by Mike Benson
Brethren, can I ask some firm, but loving questions? Where do elders come from? Whom are we training to serve as future shepherds of the Lord’s flock? Who will be ready to take the reins of leadership when a brother steps down, moves, or passes away?
It’s been my observation that congregations tend to find elders only when they have to. Another brother agrees:
“We must face it–we really don’t want elders! Congregations exist for years without ordaining elders. Preachers, having had bad experiences, have a distaste for elders. Mediocre elders or power-hungry elders look upon prospective elders with suspicion and resentment. In such cases elders have to, literally, be forced into (office). Cliques are always trying to get an opponent out or a champion in. Most elderships have been born in necessity and strife–this is not as it should be. Young men are repulsed with such antics–they have no desire to qualify as elders.There must be a constant development of spiritual elders! Weak or bad leadership will catch up with you! It can be ‘crutched’ or ‘covered up’ only so long. We must develop godly elders.”/1
Hodge is right. It’s probably not wise to wait until the leadership well is nearly dry and then attempt to knee-jerk men into office. Waiting until we have to get men for the eldership creates at least three problems:
First, it creates frustration. Men who have not been trained to lead, experience anxiety (1 Kings 3:7). “How can I do this job?! I don’t know what I’m doing.” Kids who have not learned to swim don’t want to be thrown into the water; men who have not been trained (Exodus 18:20) to lead don’t want to thrown into a shark (e.g., wolf– Matthew 10:16; Acts 20:29) tank, either.
Second, it puts people in a position for which they may not be qualified. The church needs more than just male bodies, it needs humble, devoted, and holy men of God. Shepherds are surgeons of souls; they operate on people’s hearts and minds. None of us would want a team of men performing brain surgery, if they’ve not had proper instruction and tutelage. Why would we want undisciplined elders guiding and superintending our souls?
Third, it approaches the work of the eldership as something obligatory rather than something desired. When we attempt to force and strong-arm folks into leadership, they tend to approach their job because they have to, not because they want to.
Men who truly desire the office of a bishop will give the entirety of their energies to their task. Men must want the office (2 Timothy 3:1; 1 Peter 5:2); they must have a passion for the church. That’s not to say that they’ll never feel overwhelmed or insufficient (they’re not ready to serve if they don’t experience some trepidation), but they must possess a heart for service.
Consider for a moment, brethren: “You’re dead…now, who do you have to take your place?” Where do elders come from?
1/ Charles Hodge, “Elders Are Tempted,” Gospel Advocate, March 22, 1979, p. 184.