The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin. (1 Timothy 5:17-22)

These were Paul’s instructions to Timothy—father to adopted son, preacher to preacher, mentor to trainee. From the beginning, it was difficult to be a godly man who deeply cared about God, God’s people, and be an elder. Elders were humans who made mistakes. They, too, lived with temptation. They, too, could be victims of bias.

Little has changed. Members’ expectations often exceed an elder’s time or training. Situations increasingly are complex. Demands are relentless. Critics rarely have the information elders have. What appears to be simple is never simple. In crisis moments, elders frequently are in “no win” situations they did not produce. While caring, they can be accused of not caring. They protect confidences as if no confidences exist. Also:

  1. They serve an all volunteer organization as if they were paid C.E.O.’s of a profitable company.
  2. Members appoint them for spiritual maturity, but treat them as immature if they “do not agree with my view.”
  3. They are expected to study, but keep quiet if what they learn conflicts with typical conclusions.
  4. They are expected to produce money to fund anyone’s passionate cause.
  5. They are expected to have and use people skills no one possesses.
  6. They are expected to understand those who misunderstand them.
  7. Their families silently endure grief and pay prices few know.

So why would any man agree to be an elder? For the same reason a godly person agrees to be a deacon, a business management team participant, a leader of a program, a teacher, or an involved member. (1) They love God. (2) They love people. (3) They understand God’s purposes are bigger than the physical realities of right now. (4) They seek to use their gifts to serve God rather than themselves.

If Christians are to benefit from selfless, capable leadership, we consciously need to produce the joys of leading rather than the pain of discontentment. Respond to godly leadership. Get involved. Have a servant heart rather than a controller’s mind. May godly people never decline leadership because of unnecessary heartache.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 10 January 2008

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