Following Sunday services after preaching on James 5:13-18 on the anointing of the sick with oil by the elders accompanied with prayer, someone told me it was good for the congregation to hear about the responsibilities of the elders. I had not thought about that angle to the message, but it was an interesting take on it. James was an elder himself in the Jerusalem Church and he clearly considered a congregation to be blessed that had a godly group of elders who ministered to them. Such men could have power in prayer because of the holy lives they were living. That could have a dramatic effect upon the people in their churches.
Over the years I have come to appreciate more and more God’s wisdom in giving godly elders to His Church. Growing up I heard nothing about the Eldership and didn’t know such an office even existed. In the Baptist churches I was familiar with we had deacons, deaconesses, ministry boards, Executive Committees, vice-chairmen, but no elders. It wasn’t until seminary that I began learning about elders and the detailed teaching about them and their duties in passages like James 5. I was even appointed to the Eldership in a small church I attended and served in that role before becoming a senior pastor. I am glad now I have both perspectives and have served in both roles.
One of the things that I began to see as a pastor was the weaknesses of the governmental structures in the Baptist churches with which I was familiar. I saw the wrong people leading according to Scripture and some positions that had lots of authority in the church but no accountability. That is always unwise when people have authority but little or no accountability. I saw pastors who viewed the deacons with disdain and felt they could run the church better without them. I saw Deacon Boards who were considered the spiritual leaders of the church, but had little leadership authority because it was structured elsewhere. I began to wonder where Executive Committees run by vice-chairmen originated from since they weren’t found in Scripture. Who came up with them and why were they an improvement on the simple plan we see in the Bible for church leadership? And why were elders absent from Baptist churches when they are clearly found in the Bible?
One of the most interesting discoveries I made along the way was that there was a long history of the Eldership in Baptist churches. When Charles Spurgeon became a pastor in the 1800s, he instituted elders at New Park Street Baptist Church to complement the office of deacon. He did this because he saw both offices taught in the New Testament. The elders gave leadership to the spiritual affairs of the church while the deacons oversaw the practical matters. Spurgeon said this arrangement “worked very well.” Why are godly elders such a help to a local church? Let me start now and continue next month.
Elders are selected on the basis of spiritual qualifications. Both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 spell out the spiritual qualifications of Elders. If those qualifications are followed that means that high character men will lead the church. High character men are mature men and maturity is always the first requirement of spiritual leadership. Recently one of our sister churches in Wisconsin imploded due to serious character problems among the pastors. We had been there for a conference a year or two before and heard things that raised concerns about how they led. When this sad implosion emerged sometime later we were not totally surprised because of the arrogance and lack of wisdom we had perceived at the conference. When mature elders are in a church there is a balance of humility, wisdom and strength that can keep even pastors in check. When all believe in and respect God’s plan for leadership in the church, it can keep sad stories like this from doing so much damage.
Your friend, grateful for godly elders, Pastor Brian (:-}).