Qualified Elders

by Dr Rod Nielsen

In 37 years serving as the preaching minister at Agape Christian Church I have worked with many Jesus-loving men serving as Elders.  We have had our share of difficulties and disagreements but our church has consistently survived and been strengthened.  I attribute this to the faithful service of qualified Elders. 

Alexander Strauch, in Biblical Eldership, quotes the church father Jerome in a letter to an Elder named Nepotian dated 394AD: “Many build churches nowadays; their walls and pillars of glowing marble, their ceilings glittering with gold, their altars studded with jewels.  Yet to the choice of Christ’s ministers no heed is paid.”  Sadly, this is too often true in our own century as well.  It is possible for a church to build a beautiful, functional building and apply the latest church-growth techniques, thus filling chairs (or pews) with bodies, yet failing to grow true disciples of Christ because they have not assured that the church is led by biblically-qualified Elders.  Such churches are often called a mile wide but an inch deep.

This can be avoided by choosing only qualified men to serve as Elders.  Men are sometimes chosen for business acumen, or because they are simply influential people.  This leaves the church open to finding itself with Elders who are ego-driven or agenda-driven; or men who make decisions from a pragmatic or business perspective but not a biblical perspective.

The lists of qualifications that are necessary for men to serve as Elders (translation of the Greek words “presbuteros” and/or “episkopos”) are absolute if not exclusive.  Why must Elders demonstrate these qualifications?  They are necessary because Elders serve as examples of Christian character; they create the culture of the church; they establish the direction and ministry of the church.  Elders who are not becoming more like Jesus in character, who are not themselves good Bible students, cannot lead the church from a truly biblicalperspective. 

The Elders’ primary responsibility of “shepherding the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers” (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2) includes teaching, protecting against divisive behavior, protecting from false teachers and from false teaching, seeking the lost, caring for practical needs, judging doctrinal issues, and general leading; such needs can only be met by men who possess the biblical qualifications laid out by Peter and Paul. 

It takes careful study of Scripture and commitment to follow the New Testament example of leadership in order for a church to develop consistently-qualified Elders.  Once a church has established that only men who are already biblically qualified may serve as Elders, the congregation can confidently submit to their Elders’ leadership as in Hebrews 13:7 and 13:17: 

Remember your leaders who taught you the Word of God.  Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith. 

Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say.  Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God.  Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow.  That would certainly not be to your benefit. 

Such a church will be Spirit-led, biblically consistent, and servant-hearted. 

It doesn’t make sense to me that God would invest Himself in a church that fails to follow His prescribed model of leadership.  Nor does it make sense to me that anyone would want to be a member of a church that pursues a man-made leadership structure instead of what God Himself gave us in His Word. 

There is certainly no one specific “look” that every church must reflect, but the New Testament is abundantly clear: Elders must possess the qualities given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4.  A church with biblically-qualified Elders will avoid many of the pitfalls that hinder effectiveness, and what problems do arise will be handled with grace and love. 

Power of One Another

by Gary Johnson 

I’m writing to you this week from India, where I am part of a team working with Dr. Ajai Lall and Central India Christian Mission, in Damoh.  One of the highlights of the trip has been the dedication and distribution of our original series of books – Answer His Call, Reflect His Character, Lead His Church and Enjoy His People  in Hindi!  Through our partnerships with CICM and LATM (Literature and Teaching Ministries/Joplin, MO), several thousand of these books are now available in the largest language group of India, (and the fourth-largest language in the world).  Dr. Lall said, “The books will help leaders understand and fulfill their God-given role in the church, as there are no such books available in Hindi about this subject. Evangelical churches throughout India don’t have a manual to train their elders to strengthen their ministry.  These books will cater to the great need and fill the gap of this great ministry.”  While here, it was our privilege to help begin the distribution of these books to elders in Central India. 

