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.

The Sheep, and Shepherd

by John Caldwell

Throughout the Bible the people of God are referred to as “sheep,” such as when the Psalmist writes, “We are (the Lord’s) people, the sheep of His pasture.” (Psalm 100: 3).  There are many reasons that figure of speech is appropriate.  Sheep are prone to stray, they follow the flock (the crowd), they are dependent, and they need shepherds to feed, protect, and guide them.  In I Peter 5:1-4 we learn that the shepherds or elders of the church are to “care for,” “watch over,” and “lead (the flock) by your own good example.” 

There are many things Scripture does not prescribe about the eldership, the shepherds of the church: method of selection, term of service, organization, and many other issues that the local church is free to determine as to what is best in their particular situation.  The qualifications (so-called) in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 speak primarily to the character of the shepherd.  The example of the Good Shepherd in John 10:1-16 speaks not only to character but to duty or responsibility as well.  

I would suggest, however, that the most extensive description of the dutiesof a shepherd/elder is found not in the New Testament but the Old. Take a careful look at Ezekiel 34:1-10 and you will find that God expects His shepherds to…

  • Feed the sheep
  • Take care of the weak
  • Tend the sick
  • Bind-up the broken
  • Bring back the wandering
  • Seek the lost
  • Protect the flock
  • Not use force or cruelty

The Apostle Paul captures much of that in his instructions to the elders of the church in Ephesus: “And now beware!  Be sure that you feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with His blood – over whom the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders.  I know full well that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock.” (Eph. 20:28-29).  Hebrews 13:17 indicates that the primary duty of church leaders is to “watch over” the souls of the people entrusted to them; and we’re told that such leaders will be held accountable in that regard.  

I recently heard a message on the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15.  In that parable Jesus indicates His heart for the lost, leaving the ninety-nine to go search for the one.  No passage better demonstrates the value God places on each sheep.  The speaker suggested, however, that the ninety-nine had had their chance and could fend for themselves.  But even as the church has a primary responsibility to reach the lost, the ninety-nine who are not lost are also in need of shepherds who do for them all those things we find in Ezekiel 34.  And from the parable of the Good Shepherd (John 10) we learn that those sheep need shepherds who know them, who are known by them, who lead by example, and who are trustworthy. 

Many modern day elderships reflect a corporate board philosophy of ministry. What is often missing is the tender care of loving shepherds for sickly sheep, rebellious sheep, wandering sheep, and even nasty sheep.  There are also healthy, contented sheep for whom the shepherds are responsible; and there are wolves in sheep’s clothing that must be exposed and dealt with.  To fulfill the Biblical calling of a shepherd/elder is a tremendous challenge but has tremendous rewards.  “When the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.” (I Peter 5:4).

The Elder and Change

by Dick Alexander

Every elder wants to help shepherd a living church, not a dying one. Yet many miss a critical aspect of the job.

Strong, vibrant, growing churches are both Biblically sound and culturally in-tune.  A church that loses either half of that equation dies.  Entire denominations have given up on the truth of Scripture and are empty sepulchers.  But the landscape is also littered with dead and dying churches that preached the gospel till their final breath, but did it in a polyester leisure suit.  A church that loses its connection to the Word loses its power; a church that loses its connection to its culture loses its audience.  Both must be concerns of elders.

Culture is changing rapidly.  One hundred years ago culture was more static, more predictable.  But by 1970, Alvin Toffler wrote in Future Shock that the only constant is change.  And that was nearly a half century ago.  This means any church that is not constantly making appropriate changes will likely not be here in 20 years.  Maybe not in 10.

Good church leaders don’t apologize for changes in church programming, structures, and worship forms.  They create a culture of change, where ongoing change is expected.  Vibrant churches make continuous changes that are well-conceived, well-communicated, and well-implemented.  Change is a way of life.

I remember thinking some years ago that our church was in a period of transition.  Then the realization came that going forward we would always be in transition.

So where are elders in all of this?  Honestly, most elders are better at keeping the church on track Biblically than culturally.  Part of this may be that elders are, by definition, older, rather than younger.  Many are long-time church members and love their church “the way it is.”  And they hear, sometimes vociferously, from other long-time members who like their church the way it is, or more problematically, who want to take it back to a former time that is gone forever.

Often tension arises between elders and staff over new initiatives.  Staff propose a grand new idea that never gets off the ground with elders.  The staff is deflated, and the elders frustrated or disappointed.  The staff may not have given appropriate respect to traditions or a reasonable pace of change, and may have been unrealistic.  The elders may have been short on vision, a sense of mission, and maybe just short on courage.

Elder work involves governing.  Thoughtful elders aren’t chasing every ministry fad.  Sometimes good governance sets limits and says no.  On the other hand, they are constantly seeking new ways to fulfill our urgent mission.  Elders who want the church to have a future will be asking questions like:

  • How are we going to improve what we’re doing now?
  • What new initiatives will we launch this year, especially in outreach?
  • What will we quit doing that is no longer effective?

