A recent conversation got me thinking about how many elders I have worked with and under as a gospel preacher. After some memory jogging, the number I came up with was 67. A number of these men have gone to be with the Lord; still others are slowing down due to advancing years and health issues, but a fair number still are highly active and faithful in service to our Lord. As the faces of these men run through my mind, let me share several reflections about the wisdom of God and the organization of the local church (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
Elders really are God’s men. The Lord wants men as leaders who are men of maturity, ability, and heart. Those qualities are inherent in the very terms used in Scripture of elders. I can gratefully see how each of the 67 men I’ve served under was/is a godly man – a man of deep love for God, the Lord’s church, the Bible and for souls.
Elders have an incredible responsibility both to God and the church they serve. Talk about a sense of stewardship and a sacred trust! Souls are placed under their care. I wondered how many prayers those 67 men have prayed for the church, how many visits they’d made to the sick, shut in and grieving, how many meetings they had attended, how many tears they had shed and how many times they had struggled regarding a decision about what was best for the church. Surely the totals would be staggering! Thankfully, God in His grace always gives strength for the task (2 Timothy 2:1). The care of God’s people is a serious, sobering task, but the blessings of helping people draw closer to heaven are worth it.
Each man in spiritual leadership brings a unique personality and perspective to helping oversee the church. While those 67 men I’ve served under share a number of godly qualities, in other ways, there is remarkable diversity. Some were better public speakers than were others. Some were extroverts while others were much more reserved. Some were “naturals” at teaching, and some really had to work at it. Some were thoughtful and contemplative while others were sharp and quick-witted. A few were visionaries and a number were excellent in visiting. The point is – each man brought a unique set of gifts, abilities and life experiences to the task. One ought to appreciate the marvelous wisdom of God in desiring each congregation to have a plurality of elders (Acts 14:23; 20:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4).
Elders don’t have to be perfect to be faithful. Elders (like preachers) live in a fishbowl – it seems everybody is watching them. And there is truth in this. But elders are most of all aware that God is watching (1 John 3:20). And it’s God they ultimately seek to please. They seek to be faithful to Him. They want to be loyal, trustworthy and dependable. I’m sure that each of the 67 elders I’ve worked with as a preacher, as godly as they all were, sinned. I suspect all of them have some regrets about decisions they made and how they’ve handled some matters. But it is wrong of members to think that being “blameless” or “above reproach” means that elders are to be sinless or without any regrets! Be slow to criticize them, and quick to pray for them! The brokenness and humility that come from a leader’s personal struggles often equips them to have the heart and wisdom to better relate to and help others.
Godly elders are to be greatly loved in the Lord and are owed a genuine debt of gratitude by right-thinking Christians. The God-honoring guidance they give churches and the positive example they set needs to be more appreciated by brethren now. Such leadership definitely is seen by God and will be richly rewarded in glory!