The blessing of good elders

The blessing of good elders

I have spent a lot of time with elders in the past week.

My denomination holds a National Assembly every 18 months, which was planned to be held in Queensland before any of us knew what 2020 would hold. We were forced to have a two-day Zoom conference instead. While it would have been great to be in the same place as one another, having 35 elders from a range of churches across the country see one another, pray and discuss issues was a blessing. It helped me remember that my local church is part of something bigger. Some churches are facing serious challenges, while others are experiencing growth and encouragement. Together, we talked about mission work, about Safe Church plans, and about ministry training and websites and communication. Each of these men is responsible for the oversight of a local congregation, and they also put effort into encouraging those in other congregations through using their gifts.

And on the weekend, the elders from my local church went on our annual planning retreat. For a night and the following day we talked, prayed and planned for what 2021 and beyond might hold. After praying for more elders for many years, we had a group of six men who know each other well and who are united on the things that matter. We were conscious of what God has given us by his grace and tried to make decisions that would build up the church family and reach more with the gospel.

These two events made me reflect on the blessing that elders can be for a church. I know what you’re thinking because I am thinking it too. Elders are sometimes not a blessing. We have all experienced situations where elders did not do their jobs or where they made poor decisions or where they were ungodly. I know all that. Even acknowledging that elders are sinners, and we have had bad past experiences, we should note that elders can and are a real blessing to many churches.

Let me give you some reasons why elders can be a real blessing to you and your church:

  1. There are Biblically-informed, godly people who are actively looking after the welfare of the church. If elders are chosen based on the criteria of 1 Timothy 3 and are trained and examined well, that is a great gift to the church. It means that decisions are made from a position of knowing what God values and is like and not just on the latest management principle or leadership book. It also means that you have some concrete examples of godliness to follow and consult with (Heb 13:7).
  2. A group of men are actively praying and dealing with many issues the church members will never know about. Elders see and deal with the worst sinful situations in the church family. When a marriage is breaking down, it will be the elders who try to help. When someone is stuck in sin or wandering from the faith, it will be the elders who try to help. This is a burden for the elders that is taken up for the good of those who are in trouble.
  3. You have people who are praying for you and looking out for your welfare. As Hebrews 13:17 puts it, elders have to give account for the souls in their care. Elders who are doing their job will know their members by name and be praying for them regularly. They will be actively trying to encourage everyone to use their gifts to build others up. They will be available in a crisis and be good teachers in more comfortable times.
  4. A healthy eldership provides a steady hand and collective wisdom that is of great benefit to the church family. It is easy to be angry at elders when they make mistakes, but we also need to note that elders often keep the church going in the right direction. They ensure the teaching in the church is faithful and helpful. They are aware of threats to the congregation from outside and within (Acts 20:29-30). They are ideally a group of men with different gifts and personalities and experiences who help each other to oversee the church.

I have been thanking God for the elders in my local church and those in other churches. They are a gift from God and need encouragement in their role. God has been kind to provide these people to the church family.  Let’s make sure their role, as much as it depends on us, is a joy and not a burden (Heb 13:17).