There is a great need in every church for good, strong men to lead as elders. No other system was set up by God. No other form of leadership can get the job done in the same way. Nothing we can invent will be able to fully replace an eldership. In the meantime, churches opt for “business meetings”, which are only temporary solutions to the long term problems of a congregation. The reality is:
· If we believe that business meetings will do everything for us that an eldership could, we are terribly mistaken;
· God wants us to have elders at the soonest possible time, no excuses;
· Evangelists are charged with the solemn duty of appointing elders. “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). Paul did not accept “ifs, ands, or buts” from Titus, but commanded him to leave nothing lacking in a congregation. Essentially, an evangelist’s job is never done as long as a church lacks elders;
· We do not currently have men who are qualified. This is no reason to avoid the topic, however! If anything, we need to emphasize the subject of elders even more. Because there are no men qualified, we need to make a concerted effort to achieve that status.
We cannot rest on the human model of church organization forever. I am not trying to rock the boat when I assert that business meetings are not God’s will for a congregation, but it is the truth. The key difference between business meetings and a group of elders is that it takes no qualifications to be a part of a business meeting. Every man in the congregation can attend and make his voice heard, even the spiritually immature or weak, the contentious, the greedy, and the imprudent. Churches that have strong elders:
· Deal with problem proactively, and not responsively;
· Practice strong personal evangelism;
· Get things done with greater ease;
· Educate spiritually immature members;
· Often never see rebellion;
· Tend to hold fast the faithful word of truth;
· Develop and implement more long term goals;
· Have a direction, because of strong leadership and intelligent decisions.
There are ways that we can prepare ourselves for having elders in the future. We must see ourselves as capable of that, and not invalid. Do we actually believe that we can have elders in the next couple years? Are there men who can do things now to prepare themselves for the office? Are we making this a real goal, or is this on the backburner?
Do you desire the office?
“If a man does not desire the function of eldership, he is not qualified to serve in this capacity. Paul used a different word each time for ‘desire.’ The first is oregetai (oregetai), ‘stretches forward to.’ The second ‘desire’ in the verse is the Greek epithumei (epiqumei), ‘to set one's heart upon.’ There is nothing necessarily political in a man seeking to serve as an elder” (“Elders, Their Work and Qualifications”, www.bibletruths.net). “It is a trustworthy statement; if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do” (1 Timothy 3:1). It has been said that every man should aspire to be a pastor – it is true that most men will never become one, but the qualities of that office should be desired. Even if you will never be an elder in your lifetime, or are quite sure you will never be fully qualified because of family situations or past wrongdoing, you should see the lists of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 as descriptions of the ideal man. Do you not desire a good reputation, soundness in faith, an attitude of selflessness and hospitality, and freedom from evil addictions? Should not every man strive for these qualities?
One of the biggest mistakes young men make is that they do not think they will ever want to be elders, so they fail to prepare themselves for it adequately. They say, “Well, I’m young and don’t have much interest in being an elder, so I don’t need to strive for the qualifications.” Even worse, some young men see the possibility of eldership as being so distant that they put off preparing for the office. A Christian man is never too young to desire good qualities, though! There may be things we do to ourselves at a young age that will forever impact our abilities and qualifications in the future. A man is only fooling himself if:
· He thinks that having faithful children is something he will only have to worry about when he is the right age for being an elder;
· He believes that a reputation can be earned quickly, and only when it is convenient;
· He suddenly desires the eldership and thinks he can make up for past wrongdoing immediately;
· He believes that what he does at the age of twenty five will have no effect on his candidacy for the eldership at fifty five;
· He thinks that the qualities of an elder do not apply to him (or that those qualities are just for “exceptional” Christians and he is fine being a “normal” Christian);
· He believes that God expects less of him just because he is not an elder.
You might not desire the office right now, at a younger age, but you might desire it later. You should really do your “future self” a favor and keep the door open by making good decisions now. You may reach a point years from now when you do desire the office – will you have the kind of past that warrants the appointment?
Being a “Shepherd”
Men who serve in this capacity are called “elders”, “overseers”, and “bishops” (Acts 20:17,28, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:5-7). Even more revealing than those terms is the idea of being a “pastor” or “shepherd” (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2, Ephesians 4:11). What we think of shepherds goes a long way toward our perception of serving as an elder. Unfortunately, our society has misconstrued what it means to be a shepherd. “Our images of shepherds have been framed by Christmastime, through the charming little figurines found on coffee-table crèche displays, or, closer to my point, the neighborhood kids in bathrobes, with towels on their heads. They are cute. Actual shepherds are rugged” (The Way of the Wild Heart, John Eldredge, p. 15). Do we forget the spiritual and physical sacrifice expected of elders? Do we ever consider appointing men who have not created a reputation of constant self sacrifice? We need to be striving, as men and as prospective elders, to be working on:
· Being willing to confront sin with great courage;
· Being willing to oppose false teaching and the souls of our family members;
· Being willing to sacrifice our time;
· Being willing to care about others and make emotional investments;
· Being willing to become emotionally involved in others, and not seeing this as a weakness or character flaw.
