What's So Tough About Being an Elder?
[This article is taken from class material written many years ago. Not all of these thoughts may have application to our situation at Centreville.]
Looking from the Outside In
Any job looks easier when we only see the finished product. We are often not privy to the extensive training, practice, study and other behind the scenes preparation for any job that is done well – from playing professional sports to making an automobile to running a restaurant. Competence creates the appearance of ease, and this is the curse of doing one’s job well.
Perhaps only an elder’s wife knows the depths of agony and anxiety that must be traversed by one who wrestles over the souls of men. We would do ourselves and the elders a great service by consciously taking note of the things that must be attended to for a congregation to function as it should.
Some Nuts and Bolts of Congregational Activity
Perhaps it would be instructive to briefly reflect upon the various elements of congregational function. The following does not represent the work of elders, for much of this must be delegated in order for the elders to concentrate upon spiritual duties. But these things must be accomplished, and elders will have to account for them.
Teaching: How will classes be divided? Who will schedule teaching assignments? How will teachers be trained and monitored? What curriculum will be used? What does the congregation need in the short, mid- and long-term? How will physical teaching materials be procured? Where stored? Who needs personal teaching attention? Who will do this? Are other home studies needed?
Will we support outside evangelists? Who? How much shall they receive? Will we give them raises? When will we visit them? When will they be invited to visit us? How can we maintain close ties of love and concern for them? Which geographic areas should we concentrate on? When will we terminate support?
Will we support a local evangelist? What qualities will we look for? How much will he be paid? How will we determine a fair salary? What other benefits will be supplied? What will be his duties? How will he be monitored for truth and effectiveness? How will we blend his efforts with the elders’ spiritual oversight? How much vacation and meeting time will he be allowed?
How will the lost in our community be sought? How many gospel meetings should be held? Who will be invited to preach? How much will he be paid? Where will he stay? What is our goal for these special efforts? How will we respond to visitors at worship?
Worship: When shall worship services be held? Where? A purpose-built building? Rent? Relocate? How much shall be spent on maintenance and repairs? How will the building be cleaned? Secured? What kind of insurance should be carried? How can safety be insured while meeting? Weather? Crime? Who will handle climate control? How will the grounds be maintained?
What will be the order of services? Who will be scheduled to participate? How will they be informed? How can their service be enhanced (microphones, serving from the front, reading scriptures, etc.)? Shall we have services devoted to singing? When? When should we call special gatherings for prayer, say to deal with a crisis situation? How will we train men to take a leading part in the worship? Training class? Personal instruction? Who will provide the elements of the Lord’s supper every week? How will they be procured, stored?
Financial Issues: How shall the contribution be budgeted? How much for evangelism? Supplies? Shall we own a preacher’s home? Pay a salary that allows the preacher private home ownership? Who will handle the treasury? How will we comply with tax laws? How will we report financial details to the congregation? How much debt should be taken on? When? For what reasons?
Shepherding the Flock: How will the spiritual welfare of the congregation be monitored? Shall attendance be taken for class, worship? Who will do this? What will be done with the information? Can work groups assist in supplying needs? When will they meet? Who will direct them? What issues will they address? How can social media be utilized to keep abreast of member issues? Who will maintain this?
How shall weak members be encouraged? When are personal visits for exhortation or correction indicated? When should the chronically unfaithful be excluded from fellowship? How will this be handled?
How and when will the elders communicate with the congregation? Annual meetings? Quarterly reports? Bulletin? How will the elders assess the concerns of the congregation? Questionnaires? Informal talks?
The Behind the Scenes Work of Elders
If we only see each other at services, we do not really know what goes on throughout the week. We will not know of the time the elders spend in private with members who need immediate spiritual attention. Marital difficulties, job woes, hidden sins and conflicts among brethren are some of the more common issues that have to be dealt with. Hospital visits, funeral presence, responding to social invitations (weddings, home gatherings, etc.) all take their share of time in the elders’ schedule. While the presence of other members may not be missed, the absence of elders (or the preacher) at times like these will be noticed and sometimes resented. There needs to be fairness shown in this regard. Elders are not mind readers; they need to be informed of what is happening. Others need to realize that they are regular people and circumstances beyond their control may hinder them from responding in as timely a fashion as others may assume they should. Remember: “Whatever you want me to do to you, do also to them …” (Mt 7:12). Judge the elders by the standard you would like to be judged by.
The bottom line is that elders have a spiritually oppressive, emotionally taxing, conscience-jarring job to do. It is a work that never seems done. No matter how well done, it could have been done better. It is a role in which it is impossible to satisfy everyone. Thus, there frequently seems to be discontent from some quarter or other. Second-guessing is always easy when one does not have to face the real consequences of his imagined decisions. The elders are on the firing line. They are putting their happiness and well-being in the hands of sometimes ungrateful people whom they are trying to prop up and encourage toward heaven.
Serving as an elder should not be sugarcoated or gift-wrapped with a pretty bow. It is hard, exhausting work. But it also carries the reward of knowing that the good people will benefit and will be everlastingly grateful for the effort some shepherd made to feed and protect them on their way to heaven. Serving as an elder isn’t for everyone. It is for the man who walks by faith, not by sight. It is for the man who does not become weary in well-doing. It is for the man whose wife is confident enough to share her husband with the Lord as He works in the lives of men. We need more of these good men.