Our ongoing partnership with LATM has been a great blessing to e2: effective elders in that they have made it possible for our literature to be translated into five languages to date, (Russian, Polish, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu), and they have now begun the process of our first translation into Spanish!  In Eastern Europe, TCMI has been using the Russian and Polish editions in their church leadership courses, and Colegio Biblico will soon be doing the same in Mexico. 

As we pray and further develop our work among elders, the Lord continues to reveal to us that e2: effective elders is not a ministry, so much as it is becoming a movement that began in the Midwest, has moved into different regions of our country, and is now moving around the world.  In fact, Ajai and I have begun planning an Elders’ Conference at CICM’s location in Damoh for February 2019 that will host 1,000 elders from India and six neighboring countries.  This is only possible through the principle, and indeed the deliberate practice, of one another

When we read the New Testament, there are over fifty uses of the phrase “one another,” “each other,” etc.  God wants us to do life in relationship and partnership with one another to advance His kingdom, both near and far.  We are better, stronger, and wiser when we help one another in the name of Jesus. 

We are grateful to the many churches who have become ministry partners with e2: effective elders.  Because of your investment in this ministry as one of your missionaries, you are literally serving elders across the country and around the world!  Your investment in these men will enable them to lead the Church more effectively, and when that happens, the Church grows. 

What I’d like to say to Elders

by LD Campbell 

I LOVE YOU!  Joyce and I talk frequently about the wonderful elders we have served with.  I never served with an elder that made our disagreements personal.  So to the elders I served with: I LOVE YOU!  You encouraged us.  You cared for us.  You loved us.  And I probably wouldn’t be in the ministry today if it had not been for you!
 
CARE FOR YOUR SOUL!  How can you care for the souls of your flock, if you first don’t care for your own soul?  By all means, be in the Word every day.  “Sit a spell” with the Father every day.
 
PRAY FOR YOUR FLOCK!  Pray for them by name!  As an eldership, develop a system to continually pray for your flock.  Contact them, tell them you are praying for them.  Ask what’s going on with them that needs your prayers.
 
BE A SERVANT!  Elders should be the greatest servants in the church.  Yours isn’t an office or a title.  It’s a servanthood that is best described in a towel and wash pan.
 
BE SEEN!  I learned this truth from both President Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II.  President Kennedy said “walk slowly through a crowd.”  The Queen said: “I have to be seen, to be believed.”  She has been doing “walk abouts” among her people for 60 years.  She doesn’t want to blend in with the crowd so she wears bright colors so she can be seen by her people.  Elders, show up 30 minutes before worship begins.  Walk slowly through your flock.  They need to see you, (but the bright colors are up to you).  In your “walk about” you will be amazed what you learn about what’s going on in the lives of your flock.  Your “walk about” gives you an opportunity to encourage your people, to love on them, to pray with them.  Don’t just say “I’ll pray for you;” you will forget.  Pray for them right then and there!  It may be awkward at first but it will speak volumes to your flock about your shepherd’s heart.  When worship is over don’t dart for the door.  “Walk slowly through the crowd.”  “Be seen.”  If you are a pastor reading this, do the same.  BE SEEN before worship, in between services, and after worship.  Your flock will love you for it!
 
LOVE AND SUPPORT YOUR PASTOR.  Be his friend.  Encourage him.  Love him and his family.  Regularly take him to lunch, not for church matters but just to be with him.  Trust me, after 55 years of being a pastor, it gets lonely.  Be honest with him when you need to be.  However, don’t ever let your disagreements with him become personal.  Your relationship will sour quickly.  It will harm his leadership and yours, and your church will suffer.  Do everything you can to keep him as long as you can.  Long ministries build strong churches.
 
Elders, your responsibility is great.  Please don’t try to do it in your own power.  Remember what Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.”

Stuck in the Middle (Part 2)

by Rick Chromey 

In the early 70s, Scottish band Stealers Wheel had a radio hit titled “Stuck in the Middle With You.”  There were clowns to the left and jokers to the right but the singer was still “stuck in the middle.”
 