Even as young men, we can practice the skills necessary to become faithful pastors one day. Shepherding is hard, dirty work sometimes, and we should never think that being an elder will be easier than it is. We can make the transition easier on ourselves, though, if we prepare for eldership by practicing pastoral skills as young men in the home. Notice the parallels:
· We need to develop a habit of making time for our wives and children, which will help us make time for needy church members as elders.
· We need to invest in the problems of our children, as elders care for the problems of their flock.
· We need to be very defensive of our families, as elders are charged with being ultra defensive of the church (Acts 20:28-31).
· We need to keep in mind how our families see us, since a reputation in the community for love and good works is necessary for elders (1 Timothy 3:7).
· We need to manage our children, keeping them under control, since those same skills will come in handy when dealing with contentious church members (Titus 1:10-11).
· We need to learn self control in our tempers, never punishing our children more than their deeds merit. Elders, too, must have self control and must not be pugnacious (1 Timothy 3:3).
· We need to accept the discipline of making mistakes. Sometimes we fail our families, disappoint our wives, and succumb to temptation. Allow these failures to temper your spirit and make you stronger, so that all may see your prudence.
· We need to teach our children (Ephesians 6:4), and lead our wives spiritually (Ephesians 5:23), since teaching and leading are required of all elders (1 Timothy 3:2, 1 Timothy 5:17).
In our teenage years and early adult life, we should be developing the character traits that make up an excellent spouse and parent. Planning for financial and domestic stability will also go a long way toward preparing young men for pastoral duties later in life. It is never too early to start thinking about becoming an elder! Some practical exhortations, as offered by Mark Dunagan (“Preparing for the Eldership”, www.beavertonchurchofchrist.net) are:
· Marry the woman who has her own faith and is not depending on you to motivate her to worship (Proverbs 12:4). Do not marry somebody who will hold you back spiritually.
· Marry a woman who is willing to serve others and make your life as a young man, as a father, as a professional breadwinner, as a deacon, and as an elder easier.
· Be optimistic about spreading the Gospel, and find a spouse who wants to work in the kingdom as much as you.
· Marry a woman who abstains from gossip.
· Find a job that is stable, and follow a career path that will be dependable. Proper elders are not adventurers, beach bums, moochers, or “get-rich-quick-schemers”.
· At a young age, become familiar with the scriptures (2 Timothy 2:15). In your twenties, it is time to move on from depending on your parents to depending on God’s word for spiritual security.
This decade should be spent developing and honing parent skills, and learning how to instruct. After having a couple of children, enjoying marriage for more than a few years, and holding down a couple steady jobs, men go from being learners and trainees to teachers and administrators. If the congregation has the need for deacons, be available for the appointment and take heed to the exhortations give to deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-10.
During a man’s “thirties” he may be tempted to put his career ahead of his family, since this is the time in his life when he most motivated to utilize his energy for such goals. But do not underestimate the importance of time with the wife and kids. If one expects to be an elders someday, he needs to keep in mind that he will have a church with many people all needing attention, as well as his own family and his career if he is not retired. It is a serious miscalculation to think that kids needs money from a job more than they need a father who is available to them. If we want to fulfill the qualifications of a happy marriage and faithful children (1 Timothy 3:4, Titus 1:6) when we are seeking the eldership, we will need to invest heavily in them at an early age.
This is also the decade when Bible knowledge is put to use. While young men should spent more time learning, men in their thirties need to get out into the world and use their knowledge. An elder is one who is “apt to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2), so start a habit of effective teaching at this age.
The Forties and Fifties
This the time when many children will be in their teens. They need fathers the most during this difficult stage of life, so be careful not to get lost in a career or in hobbies. At this point, men are very close to being ready for pastoral duties, but they must not lose focus:
· Men at this age must keep relationships fresh and healthy. Do not let the love die in your marriage, do not become distant from your children, do not burn bridges of old friends.
· Be a positive person about your age. Do not let your physical weaknesses tear you down. Even though your youth is slipping at this age, you are also just starting to enter one of the greatest times in a man’s life. Embrace your role as you get older and see the benefits of the respectability and dignity that comes with age (Proverbs 20:29). Your age is your glory, and by virtue of a lifetime of good deeds you will have earned certain privileges (1 Timothy 5:19).
· Look forward to being an elder. If you have been faithful in your life, and have kept the course, you have earned the respect of your colleagues, your loved ones, and even your enemies.
· Be sure to remain humble, for overseers must be temperate, prudent, and respectable (1 Timothy 3:2).
No matter your age, do not lose sight of the importance of the pastoral qualifications. Even if you are not serving, and may never serve, you are not exempt from the high standard of a Christian. All Christians should aspire to these qualities, especially when they are younger (Psalm 119:9, Ecclesiastes 12:1).