May 1, 1991 Issue
by Bennie Cryer

Every once in a while I am asked if it is scriptural for a local congregation to not have elders, but since the church is designed by Almighty God to produce elders it cannot scripturally fulfill its role if it is not trying to produce elders.

Suppose the owner of a good cotton farm leased his farm to a neighbor and, in addition, gave him all the implements, seed, fertilizer and water needed to produce cotton and for the next twenty or thirty years the lessee would produce not a single bale of cotton. What would the owner think? What action do you think the owner would take? What would be the lessee's responsibility in this matter? What would the other neighbors think about this situation?

All of these questions must be answered by each who is a steward in a local congregation for the church is like that good cotton farm that should produce cotton. It is designed to produce not only Christians, but the very finest of Christians that are called elders in The New Testament. Along with the church comes that which gives us all things that pertain to life and godliness, or, in other words, everything needed to take a sinner, convert him, and cultivate him until he qualifies to be selected and ordained an elder. There are examples in The New Testament of the church taking heathens and producing elders of them in three years or less, Acts 14:21-23. We have not been able to follow that pattern in many local churches. What does the owner of the church think of this? What action do you think he will take toward the stewards of the local churches who have failed in this matter? What responsibility do these stewards have in situations like this? What do the neighbors think of a local church that cannot produce elders? Why have we generally not been able to produce elders? Let us consider what may be some of the answers to these questions:

1. Lip service instead of heart service. Mt 15:8-9. Sermons and lessons are taught on the subject but nothing concrete is done toward official goal setting and training. In some cases, men are already qualified but the congregation lacks the desire to appoint them. Some believe they are getting along alright now without elders, so why bother to appoint elders? They are sometimes even willing to put up with an unscriptural system (majority rule) in order not to have elders. In extreme cases men and women alike oppose it for fear of losing their vote or their husband's vote in the decision making process because they know they could never qualify to be an elder. Is this not paying lip service only to an instruction from the owner of the church?

2. Lack of desire to become an elder. I Tim 3:1. This is evident because it is difficult to find men who are willing to make the sacrifices of time and energy necessary to qualify. By the time they fulfill their material goals and have enough of this world's goods to be comfortable, their children have seen enough of double standards and shoving the church into the background to want nothing more to do with the church even though dad wants to put the church first now. So, they now have unfaithful children and, therefore, cannot qualify. Really and truly, they are just like dad was. If you want your children to sacrifice themselves to the Lord, learn to set good examples of sacrifice now. Learn to teach. Learn to be holy and just. Really take up the cross. Really serve. This is the way Jesus got His followers.

3. Lack of help and encouragement from church and family members. I Tim 3:4-5; Titus 1:6. How many members have told the growing Christian they want him to become an elder? Wives have encouraged and pushed their husbands to become top executives, but have you told your husband you will back him and help him to become an elder? Or, do you think that might hinder him in climbing the promotional ladder? Remember, that future elder has to have a good congregation and a good wife behind him. And you children, why don't you meet your daddy when he comes home from work today and throw your arms around him and promise him that you will try not to do anything that would hinder him in becoming an elder and that you want to encourage him and would he proud to see him selected and ordained as an elder. Some children have made it impossible for their father to even be considered for this work.

Are these some of the reasons the local church where you attend has not produced elders? If so, you need to begin immediately to remove the hindrances and get on with obeying the instructions of the owner of the church and properly use all he has given you for this purpose. When this is done the owner of the church will he well pleased. Elders will he produced and those of our friends in the world will have more respect for the church.

So, is it scriptural for a church to exist without elders? Why, certainly, if that church has elders in its plans and its goal is more than a "lip service" way. I have come to see that the statement I sometimes read and hear that "the church can be scripturally unorganized" is an unscriptural statement. I know well meaning brethren make this statement because they know the church can exist without elders. It should therefore read, "the local church can exist scripturally without elders." But brethren, for how long and under what circumstances?

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