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Why are we selecting elders? More to the point – how does that process make us feel? Excited, worried, relieved, hopeful, or skeptical? How we answer may depend on what concepts of leadership we attach to church leadership.

Secular Concepts of Power and Authority:

  1. Government [The Official] – I can recall as a young man attending the congregation at Winslow [Arkansas] that there was a hope that one day we would appoint elders. I remember that the attitude was that we were somehow incomplete without elders. As if we were building a house and the roof had not been shingled or the walls had not been painted. Once we “installed” our elders, then the project would be finished. But we always had leadership and spiritual counsel despite not having elders. I have since come to realize that this concept was the Government Official way of looking at elders and deacons. Like the U.S. Constitution, the Bible specified certain qualifications of officers. And our government, or church, was incomplete without delegates to fill the role. Who was less important than what.

  2. Democratic [The Representative] – Of course this is logically associated with another concept. That of the representative who reflects your positions. I am glad that we live in a nation where the people bear the ultimate responsibility for leadership. I think it’s a good system even if it isn’t perfect. However, that representative form of leadership isn’t always a fair comparison to the way leadership functions among God’s people. Why?
    1. God’s people are ruled by a King. Christ is Lord.
    2. Leadership in our nation provides a place and an opportunity to live, in the church we are being led in how to live. The goal is different. God’s leaders in any nation have the same goal, to shepherd the flock and to provide the healthy teaching that enables the body to grow in godliness.
    3. We want leaders who teach us how to live (not just someone who represents my views).
    4. There are no parties among the elders. (In their Covenant of Conduct, the elders have addressed this. Unlike the board of directors of our city, there is no report on the vote. Why? Because the elders are unified and they want us to be as well.)

  3. Ranks and Slots – I remember my father telling about the different ranks he held in the military. I was surprised to learn that the achievement of rank was not simply meritorious, though that had something to do with it. In my young man’s view of the world, I wanted to know how he would move all the way to the top (because I knew he could be a general) but he tried his best to explain to me that it was more about a slot opening up and then there would be a selection. We are not concerned about filling empty slots on the elder roster. We are not looking to replace soon-to-be-retired shepherds. In the Lord’s church there are as many leaders as needed. 4 or 40. 3 or 333. Just as the church has no finite size, there is no finite size to the group that we call “the eldership.”

  4. Customer Service – Who we go to when we are unhappy and dissatisfied – The complaint department. Honestly, this is one of the reasons why many men and their families do not want to serve as shepherds. The role of shepherding becomes a burden rather than a joy. This isn’t to say that we cannot go to our leaders and share our concerns and tell them how our hearts break and how our souls hurt. Doing so might lead to change and it could enable the shepherds to understand how they should lead. But when we expect that our concerns should determine the leadership of the elders and the direction of the church, then we have mistaken the shepherds for customer service agents. The goal of a customer service department is to keep customers satisfied and apologize for the discomfort of customers. But shepherds might respond with comfort or challenge – maybe both - which leads us closer to God.

  5. Educational – Someone who has all the answers to the most difficult Bible questions like “Where did Cain get his wife?” or “Can you have a kitchen in the church building?” Intelligence and information are good. They are much better than ignorance. But there is another capacity called wisdom that is important in the Lord’s household.
The original question was why are we selecting elders? A Biblical Alternative: How does the church find its leaders? What are those leaders for? (Their function ...)

  1. Recognizing spiritual leaders in a group is a normal sign of growth.

    Read Acts 6:1-7 – There was a need in the growing church. The church had become more diverse and they were meeting the needs of more people. The Twelve were responsible for the distribution of food, but they were also especially responsible for the ministry of the Word and prayer. Instead of holding all that authority, they shared it. And once again the church, even this diverse church that was made up of different cultures, attitudes, and troubled with a little bit of conflict – even this church became the instrument that God used to call out leaders for the needs of the church.

    And the church was blessed again: The proposal to add seven new leaders to serve in the distribution of food pleased the whole group. Conflict gave way to agreement in the Holy Spirit. Notice the conclusion of the episode: “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” The word of God spread because leadership was shared.

