by Tom Ellsworth
My father served as an elder in my hometown congregation for decades. He and the men who served with him had a huge impact on my life, an impact that followed me into ministry and shaped my understanding of what an elder could be. Central Christian Church in Huntingburg, Indiana, was not a large congregation during my youth but the one hundred or so people who worshipped there laid a solid spiritual foundation on which to build my life. That was due in large part to good elders whose influence filtered down through the pews.
Interestingly, every elder liked to sing and they all had great voices. (Liking to sing and being able to sing are not synonymous!) They became known as The Singing Shepherds and were frequently invited to sing at revivals, men’s rallies and area congregations. I realize now how truly unique they were; those shepherds served and sang as one voice to the Lord. Their slightly faded signatures on my ordination certificate remind me of their rich legacy imprinted on my life. What was it that made their ministry so effective? Let me share a few reflections:
They were qualified. These men were not perfect by any stretch. They had flaws like all of us, but they were above reproach. I watched genuine servants at work. As an elder, strive to be above reproach. Nothing detracts from our Lord’s church like a disconnect between a leader’s role and his character.
They were friends. These men truly enjoyed one another’s company. I realize there is no biblical requirement for elders to be friends, but their comradery was indispensable in the challenging moments of church work. As an elder, spend time with your fellow elders away from church duties. Eat in one another’s homes; find times for social activities without gathering in a corner for a “quick elder’s conference.” Keep the church business separate – build friendships, because those relationships will keep your eldership intact through the tough times.
They were positive. I’m not suggesting that everything went smoothly; it didn’t. They dealt with some prickly issues over the years, but they remained positive even through the challenges. As I look back on those elders, the word laughter comes to mind. These men could always find a reason to smile and laugh. And, as we know, laughter is good medicine. As an elder, keep smiling and laughing. I know there are heartbreaking issues in the church but stay positive. We serve a God for whom nothing is impossible. I hope the congregation you serve remembers your smiles and laughter.
They were role models. Long before I understood the concept of mentoring, these men were doing that for me and others in the congregation. I marvel to think of what I learned from their examples. As an elder, be worthy of imitation. There are youth in your congregation who are desperate for a positive role model.
They were faithful to their last breath. As an elder, stay faithful to the very end. With your last breath, leave a legacy of faithfulness. On Saturday evening, January 18th, my 92-year-old father’s last earthly breath slipped from his lips and he drew in his first breath of celestial air in that place where death is no more. I miss him but he was ever so ready to go! And I know where he is and Who is with him. Dad was the last of The Singing Shepherds to go home – the last of a band of brothers who impacted my home congregation and my life personally. I sure would like to hear them sing now!