Elders, Submission, and the Rebel in Me

by Jim Tune

With so many poor models of leadership around us today, we may cringe when words like submission, authority, and rule come up.  We’ve become accustomed to thinking about abuse and power in the same sentence.  We have difficulty separating authoritarianism from authority, creating a latent suspicion of authority in our society. 

This general spirit is also alive and well in the church.  The already-challenging task of church leadership has become even more complicated as elders interact with visionary preachers, multiple staff, and church members.  Having experienced dysfunctional leaders and leadership structures, we shy away without ever realizing the great benefits of submitting to godly men who humbly shepherd the flock. 

As a church planter, I wrestled with the how, what, and why of establishing an eldership.  I understood that the Bible called for church oversight to rest in the hands of a plurality of elders, (also, “pastors,” “bishops,” “overseers;” see Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 5:2).  Elders are to be chosen for ministry according to clear Biblical requirements (1 Timothy 2:11–3:7; Titus 1:5-9).  Elders are always spoken of in plurality because God intends for more than one man to oversee the church as a safeguard for both the church and the men. That is why I have gently corrected people who called me the pastor. 

My experience with church planters reveals they struggle with the following concerns: protectiveness toward their “baby” church and its vision; fear of rigidity and legalism; fear that a “hireling” mentality will emerge; and a legitimate concern about the possibility for impotent, committee-style governance.  They ask: “How do we get the elders to go along with this?”  Manipulation and politicking almost always result.  This creates a backlash that erodes trust and further bogs things down. 

Church planters are spooked when they see these dynamics. 

I’ve concluded that in many cases, church planters, whether they know it or not, are really not resisting the idea of eldership, but are instead reacting to a system, to the way elders ruled in the churches they’ve experienced.  But allow me to comment on the benefits of having elders. 

Safety
Installing an eldership was a huge win for me as a preacher.  I am a rebel at heart and I need to submit for my own safety.  It helped me immensely in my pastoral work, knowing I could lean on the collective wisdom of men recognized as godly and gifted. 

Strength
The development of a committed eldership made our church stronger.  I received encouragement and accountability.  Sometimes the elders did rein me in, but they did it so I didn’t wear myself out!  I love to be busy and make things happen.  If I’m not careful, I shift into workaholism, pursuing good things in personally destructive ways.  I always want the light to be green, but my elders sometimes signaled a yellow (caution) or even an occasional red (stop), for my own good. 

Submission 
I am convinced the Bible teaches that submission (even when a person is treated unjustly) results in favor from God.  Wise elders will create an environment that makes it a joy for the preacher to submit.  That said, there will inevitably be moments of tension and disagreement.  Learning to be determined yet submissive is, without a doubt, the finest lesson I have ever learned in ministry.  I am not always right.  The Bible says, “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.  All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6).  When God says he opposes the proud, that includes un-submissive leaders. 

I am a rebel at heart, and that is the human way.  But God never blesses it; in fact, God opposes it.  If I never submit, I may be right on the issue and still be wrong.  It’s a question of biblical authority.  A world without authority would be like desires with no restraints, a car with no controls, a major intersection with no traffic lights … a world with no God. 

Charlie Was Right

by David Wright 

It was the year 2000 when I was approached to pray about becoming an elder at Indian Creek Christian Church.  My immediate response was surprise as I told the elder that suggested I pray about it that I would get back with him.  To that point in my faith walk I had not considered myself a candidate worthy of such a role. 

Then a second man approached me with a similar suggestion.  He asked, “Have you ever thought about becoming an elder?”  “Not really”, I responded.  “At least not until a few days ago when another elder spoke to me.  I am praying about it.  I will also discuss it with some others.” 

As my prayer about the matter continued, I asked a third elder about the idea of becoming an elder.  He was likely the oldest of the elders at the time.  He was also the easiest to touch base with personally, as he was at The Creek’s building each day.  In his retirement years he was serving his church as a janitor.  And, one day I asked if I could talk to him about an elder issue.  “Of course”, he said “Yes, most certainly.”  

I started by sharing with him that I had been approached by a couple of the elders about the possibility of me becoming an elder.  He let me know that he was indeed aware that my name had been mentioned.  He then asked, “How can I help you?”  I told him that I had been praying and reading the Scriptures related to the criteria for an elder of the church as well as other scriptures specifically related to God’s call on our lives.  “And, what have you discovered David?” 

