One of the recurring refrains we hear at Church Council and Classis meetings is the difficulty to find willing and suitable office bearers. One of the reasons why so few are willing to serve is the memory of past expectations that were placed upon them as individuals and their families. When I served as an elder, my fellow elder and I had about thirty home visits a year to do. Added to that were the fortnightly Session meetings, Bible Study nights, the occasional extra ‘emergency’ visits, hospital visits, Classis meetings, as well as the insistence that elders be at worship twice every Sunday. And then from time to time we had to deal with criticism, sometimes justified and at other times unjustified. And if that wasn’t quite enough, I still had to run a dairy farm, provide for my family and be a husband and father to my children. Just remembering all this makes me feel tired all over again.
When I dared to challenge the ‘system’ I was quickly reminded that it was the Lord’s work and He would look after us. I never doubted that it was the Lord’s work and that He would look after us but I have never been convinced that this model was the best way for caring for God’s people nor was it a good model for the elder’s family. Far too many children have grown up resenting the church for dad was ‘always’ away from home. That is never a good model even when it is the ‘Lord’s work.
In many ways, I appreciate the ‘new’ model of eldership that is coming into the churches. Today, elders are encouraged to be part of a ‘home-group’ and mingle and interact with their ‘list’ after worship services. They are encouraged to invite individuals or families around for coffee or dinner or even bring them dinner and to use these occasions to mutually encourage each other in the Lord. Sometimes fellowship dinners just for their list are held, which is another great way to mutually care for each other. And of course, when necessary, a more formal home visit is still an option.
Of course, the requirements for becoming an elder haven’t changed. The apostle Paul in 1 Tim 3:1ff says that those who set their hearts on becoming an elder desire a noble task but then goes on to list some qualifications which involve their character, families and reputation. An elder must be above reproach and not be known as a drunk or lover of money. He must manage his family well. He is not to be a recent convert. Our CRCA Church Order, Article 23, gives some further guidance as elders do their work.
Thankfully, as office bearers we don’t have to nor can we do any of this in our own strength. Those who serve in the office of elder or in any other ministry for that matter, quickly realise that we have many short comings and at best can only strive to be the servants that Scripture calls us to be. And so, guided by Scripture, appreciating our own great salvation, we humbly lean on the Holy Spirit, praying that He will give us much strength and wisdom as we seek to lead God’s people to be more Christ–like, all the while knowing that there is also forgiveness when we fall short.
As you vote for the new office bearers today, please remember to pray for those who labour amongst you. Pray that the Chief Shepherd will equip them for the task. Pray that they may be able to protect God’s people from the wolves that seek to spook them all too easily. And please remember that they keep watch over you as men who must give an account. It is our prayer that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to us. JZ