How to “Eld”

by Jon Weatherly 

Asked the fateful question, “Will you serve as an elder in the upcoming term?” what does the typical candidate think?  

I believe it’s this: What in the world are elders supposed to do? 

And the first answer to that question probably follows a functional path: our elders attend meetings monthly, work together to make decisions that affect the entire church, provide oversight to the paid staff, provide guidance to church members, and function as the governing board of the church’s legal corporation. 

But is there an answer beyond the functional?  How should elders carry out those functional duties? How should elders “eld”? 

A biblical answer is found in 1 Peter 5:1-4 (ESV): 
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 

The key elements of “elding” are summed up in this brief text. We can enumerate:

  • Elders lead like shepherds.  The shepherd nourishes and protects.  He takes his cues from the sheep’s needs, not their impulses.
  • Elders exercise “oversight.”  Peter’s word implies not micromanagement or domination but diligent attention to welfare.  It’s the leadership of the brother, not the boss.
  • Elders serve with enthusiasm.  They don’t seek attention, let alone remuneration.  Their work is lowly, but they regard it as lovely.
  • Elders lead by example.  Discipleship is “caught” as much as it’s taught.  Elders are gentle, humble exemplars of discipleship, quietly and sincerely on display for others’ imitation.

What does all that add up to?  The final verse makes clear the foundation of “elding.”  Jesus, the divine Son of God who willingly became human and suffered a tortuous death for the sake of the undeserving, is the chief shepherd.  He sets the example of those who will be examples.  He had every right to dominate, to seek his own benefit, to force others to serve him, but he consistently did the opposite.  He conformed neither to the world’s idea of power – seen in kings and generals – nor the trivial wishes of his flock – epitomized in their requests for their own elevation.  Jesus pursued a glory that is found in lowliness, service, suffering, faithfulness.  Being an elder means being like the Jesus who welcomed back Peter, who had rebuked Jesus for his determination to go to the cross and denied that he knew Jesus in the moment of trial.  To serve as an elder is to exercise similar grace. 

Will you serve as an elder this upcoming term?  That is, will you serve as Jesus did?

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