“Charlie”, I said, “I certainly can grasp that I may fit the criteria and I also feel that God may indeed be calling me.  But, I can tell you without reservation, that I do not feel worthy of such a call, nor am I sure that I am prepared to take on such a responsibility.  What if I make mistakes?” 

Charlie was quiet for a few seconds.  I could sense he was weighing his thoughts before they became his counsel to me.  His first words surprised me.  “You will make mistakes,” he began, “but you will not be alone.  We all do.  But, we will also work hard together to correct any that we may make.  And, what I have found is that through prayer, fasting, dialogue, and a willingness to wait upon the Lord’s guidance, we will get more matters right than wrong.  And, with regards to your concern about not being worthy: David, if we each waited for the moment that we are worthy, there would be no elders.  Because none really is worthy.  The only one worthy is The One to whom we dedicate our service.”  After a prayer together, I headed to work and Charlie plugged in the vacuum cleaner. 

Later that week, with Charlie’s wisdom taken to heart, I responded to the elders of The Creek at that time, “If you will have me, I am willing.” 

Looking back over 17 years serving as an elder at The Creek, I am not surprised to say, Charlie was right.

Trustworthy Leadership

by Ken Idleman

In the first eight chapters of Acts, Holy Spirit-inspired historian and physician, Dr. Luke, does two things.  First, he describes the birth of the Christian church on the Day of Pentecost.  Second, he exposes the strategy of the evil one, who sought to snuff out the life of the infant church.  In chapters 1 & 2 we see The Holy Spirit working.  By contrast, in Acts 3-8 we see the activity of Satan festering under the surface.  In these chapters, the three-fold strategy of the devil to smother the first century church is evident – persecutioncorruption, and division

These are the devil’s three exclusive weapons to blunt the impact of The Gospel and Church in every generation.  But he can never stop the impact of The Church.  Jesus created His Church, and she is invincible!  But if the enemy can trip up her leaders, the impact will be blunted.  Notice that all three of these types of assaults come against leaders/influencers. 

But we can meet these timeless assaults as trustworthy leaders if we face them in the power of The Holy Spirit. 

When we face persecution, stay faithful.  In Acts 4 and 5, church leaders – Peter, John, and other apostles – were arrested but Providentially released.  Faithfully, they kept on speaking publicly about Jesus.  In Acts 7, Stephen kept faithfully speaking both to crowds and then to the Sanhedrin, and even through his death at the hands of a mob.  In Acts 8, Saul persecuted The Church and as they scattered (Acts 11), they kept faithfully speaking to people they met.  Faithfulness breaks the enemy’s power to persecute. 

When he tries to corrupt, keep your integrity.  In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira fell to the temptation to lie before God and The Church about how much they had received from their property sale.  The divine death sentence impressed on the young church the seriousness of that stewardship sin.  Even in the secular realm, honesty and integrity are ranking at the top of business surveys.  A USA Today survey of Fortune 500 recruiters put honesty/integrity at the top of what they look for in potential employees.  College degrees were 4th on the list.  In the last couple generations, the trustworthiness of professed spiritual leaders has taken hit after hit.  Satan scored big in bringing down the likes of televised Christian leaders like Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Tilton and Ted Haggard, and more recently, Tullian Tchividjian and Mark Driscoll.  In one way or another, they fell prey to the lure of fame, money, and sex.  Literally hundreds of Roman Catholic priests and bishops have been indicted for sexual molestation and cover-ups.  J. Hunt once said, “If you lose your reputation / testimony, you’ll be fortunate if you live long enough to restore it.”  Ephesians 4:25: Therefore, each of you must put off all falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we’re all members of one body.  When the enemy attacks with corruption, walk in the truth. 

And when he sows division, ask for wisdom.  In chapter 6, the apostles released the solving of the problem to men “known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.”  They had solid reputations (known to be), already demonstrating spiritual maturity (full of the Holy Spirit), and wisdom.  This trait of wisdom is one I do not hear much about in Christian circles.  Just like Acts 6, James admonished us of the same in the opening of his letter, (1:5): If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  In the realm of knowing God’s will when we do not have the specific “book-chapter-verse,” what is best?  Good leaders have this gift of wisdom; James tells us it is the byproduct of a strong prayer life.  When the enemy attacks with division, seek wisdom. 

God will bless your church despite persecution, corruption, and division because of the faithfulness, integrity, and wisdom of trustworthy spiritual leadership – your leadership.