No, I am not an elder, and I have never been one. However, in over fifty years of preaching, I have attended many, many elders’ meetings—I suspect numerically more than many elders. I also suspect I have been exposed to more elderships than many elders. I am deeply impressed with the difficulty of seeking to lead a congregation. Such leadership is far more difficult and demanding than the average person (who has not has been in nor been exposed to such leadership) could imagine.
I have never "voted" on an item, nor have intentionally tried to guide the direction of an elders’ discussion to achieve my own agenda. Typically, I make a comment on a matter when (1) I am asked to comment or (2) I think it would be helpful to the discussion to consider an unmentioned view. In the majority of the meetings I attend, I make no comment at all.
Someone may ask, "Then why go at all?" I feel I can best represent the elders
if I know how they think. I wish to be in position to bless the elders as they
deal with extremely complex tasks. I delight in being part of the team that
blesses the congregation.
What makes this role of conscientious leadership so difficult? First, this role of leadership works over an all-voluntary membership. This voluntary membership can come or go as it chooses. Each individual member in the congregation chooses to be a part of the congregation. This person even chooses to be involved to the extent of his or her desire. When the person is displeased, he or she "makes a statement with the feet" by going somewhere else. Rarely will a member make a public outburst or scene. Typically a member simply will disappear and quietly go elsewhere.
An increasing number of members (now numbering as much as 50% in many congregations) express membership by considering themselves to be "attending members." These people commonly do not go through a process of publicly placing themselves in the congregation. If they attend frequently on Sunday mornings over a long period of time, they consider themselves members because "everyone knows I come here." Placing themselves under the eldership is considered unnecessary since attending is all that is necessary. Even when some of them “drop out” later and cease attending anywhere, they continue to consider themselves members—in fact, they are deeply offended by perceived attempts (imagined or actual) to “remove them from membership in the congregation.” Thus elders are constantly seeking to decide who is and who is not an actual part of the congregation.
Second, this role of leadership is difficult because it deals with complex matters. Most elders I have known care about the congregation, and care deeply. Their perspectives may differ, but they all care deeply about the well-being of the congregation. The individual elders many differ in their areas of concern, but their concern is genuine. Often, elders (1) know factors that many in the congregation do not know or (2) are aware of convictions and sensitivities that are not common knowledge in the congregation. Such situations often place elders in a dilemma that many interpret as "indecisive foot-dragging." It is challenging to make a decision when elders know the decision has a significant possibility of producing major congregational resentment.
Third, this role of leadership is difficult because rarely do all the elders share the same spiritual value system. For example, some may favor doctrinal stances over people needs, and others may favor people needs over doctrinal stances. Or, one may be deeply concerned about precedent, while another wants to do what is appropriate without regard to precedent. Or, one may focus on the values of preserving local congregational traditions and another be concerned about his perception of “truth” to the exclusion of “methods.” The result: the elders must reach a consensus among themselves before they seek to lead the congregation. Commonly, that is not a simple matter!
Of the men I have known as elders, most have been and are exceptionally good
men. They are and have been conscientious in their relationships. They are
devoted husbands, caring fathers, and principled businessmen or workers. No,
they were not perfect (no one is), but they were conscientious and committed.
They were the kind of men in all aspects of their lives that I felt privileged
to call "friend" as well as "brother in Christ."
Among these good men are those who learned from past mistakes and are more effective because of what they learned. I have tremendous respect for Christian men or women who have learned from past failures and use their lessons learned to bless others. Nothing is accomplished by miring ourselves in the guilt of our past mistakes "up to our axles" as we continue life in a misery that drags others down. To accept God's forgiveness, to bless others with the lessons we learned, and to develop the ability to give others hope and courage is infinitely Christian! Peter would say "Amen" to that! Today there is an enormous need for the humble Christian who has "been there and done that," but triumphed by faith in the Jesus who died and was resurrected for us.
I have known elders who developed a personal program of benevolence for the poor, who specialized in giving the downtrodden a second chance, who honed special talents into abilities that targeted special needs, or who made special personal sacrifices that few knew. These good men had a continuing, abiding awareness of what Jesus Christ did and continued to do for them. Often the congregation did not know how blessed it was by the spiritual devotion of such men.
I also have known men who should not have been elders. Their motives or basic
reasons for congregational leadership that they made clearly evident were not
godly motives. Some were elders for reasons that had nothing to do with godly
values. Some were arrogant and unapproachable. Some drove others out of serving
as elders because they did not share the triumphant elder's personal values.
Some were impossible for anyone to work with. Some resorted to violent acts.
Some were authoritarians who demanded personal control. Some were "always
This never ceases to be astounding: to note men of little biblical knowledge and less spiritual insight who grasp control of a congregation quickly upon appointment as elders. The month before appointment they are not spiritual guides in a congregation. However, from the day of recognition as elders, they are men of enormous power. What happened?
Commonly, the personal agendas of such men have little to do with biblical values or godly concepts. It is very disconcerting to see or be part of a congregation with a man in leadership who is ungodly in attitude, behavior, or both.
The Infinite Challenge
A congregation should belong to Christ—in both leadership and “followship.”
The objective of a congregation is to assist people in being Jesus’ disciples.
In twenty-first century America, that is a huge challenge! However, the
challenge we face is no bigger than that in the first-century pagan world. Many
in that world commonly regarded Jesus as a sham and the concept of resurrection
It was God in Jesus Christ that made the message effective. Read 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. Hopefully, these thoughts will produce some practical insights to increase our effectiveness as we find life in Jesus Christ. Hopefully, many of the concepts shared will make Christians more effective on every level of leadership undertaken.