    In Paul’s letter to Titus, he encourages Titus to seek out and recognize godly leaders so that the congregation may grow in godliness. Not so he can complete his work and finish the project by installing a set of elders. The work of God’s Spirit in a community is to always recognize those people who live out healthy teaching so that they can mentor and nurture others to do the same. [Older men, younger men; older women, younger women.]

  2. The church is the instrument that God uses to call leaders for the needs of the church.

    God does not have to use the church, but his Spirit works through the community of faith in a graciously cooperative way to meet the needs of the people, not only by providing them leaders but by providing them the opportunity to call out and recognize those leaders. In this way all the church, not just those named leaders, become keenly aware of how God has gifted and equipped the church to participate in life together and in His mission.

    In Acts 6 the church is not so arrogant or dull to assume that naming leaders is nothing more than an administrative task. They believe that the activity of God and the Spirit of Christ is directing the choice.

    The whole body has a sort of “oversight” when it comes to “scoping out” overseers. When the Twelve tell the church to “seek out” seven leaders, the word for “seek out/choose” is taken from the same root word that gives us the word for overseers/bishops. To “scope out” means to concern oneself with something. It means watching out for something. In this case, the church is watching out for those who can “lead for the need.”

    Leadership responds to the needs of God’s people for guidance and service. The choosing of leaders is not an effort to give someone a place of prominence. It is an effort to provide leaders who can serve the needs of the church and steward the church’s mission.

    Acts 1 and Acts 6 describe the recognition of different types of leaders, and Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 also describe the selection of types of leaders. But one thing is common: all of these leaders are not merely filling a slot; they serve a function in the life of the Christian community so that the church may grow in Christ and go forward in the mission.

  3. Leadership in the church is functional, not official.

    Leadership arises from the community’s quite mundane but utterly necessary needs. The function of elders is to teach us how to live. They are models of the Christian life.

    Serving as an elder is not filling an office. It isn’t a seat on a board of directors. The elder has an important function in the life of the church. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul describes the work of overseeing as a noble work. It is work that is good for the church.

  4. Leadership in the body of Christ is shared.

    Church leaders are empowered by the Spirit. Notice that one of the criteria for choosing the seven in Acts 6 is to find men who were full of the Holy Spirit. This phrase acknowledges that God’s Spirit is what leads and empowers the church to participate faithfully in the mission of God. Leaders who are not saturated with the Spirit will have their own agenda, or they may worry that the burden of leadership is all on their shoulders. But a leader filled with the Holy Spirit understands that Christ is the Chief Shepherd and the burden of leadership is shared with other leaders in harmony with the Spirit of Christ.

How all of these principles shape our current process ...

  1. We are confident that the West-Ark congregation is capable of being the instrument that God uses to identify and recognize men of Christ-like character and filled with a godly spirit. As sheep, we recognize our shepherds.
  2. So, the initial phase of this process (January 17 to January 24) involves every baptized member of this congregation. We want each of you to take a nomination form and write the names of the men who you regard to be shepherds.
  3. What we are asking you to do is to name those men who you consider a shepherd and who you would recommend to the rest of the congregation as shepherds.

  4. Since we are convinced that God’s Spirit is working through this entire process, we ask you to give this serious and prayerful consideration.

  5. After January 24th when all the forms are submitted, the current elders will shepherd the top nominees. They will approach them and discuss their interest in serving as elders. (Of course that doesn’t prevent you from encouraging the men you want to name; you may do so.) Now, as the current elders work with these men who’ve been named, they will be equipped by the “response” you have given them. Remember, the current elders are also God’s instrument in this process. They are working cooperatively with the flock.
  6. So, your first task is to pray, study, and recommend those you recognize as good shepherds. Fill out the form, sign it, and get it into the drop boxes before the end of the day on January 24. This is our opportunity to be a part of what God is doing to provide leadership for His people. This is how we ought to live our lives and our life together – as though God is always working.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 17 January 2010

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