
the problems that seem to hinder a church without elders stem directly from
a lack of submission to one another in humility.

In conclusion, we would say once more that God's desire is for every church
to have elders that shepherd the flock. If you find yourself in a church
without elders, the best thing you can do to help attain the goal of
appointing an eldership is to emphasize the obvious wisdom of God in his
designs for the structure of his son's church. You can expect to run into
problems such as apathy, fear, tradition and a desire for influence and
power. However, as you fill yourself with zeal to boldly mature in the
faith no matter where the faith leads you with humility, others will see the
wisdom of God's word and will desire to follow the faith fully as well.
If you are a leading individual in a congregation without elders, ask
yourself: "What am I deliberately doing right now to help establish an
eldership in the future among God's people here?" Won't you do all that you
can to make sure that the congregation with which you worship and work will
work toward growing men of faith who will shepherd the flock of God with
faith? Amen!

-David Paul Smith
Baytown, Texas

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