20. SOME THOUGHTS ON CHURCH ELDERS

AT A CONVENTION of religious booksellers I once heard a Mennonite preacher score a point on the ineffectiveness of over-organization. “I don’t know how it is with your churches,” he commented) “but we have a standing joke that if three of our pastors fell out of an airplane together they would form a committee before they hit the ground.”

Most of us are organized to death. Perhaps we fail to realize that God has supplied the church already for autonomous, spiritual growth (Ephesians 4:12-16). When evangelists preach, pastors shepherd, deacons serve and teachers instruct, members will gradually learn to make their own contributions and the churches will see solid progress. The strength will come from the Head of the Body — Jesus Christ. This is God’s plan and it works.

The Spirit gives qualifications for church leaders twice in the New Testament (I Timothy 3; Titus 1). In neither passage are they required to be clever businessmen or financial wizards. Thy are not set over God’s flock to tend coffers or to push projects. Their basic job is shepherding souls (Acts 20:28). Scripturally qualified men are adequate for that task. One of the finest elders I have known made his living as janitor of a school. He has since died, but that church hasn’t, and today its influence is felt around the world. I knew another elder in the same town who quietly went about doing good. He never made a name for himself in the brotherhood, but his name is in the Lamb’s book of life.

Elders are responsible to God for the flock that is “among them” (I Peter 5:2). If they will be diligent in seeing to it, they will be able to give account to God with joy when the time comes for that. This local concern will not insure the favor of all men. It will give a certainty of God’s approval. When the Chief Shepherd comes that will be enough (I Peter 5:4).

The churches do not need additional organization. God has always supplied the power for His work. Success does not depend on human ingenuity, high finance or college brains. It never has. It does not now and it never will. God does need consecrated individuals who love Him and one another, who seek first His kingdom and righteousness, and who are more concerned with pleasing Him than with creating a sycophantic institution to reflect their own vanity and cater to their desires.

Within one century the apostolic church covered the earth — in spite of persecution and dire poverty, and without the “aid” of budgets or fine buildings. The same power and Word of God can accomplish the same feat today. More organization is not needed. More consecration may be.