Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 30, 1963

The Elders, The Congregation And The Work

Brooks C. Webb

We have seen and read a good deal recently concerning the position of elders in the congregation and their relation to the congregation. And, of course, some very good thoughts have been presented. It seems that a major difficulty in many digressions is the failure of the eldership to recognize its responsibilities, its refusal to perform its assigned work and its desire to violate its God-given sphere of operation.

We have had an ingrowing suspicion for sometime that when we preach on "The Eldership" we emphasize the qualifcations (which we should do), but fail to emphasize the "work of the eldership." There are thousands of fine Christians who measure up "on paper" to the qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. But when it comes to those who seem to be thus qualified performing the work which God has assigned to the elders, then it is a different story! The office of an elder involves work. "If a man seeketh the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work," said Paul in 1 Tim. 3:1. Too many times we leave the impression that the office of an elder is more or less honorary, involving no work. "Oversee the flock" includes much more than simply greeting the members at services. (We know some who will not do even that.)

Recently we ran across an excellent article in the Gospel Advocate, 1938, written by bro. W. E. Brightwell that deals with matters along this line. I want to give some quotations from it which should profit all who will seriously consider them.

"Elder rule precludes majority rule. What point would there be in disqualifying a novice for being an elder if he can walk into a business meeting and by casting his vote cancel out the vote of an elder? There are many more novices in the congregation than there are elders.

"Do you think that 'we' have more trouble and controversy than any religious group? Wrong; there is a popular church that has more trouble than any body — it practices majority rule.

"If we function by majority rule, we will not only be involved in trouble and dissatisfaction all of the time, but we will have no considerable measure of Christianity any of the time.

"Instead of, 'Obey them that have the rule over you,' three modern-speech translations render Hebrews 13:17, 'Obey your leaders.' Sheep do not vote; they follow their leader. Elders are to oversee the flock. If elders know their sheep by name; if they visit them in their homes and in their shops and talk to them in the way about their individual duty, and also the work of the congregation as a whole — if they do a real job of shepherding — the sheep will follow their leaders.

"We should have unity in faith and unanimity in the practical affairs of the congregation. We cannot attain it by political practice. A well-regulated family functions without official meetings or ceremonies — they know each other!

"The members are not merely entitled to know; they must know what the church is doing. If they do not know, they cannot be interested; if they are not interested, they cannot be enthused; if they are not enthused, they will not contribute much to the work. It is for the good of the congregation, as well as the members, that he know. If he will not come and get the information — and the business meeting sometimes is the only place it can be obtained — carry it to him!

"Why do little struggling groups of Christians invariably set the highest records in Christian service rather than large churches? Struggle inspires effort; but there may be a point we have overlooked — the members of the little group know what is being done! They are in full touch with the situation and hence in full sympathy with the work.

"No plan or method will succeed unless the elders are willing to do their work and discharge their obligations to the members; the members likewise must perform their duties toward the elders. But the elders must take the initiative. They are the leaders. Shall the shepherd wait for the sheep to come to him? Shall he build a corral (a business meeting) and say, 'Now, I don't deliver. If you want anything, come to the corral. If you do not come, and you should feel any hunger pains, do not blame it on me, for it is here for you.' The shepherd must take the lead. If the members do not show up, he must go see what is wrong with them. They may be crippled, fast in the bushes, or lost on the mountain — they may need attention.

"Elders should rule without attracting attention to the fact. They should rule by teaching and by example and by love. Under such a rule every member thinks he is helping to conduct affairs — and he is. The elders listen to him, and he listens to the elders. All are satisfied." (Gospel Advocate, March 17, 1938, page 256)

Let all Christians recognize the elders as those who "watch for our souls," and respect them as such. And let all who serve in the capacity of bishops in the Lord's church recognize that they are tending the "flock of God"; to neglect that flock is to neglect Him, and to become a lord over God's heritage" is to presume to take upon oneself the position and authority Christ has reserved for himself.

— 1102 N. Mound, Nacogdoches, Texas