It could be Gen X’s generational theme song.
 
As we explored last week, Gen X (born 1961-1981) is “the Jan Brady” of American generations, growing up sandwiched between the two great American generations of the older Boomers (born 1943-1960) and the younger Millennials (born 1982-2004).  Stuck in the middle is never easy and Gen X has grown up a bit chippy and grumpy.
 
As elders of local churches it’s critical to understand the generational dynamic of your congregation.  As you survey your church do you see a predominant generation?  If you’re like many churches today you’re probably seeing more gray, white, blue and no hairs.  In my studies of churches in the past 35 years I’ve noticed when the average age of a church exceeds 50 that it’s a potential sign of decline.  Healthy churches mirror the contextual age of their community and unless you’re in a retirement community you need to stay below that age “watermark.”

Which brings us to another sobering generational truth:  while the fast-graying Boomers are finally retiring and the 20- and 30-something Millennials play their entitlement cards (with some success), Gen X is now getting passed over.
 
It’s very evident in the job market.  The Great Recession (2007-2012) hit Gen X the hardest.  The emerging digital and cyber economy shuttered middle management and ended industrial-era employment.  Many 40-something Gen Xers lost full-time jobs and never got them back while Boom elders worked past the traditional retirement age of 55.  To survive, Gen X downsized, moved, and chose bankruptcy.  Unlike the Depression generation, who eventually recovered, in a post-modern, post-industrial world Gen X can read the writing on the wall.
 
In the church this truth is equally evident.
 
The Boom generation first tasted leadership (as elders) back in the mid-1980s thanks to a leadership vacuum left by the retiring G.I. Generation. Many elders were still in their late 20s and early 30s when they assumed eldership. These young Boom leaders launched an ecclesiastical revolution, sparking the infamous “praise versus hymns” worship wars. Boomers, particularly in megachurches, reinvented Sunday morning into an “event” where PowerPoint, bands and pulpit-less communicators took center stage.
 
Like good middle children Gen X complied and applauded these ecclesiastical cosmetic changes, then waited in the wings for their turn.  By the 1990s, as Boomer senior ministers still held tightly to their pulpits, frustrated Gen X youth ministers launched a new “emerging church” brand that featured hipper music, better visuals and TedTalk sermons. The reason was simple: Gen Xers (unlike the Boomers) were AWOL from church and they wanted to get their peers back.

During the 2000s, a new reality emerged: the Millennials shocked everyone and left church altogether (becoming known as the “nones” for “no spiritual affiliation”). A decade later, Gen X grew restless and is now leading a new absentee cohort known as the “dones” (as in “done with church”). In many congregations Boomers are now the predominant regular attenders—aging fast and passing away.
 
The best solution is to reenergize Gen X, but that’s not happening.
 
Instead the American church is passing over Xers for the younger Millennial creating both angst and anger. Furthermore, countless older Gen X pastors, still capable and desirous, are tragically overlooked to lead as elders or hire as preachers or staff.
 
The Boom-led congregations want youth and Gen Xers no longer fit the mold. Meanwhile Gen X-led churches are also hiring Millennials, even over their own peers (more affordable and moldable).
 
Gen X is caught in a proverbial catch 22.
 
So what can elders do?
 
First, aim for balance in your leadership and church staff. If one generation is dominant, there’s room for change. Second, survey the generational attitudes of your congregation. What’s the older Boomer wanting? What’s Gen X thinking? What’s the younger Millennial seeking?
 
It’s also time to think differently about Gen X altogether, especially those 50-somethings who’ve been out of work for awhile. They may be your best hire. They’re experienced, willing, capable and enthusiastically affordable.
 
Yes, Gen X is getting long in the tooth but that doesn’t mean they’re done or can’t lead a church to its best days. Ben Merold proved that idea wrong.
 
The “stuck in the middle” Jan Brady generation just wants the chance.