Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 28, 1957
NUMBER 46, PAGE 6-7a

Problems In The Eldership

Wm. E. Wallace, Owensboro, Kentucky

The work of an elder in the Lord's church is a responsibility too great for the man who will not, or who cannot give his constant attention to its performance. "Taking heed" (Acts 20:28) to the flock, in view of grievous wolves," on the loose, not only requires on-the-spot attention, it requires the proper personality and character. The personality of the elder must be that which will permit defense of the truth. He must attack error on the one hand and emphasize edification and inspiration on the other. His character must be one of pure intention. The welfare of his charges must be his constant interest. A man who thinks of himself above the flock, a man who works in a subtle, underhanded way to exalt himself in the minds of folk, does not have this interest in mind.

With this introduction before you I want to approach this matter in four considerations: (1) The principle of location as pertains to the work of an elder, (2) The time element involved in the responsibilities of an elder, (3) The diligent personality traits necessary in the work of an elder, (4) Integrity in thought and action, a necessity in an elder.

When Paul appointed elders, and when he and Peter instructed others concerning the duties of elders and the appointing of elders, a pattern was set forth — that of appointing elders in every city, in every church. The elders were to oversee only the flock over which they were appointed, and, they were appointed only over a flock of their home community. This is seen from the obligation of the elders to exercise diligence in feeding and protecting the flock among them. (I Peter 5.) What principle allows a man to operate as an elder who does not live among the people of the flock over which he has been made an overseer? What principle allows a man to commute from one city to another in order to serve as an elder? I know of a situation where a man communities, from one city where there is a faithful congregation, which he is quite willing to support, to another city where he serves as an elder. It seems he cannot have the power and prestige he desires in his home community as an elder, so he commutes to the distant community. Of course we realize it would be difficult to draw the line at the proper point regarding distance from the meeting house and such like. But it is easy to see that a man traveling several miles from one city where there is a faithful congregation, to another city in order to serve as an elder, is involved in difficulties which actually disqualify him for the eldership in the city distant to his home locality. Certainly an elder cannot perform as an overseer in a distant country. Well, can he perform as an elder in a distant state? No? Can he perform as an elder in a city 100 miles from his home? No? Well then, what principle allows him to perform as an elder in a city 10 miles from his home? If there were no church in his home town you might have a different matter involved. However, it seems to me the proper thing for that elder to do, is to establish a congregation in his home city. If he meets the qualifications for an elder, he qualifies in ability to establish a congregation with the help of evangelists. When there is a loyal, faithful congregation in the city in which he lives, the man ought to worship, work and serve with it.

Sometimes preachers try to be traveling evangelists and elders at the same time. Absenteeism in the eldership is provocative of all sorts of laxity and disorder. An evangelist ought to know he cannot serve in both capacities and do justice to both works. A man ought to either be an elder or an evangelist, it is hard to be both.

The responsibilities of an elder are too great and too involved for him to be living in a city other than the one where the congregation is located. A man in this situation, who is sincere in motive, and advanced in knowledge, should realize these truths and perform his Christian service in his home locality where he can do the most good.

Our next consideration has to do with the time element. We mean by that, time available for the work of an overseer. As stated in the beginning of this article, the work of an elder requires all the time a man can possibly give to it. Take any large congregation for an example. Look to the scores of people who have fallen away as result of a lack of attention — see the spiritually ill, the babes in Christ, see the physically ill, see the untended obligation to make stronger Christians, etc. Can you not see the terrific responsibilities of an elder? Certainly the elder must make a living. It is a shame that we do not count more elders worthy of double honor and support them in their work. However, outside of his livelihood responsibilities, family interests, and personal obligations, the elder has no time to be involved in other interests of life such as clubs, civic activity, etc. If he gives himself to his work as an elder, he will not find much time for these things. The time spent in these things by others will be spent by an elder in meditation, oversight, and "taking heed," for the good of the flock. When you see a man who has some appointment with the world every day and night of the week, you see a man not qualified to serve as an elder. You think this makes the office of an elder stringent? It is stringent. A man who desires the work, should be aware of the fact that it is a responsibility too great for the weak-minded, too demanding for the fun and freedom loving individual. It is a service to God for which God shall give great and wonderful rewards for service well performed, but it is a work which will bring down the wrath of God if not performed faithfully. Yes, outside of his livelihood, family and personal responsibilities the elder has little time for worldly connections.

Our next consideration has to do with the elder in his militancy. The elder is a watchdog. He must be able to handle his charges gently where needed, firmly in admonition, sternly in discipline. He must be rigid and uncompromising in warding off the intrusion of error. Some men serving as elders will fondle the members but will wilt before the onrush of error, sulk at the preaching of sound doctrine. Such disqualifies the man as an elder. The greater portion of the apostolic epistles has to do with correcting misconceptions and situations and warns against false teachers. This is the larger responsibility of an elder — and he must be prepared to meet it in knowledge, personality and character. A "Casper Milquetoast," a "Mr. Peepers," or a "Dale Carnegie" has no place in the eldership.

The next thing before us has to do with integrity action. We mean by this, the way the man works in expediting his judgment or wishes. Elders are to work together, to be sure. But often elders are in contrast with one another in judgment. In such a situation they should work toward eliminating the differences between them, never compromising truth, but coming closer together in honest, truthful discussion. It is hard to conceive of a situation where two honest Christian gentlemen can not eventually agree when both discuss their differences in the light of God's word. But often a man of vain or impure ambition, one who seeks to advance his own personal prestige and reputation, will work in a subtle way against the others and (plus) for himself. He will not openly criticize the others, he will be careful not to speak in such a way that he can be directly quoted, but he will use sophistry, innuendo, insinuation, deceptive implication and other carnal weapons to advance his own cause. He will deliberately leave false impressions, and will not try to correct them. He works with those who have succumbed to his wooing, and he gives special attention to those he thinks he can bring under his wing of influence. He often takes on the air of a persecution complex. He wants people to believe that he has been discriminated against. A man of this calibre will support a faction in the church if he thinks it will advance his own cause, to say the least, he won't fight it. He will not go along with discipline — that's too unpopular. He will usually emphasize a positive approach to everything as opposed to the negative. He will influence people and win friends, and then use his power against the other elders — he has a cause to promote — nearly always an evil cause, a cause of error. "The time will come," he thinks, "When I will have this thing under control, and I shall rise to a place of repute, while the others will be held in disrepute." A man like this will want a few men to serve with him, but under him. You can see the lack of integrity in a man in the eldership is one of the devil's most efficient weapons.

Action must be taken in matters like this and the responsibility of such action lies in the hands of other elders. A situation like this is a very difficult one to deal with, for the greater body of members in the congregation do not know what is going on. When the other elders do take action to alleviate the trouble, there is usually confusion for a time, some disruption, the congregation is hurt. But in time, in the long run, the results are blessings. The people become informed, the church is freed from a condition retarding its spiritual growth, and the Lord's work moves on. A sober inquiring mind is needed in a situation like this. Long-time members will set tight, investigate and seek truth. Babes in Christ will be confused, but they can be taught and helped. Some will be left disgruntled, arrogant or even wild — but the Lord's work will continue. God is with those who move to correct error and evil situations. That which is right must prosper.