In 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 God inspired Paul to list the qualifications of elders. We will discuss the work of an elder this morning, and evening, and then discuss the qualifications the next few weeks. To prepare us for this, I want to share with you some writings and comments on elders that I have gleaned from my files over the years.
Concerning elders being an example to the flock by being role models, able guides and wise counselors, Roger Coffman wrote, “There is just no substitute for maturity and experience in earning respect and being able to encourage someone to “hang in there” when everyone and everything else is saying, “Give up.” Therefore, first and foremost, elders are men who have lived for awhile and developed some degree of spiritual maturity. Because they are human beings, they are not perfect. However, the focus of their faith and ours is Christ Jesus. Just as early Christians followed their elders, who followed Paul and the other apostles, who followed Christ, so we follow our elders as they follow Christ.”
WHY STAY MAD AT ELDERS?
This is an incurable brotherhood disease. In my early preaching ventures, I was shocked to find angry, bitter, frustrated members – still tell and re-telling something bad elders did years ago. Elders are human and can be wrong; elders do make mistakes. But it shocked me how members nurse hurts for years and years. After time passes what they did – right or wrong – cannot be “undid.” It was done. As a young preacher I was not to be a judge upon that which is history. Some observations:
1. Elders must be allowed to make mistakes. As one who has been a regular attendant of elder’s meetings for nigh unto 38 years, there are many grounds for hurts, disappointments, yea, cynicism.
2. Elders must be forgiven. Paul said, “forgetting those things that are behind.” Leaders must face the future. Elders, by and large, do not intentionally hurt people. They make decisions – decisions always anger, hurt, upset someone. But why stay mad? It is done and cannot be undone. You hurt yourself, your family, the church. Two wrongs don’t make a right. The past needs to be buried.
3. Who are you, anyway? Preachers get to thinking they are wiser than elders. Don’t ever turn churches over to preachers, deacons, women, critics. Members are to be heard not obeyed. It isn’t easy. Feeling are always ruffled in anything they do.
This is God’s church, God’s work, and God’s worship – so why stay mad at elders?
Charles Hodge, Ft. Worth TX. (Brother Hodge recently passed away this year).
THE WORK OF ELDERS
“But when He saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36).
Of all the words used in both Old and New Testaments the one word used more often than any other to describe the role of the leaders of God’s people is “shepherd.”
1. The Lord Himself is called shepherd in Psalms 23.
2. God’s leadership of Israel is compared to that of a shepherd in Isaiah 40:11.
3. The leaders of ancient Israel are criticized severely for not properly shepherding God’s people in Ezekiel 34, and Jeremiah 23.
4. Jesus called Himself “the good shepherd” in John 10.
5. Jesus used that same imagery in referring to the leadership role of Pater and other apostles in John 21:15-17.
6. In his final conversation with elders of the Ephesian congregation, Paul urged them to guard themselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers, being “… shepherds of the church of God which he purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28).
7. Peter appealed to his fellow elders to “shepherd the flock of God which is among you . . . being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:1-3)
From John 10 it is obvious that these things should be characteristics of “the good shepherd.”
1. He knows his sheep and they know him. (2-3)
2. The sheep trust and follow him (4-5).
3. His concern for the sheep is selfless and sincere (7-10).
4. He makes himself vulnerable in order to help the sheep (11-15).
In addition to presbuteros, “one who is older” the other two key Greek words translated elder are “poimein” and “episkopos.” “Pastor” and “bishop” are the ways they are commonly translated into English. “Shepherd” and “overseer” are equally accurate translations. Whatever the overseer oversees is the same things the shepherd shepherds. Both of these terms have reference to the leadership of the Lord’s church. The overseeing and shepherding that must be done is something that cannot be done from a distance.
The primary responsibility of the elders is not making decisions behind closed doors but being involved in the lives of God’s people – healing the hurts, seeking the lost and strengthening the weak. “You’ll know who the shepherds are because they’re the ones who smell like sheep.”
Roger A Coffman.