On one side, elders are partners with staff in constantly seeking more effective ways for ministry. On the other hand, they are guides to the congregation in helping communicate the necessity and rationale for innovation.

Elders of vibrant churches don’t resist change – they require it.  Any change is risky – some will fail.  But it’s like snow skiing – if you never fall, you’re not getting better.  All good leadership groups have a respectable number of failures noted in their minutes.  After a few years they are good stories to laugh about.

Churches are sometimes hamstrung by dissatisfied members.  Maybe the most deadly words spoken in elder meetings are, “We can’t afford to lose anyone.”  Every significant change, especially those centered on outreach, will cause some to leave the church.  We let them go with tears, but we let them go.  They will find another church – they won’t go to hell.  But someone else might if the church doesn’t connect with today’s world.

Guided by the Spirit and the Word, capable elders shepherd a church in a dynamic, life-giving pathway of service.  It’s not only good now, but it helps ensure there will be a church for their grandkids.

When the Spirit Chooses Leaders

by Jeff Faull

“Everything rises or falls with leadership.”  It’s as true in The Church as anywhere.  Healthy, growing churches are generally led by healthy, growing leaders.  Unhealthy, stagnating churches are often (not always) led by unhealthy, unqualified leaders.

Often, the reason for incompetent church leadership can be directly linked to the local body’s method of selecting leaders.  The process might become politicized, or perhaps bylaws or a constitution may constrain the process, whether in selection or in preventing a poor leader’s removal.  In any case, The Church suffers.
How Should We Select Leaders?
So how do we select Church leaders?  Some well-intentioned soul always chimes in, “The Holy Spirit chooses leaders.”  While that sounds good, haven’t we all observed far too many situations from which The Spirit was undeniably absent from leader selection?  But the core idea remains true: Paul did tell the Ephesians elders, “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28, NIV).

We take solace in the fact that, submitted to God’s will, His Spirit will identify the right leaders.  He will guide us to these people when we use a consistent process, and we can confidently know God called someone into designated leadership. 

Dramatic examples of leader designations dot the Bible’s story.  Think Saul on his way to Damascus, the lots cast for Matthias, Gideon with a fleece, Moses at the bush, and more.  Today, in The Church’s era, The Spirit calls leaders through an un-dramatic method, but it is certain.  God’s instructions on leader selection came directly from The Spirit when He inspired the Biblical text.  Four criteria should be our filter to confirm the will of God in the leader-selection process.
The candidate should aspire to lead.
Paul told Timothy that a man should desire to be an elder.  We should never push someone unwilling into leadership.  But aspiring to leadership isn’t the sole criteria.  When God wants someone in such responsibility, He can prompt willingness in their heart.  Reluctant leaders with consistent reservations seldom excel in leading The Lord’s Church.
Leaders should have the approval of God. 
We know someone has God’s approval by their character, especially through qualities found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  Carefully consider these when someone seeks a leadership position.  One of my preaching professors, Bob Stacy, reminded us the most important degree is an A.U.G. – “Approved Unto God.”  Ability, charisma, and general, generic leadership skills cannot make up for deficiencies that may come to light while studying these passages.  We must avoid two equally damaging extremes: these qualities cannot be narrowly, legalistically applied, nor casually reinterpreted or dismissed. The Church cannot afford to make “the image vs. substance mistake” and Paul’s directions here are critical. 
The candidate should be appraised by others.
Though the church is not a democracy, the congregation should get to voice their confidence over those being chosen as overseers.  Qualifying for the eldership also means we consider one’s reputation inside and outside the church.  The “choose from among you” mentality of Acts 6 is a wise approach, even with eldership.  Each congregation should have, in its process, an element enabling members to participate in leadership approval.  Part of leading is a willingness to be judged publicly by other Christians and church members.
Potential leaders should be appointed by existing leaders.
We seldom hear “evangelist” as a title today, yet many contend that it is a term used in Scripture for the local preacher.  His duties include “set[ing] the church in order” (Titus 1:5) and ordaining elders (1 Timothy 5:22).  Ephesians 4:11-13 establishes a shared and mutual responsibility for church leadership.  Therefore, we should assign the interviewing and screening of potential elders to an already-existing leadership team, (provided they’re healthy and biblically-functioning themselves).

Often, a potential leader has leadership qualities and character per 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, but his leadership philosophy differs from the existing leadership.  The participation of and appointment by established staff and elders is vital to preserving harmony and effectiveness within the leadership team.
Fellow church leaders, let’s use this biblical, four-stage filter for The Holy Spirit to select great leaders for His Church:

  • Aspire to lead
  • Approve (from God’s word)
  • Appraise (by fellow Christians)
  • Appoint (by current [healthy] leaders)