Here’s a hearty recommendation to check out Alan Knox’s series on “elders” in the church. In his introductory article, he points out an interesting observation that the subject of “church leadership” is virtually absent in the early creeds and confessions; and that it was not until the Reformation that such statements began to be included in confessional documents. That speaks volumes, don’t you think? We’ve living in an era where “the pastor” or “the elders” or “the leadership team” receive top billing and detailed explanations in our organizational resources (websites, doctrinal statements, position papers, church covenants, membership classes, etc). Things have changed a bit, I think.
Mr. Knox rightly demonstrates in Part 2 that what we often refer to as “biblical qualifications” for an elder (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1) should never be viewed as a higher standard than expected of “ordinary Christians,” nor should they be set forth as bullet points in a job description. He sees these New Testament guidelines as indicative of the way all Christians should live, especially elders since they are called to be an example to the flock; therefore Paul’s intention is “to help believers recognize those who are already living the life that God has called all believers to live. In other words, whoever is actually living the way that God wants them to live should be recognized as an elderâ€”that is, as an example to other believers,” according to Mr. Knox. He goes on to make a very important point about the importance of the ekklesia’s ability to recognize such men:
Furthermore, if believers are to recognize elders as those who best demonstrate these characteristics, then they must know the elders intimately. These characteristics are not found on a resume or during a weekend visit; they are observed during the rough times in a person’s life. In order to tell if a person is gentle, we must see that person react to someone else who is being harsh. In order to tell if a person is self-controlled, we must see that person react to a situation that is tempting. In order to examine a person’s hospitality, we must see how that person treats strangers. In other words, if we are going to recognize someone as an elder, we must first live with that person long enough to know whether or not that person regularly demonstrates those characteristics, and whether or not that person is a person who is growing in maturity toward Christ-likeness.
If only there was a way to implement this one paragraph immediately in churches around the world! We seem to prefer a more business-like, yet shallow, approach to finding leaders for our assemblies: collect a bunch of resumes, listen to a few audio sermons, bring the candidate for a weekend visit (or even two or three), and then call for the vote of the congregation. “Brother, when can you move your family to our community?”
And in Part 3, Mr. Knox discusses the subject of “leadership” as it relates to the role of elders: just what kind of leaders should our elders be? How do they serve the body? How do they lead? In a nutshell, we are to look around us and ask the question, “Right now, who among us excels in serving others?” When we settle the answer to that question, we have found our most qualified elders because they have become more like Jesus than anyone else within the body; therefore their example and leadership, demonstrated through service, deserves to be followed.
But what about the all-important and seemingly transcendent question: “What about the prospective elder’s preaching and teaching gifts?” According to Knox, “Teaching and preaching are important, but they are not primary. Those who lead should be known more for their service than their words.” Whoa! Better watch out, Alan Knox, because statements like that can get the “thought police” really riled up and headed in your direction!
One last quote and then I hope you will jump over to The Assembling of the Church to read these three, and hopefully other, installments.
There are no instructions for elders to make decisions for other people. There are no instructions for elders to cast a vision or set the direction for a group of believers. Decision making, vision, and direction are the responsibility of each believer through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, service is the responsibility of each believer through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks, brother! We really need this kind of encouragement in the body of Christ!