The Contagem church is studying the process of selecting elders. They invited me to work with them on questions and issues about the eldership. We spent six hours Saturday afternoon on the subject. Sunday morning, we used the Bible class and sermon to address more topics about shepherding God’s people.
I also used the time not only to answer questions, but to draw a larger context so that the questions and thorny issues could be placed within an understandable framework. The big picture keeps the focus sharp.
Below are a few points that came up in the lively and positive discussions among the participants.
• The process of selecting elders represents the congregation’s desire to please God, so the end of the process, whether elders are selected or not, will bring a blessing to the church. If none or not enough are qualified, the process allows the congregation to assess what is needed to reach that goal. In this way, the process never ends in failure, as some might think.
• In the New Testament, elders were not selected immediately upon a church’s establishment. Depending on the place and circumstances, a shorter or longer period of time elapsed between a church’s beginning and the ordination of overseers. This appears to be a divine space which allowed for growth, a provisional, temporary state of affairs. But the provisional should not become permanent.
• Some people are married to Inertia. That’s not a woman’s name, but the tendency to prefer comfortable ways of doing things, even if they’re not God’s plan. Inertia is resistance to change. Why appoint elders when we can stay the way we are? Because (1) we want to please God, (2) we want to be more effective in Christ’s work, and (3) we want to be instruments under the control of the Holy Spirit.
• If elders are not chosen at the end of the selection process, what should be done? First, a program to work with the men in the congregation should be instituted, to train some to reach the point of qualification. Second, and perhaps even more important, intensive evangelism must occur, for through the conversions made, men may arise who are qualified and desire the service of shepherding.
• Must an elder have all the qualities mentioned? Paul frames the discussion with a key word, opening and closing the passage in 1 Timothy 3 with it: “must” (verses 2, 7). It’s a word that indicates the “imposition of the divine will” (L.O. Richards, ?Expository Dictionary of Bible Words?). Pretty much takes care of that question.
• The qualities or virtues of an overseer are those of every Christian. On the other hand, his family status—not a general requirement, but one for overseers—must demonstrate his capacity to govern his home and his ability to then turn that experience into spiritual guidance of the family of God. That truth should keep us from getting lost in the details.
• The Brazilian flag carries the phrase, “Order and Progress.” When we follow God’s order or arrangement for the church, it will make the right kind progress in the kingdom and receive the Lord’s blessing.
- The Perfect Congregation (rootdownwardfruitupward.com)
- No love, no trust, no correction (rootdownwardfruitupward.com)
- Striking admission: no Catholic priests in the early church (randalmatheny.com)