The end of one year and the beginning of another is always a time for retrospect with regard to the past and resolve for the future. What better time than now to consider how the work in the church has gone in the old year and what can be done to better it in the new?
We thank God for His blessings and for what by His grace has been accomplished. But we are impatient to do more, to see the work finished, to go home to glory with our Lord. With this in mind, here are a few questions that you as a local church elder might well ask yourself.
A MATTER OF PRIORITY
Has the work of the church been given the priority it deserves? We live in an extremely busy age, with more things to do, to get, and places to go than man has ever faced before. Unless we have a deep-seated love for God and His church and an overriding conviction that the church and its work is the most important thing on earth we will find it very easy to give it only the remnant of our time, our affection, and our service. Let us examine ourselves to see whether there are other gods that we worship gods of materialism, pleasure, or even work. With some, careful scrutiny may reveal the need for an entire re-evaluation of the personal program. The second job or the overtime may have to go. Excessive time given to selfish gratification may need rather to be given to service for the good of others.
AM I GROWING?
Am I growing, not only in my ability as a church leader but in my Christian experience? Am I becoming more Christ-like in my attitudes? Am I being drawn closer to my Saviour? Do I love Him more? Do I cherish and reflect more of His Spirit?
As King David grew older he noticed among those who had reached old age certain traits of character, that caused him deep concern. Commenting on this, Ellen White writes, "He saw that most of the aged around him were unhappy, because of the unfortunate traits of their character being increased with their age. If they had been naturally close and covetous, they were most disagreeably so in mature years. If they had been jealous, fretful, and impatient, they were especially so when aged" (SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Ps. 71:9, 17, 19, p. 1148). It was this that led him to write, "Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth" (Ps. 71:9; see also Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 422, 423).
For most of us the years of old age may still seem far away. Nevertheless, the important question is: Are we maturing spiritually? Are we easier to get along with? Are we more considerate of the feelings of others and more sympathetic toward their needs? What about the attitudes we bring to the meetings of the church council or other committees on which we serve?
MY PERSONAL DEVOTIONS
Are you faithful in your personal devotions? This, of course, is basic to the spiritual growth and maturity of which we have spoken. As the head of the house you will lead out at the family altar. But beyond that the personal daily reading of the Scriptures, meditation, and prayer is absolutely vital to the spiritual life. So saturate the soul with the Word until it burns as a living fire in the heart, giving you the power and grace to meet the challenges of daily living and through it all to bear faithful witness to your love for the Saviour.
If this is to be your life-style, it cannot be left to chance. So have a plan. A few minutes every day alone with God and His Word can make the difference between a healthy Christian experience and witness and one that is dull and cold. So you must have a plan for personal devotion. Then stick to it, even though at times there may seem to be a hundred other things clamoring for attention.
IMPROVING MY CAPABILITIES
What have I done during the past year to improve my capabilities as a church leader? Have I taken my work seriously? What about the manner in which the announcements have been handled, the public prayers offered, the sermons preached, the Sabbath school lessons taught, the calls made? What about the part I played in NET '96? How can I do better in 1997?
One can always find good books on leadership that are helpful. First of all, there is much in the Spirit of Prophecy. Biographies are a tremendous source of inspiration and learning.
In regard to sacred biography Ellen White has said, "As an educator no part of the Bible is of greater value than are its biographies" (Education, p. 146).
Special mention should be made of the Elder's Handbook. If you have not read it already, why not make this a special project for 1997. Subjects discussed include: The Church audits Organization; The Elder's Call and Qualifications; The Elder as Church Leader; The Elder as Supporter of Other Local Leaders; The Elder and Church Growth; The Elder and Church Nurture; The Elder and the Worship Service; The Elder and Special Services. If you would like to know how to receive a copy of the Elder's Handbook, you may write to the Ministerial Association of the General Conference, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904-6600 U.S.A., or call (301) 680- 6508 or fax (301) 680-6502.
Considering the urgency of the times, how important that we use every moment to glorify our Creator and to advance His work. Let us claim again the many precious promises of His Word, and then by His grace seek in every way possible to be more useful and faithful in the work to which He has called us.
It is the most important work in all the world, that of being co-laborers with Him in His church through which the marvelous richness of His grace is to be exhibited and the message of His love and soon return heralded to the ends of the earth. The editorial staff of the Elder's Digest unites in wishing for each of our local church elders a special blessing in their service during 1997.
Orley M. Berg lives in North Folk, California. He is a retired Assistant Secretary of the Ministerial Association of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.