THE WORK OF ELDERS
January 1, 1997 Issue
by Don L. King
We began a study in last month's OPA regarding the work of elders. So much is heard about the qualifications and too often very little about their work. The various terms used by the Spirit to refer to the elders also is indicative of their work. Such ideas as shepherds, overseers, rulers, leaders, examples, etc. may give us some hint of what the Lord expects.
The office of an elder or bishop is a good work (1 Timothy 3:1). However, it requires a great deal of time and serious thought. The office can never hope to be filled satisfactorily by anyone who is lacking in a love for the church and Christ. Their work (elders) will require them to be at home most of the time. How could one otherwise shepherd the church? Can one be a leader while on the road? May he rule from a distance? Is it possible to oversee a congregation from afar? If a man is not willing to make the home congregation his number one concern and stay at home with it he had better not take on the job. To my mind, this creates a real problem for the preacher who also wishes to be an elder. The work of an evangelist demands that he be gone preaching while the work of an elder demands that be at home shepherding. How can we be at both places at the same time? Yes, we are aware that many preachers stay at home. However, it may be that much of the work they do is really intended for the elders (once they are appointed). Once elders are appointed the evangelist is to he on his way to begin all over again. Obviously the idea of the preacher becoming the "pastor" by himself is unscriptural He is temporary while elders are permanent. He is often by himself while elders are always in the plural. Probably, we have become too accustomed to the preacher or a certain man called the "leader" doing the work intended for scriptural elders. We need to be very careful lest we allow an unscriptural form of government to evolve through generations of neglect on our part.
We notice in Acts 20:28, as Paul spoke to the elders from Ephesus, that he said: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves " What great advice! The duties of elders involve the souls of men. How fitting that elders always inspect themselves before others. An elder must know how he himself stands with the Lord if he is to be effective in doing the great work he has been ordained to do. He must be able to take care of his own house (1 Timothy 3:4,5) before he undertakes to rule the Lord's house.
Elders who always "take heed to themselves" are not likely to be unaware of personal faults. He will not cause division in the church because he is uncaring of the Lord's will. In other words, he will correct his own mistake before others must correct them for him. It is difficult to imagine a more embarrassing situation than to be condemned by others because we are not able, or willing to correct ourselves.
Take heed to yourselves, indicates a group of men who are very, very careful about the church. Can you imagine an elder who does not regularly attend the services? He will always be there because he cares for the church. Lack of attendance normally shows an absence of care for the church. The elders make it their business to know what is going on with the congregation. They will have to be aware of the members lives and problems. They will have a great care about how the services are carried on. They will see to it that the teaching is what it needs to be. They will know what needs to be taught and why. They are in tune with the church. They will see to it that the song leaders are chosen carefully so that the singing will be as good as possible. They would be careful to see that the Lord's table is taken care of by capable men. They literally oversee the church and her work in the local capacity. It will likely be necessary for the elders to regularly visit among the members so they can be better informed as to members' needs. In other words, elders are to be pastors. They pastor the church. The preacher doesn't do it, the elders do. In a private visit an elder can easily learn what the other members are thinking. If there are questions or needs, be can be of real help.
It seems obvious that the work of the elders is pretty intense. They are not, and should never become, mere figureheads who only arrange services or book teachers for weekends.
Don L. King 1997 OPA Main Page HOME