The elders and the congregation should be a blessing to each other. Unless they are a source of blessings, they can hardly be a blessing to the neighboring community. I want to mention some of these blessings and bring them to you in the form of nine beatitudes. The first five blessings come to the congregation as the result of the elder's life and work, and the next four blessings come to the elder as the result of the congregation's life and work. The beatitudes read as follows:
Blessed is the congregation whose elders know they are called of God, for they shall hear positive, soul-stirring sermons.
No man can truly be a preacher of God unless he knows that he is called to God. Like Paul, we should be able to say, "for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16), and like Jeremiah, "there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot" (Jer. 20:9, RSV). Elders are not called or chosen by well-meaning parents, nor by fellow members, nor by respected teachers, nor by nominating committees or conference officers. They are called of God. They are men sent from God. Some are called, like Saul, while fighting the church; others are called from among the herdsmen like Amos; then again there are those who are called like Moses while out in the desert by a burning bush; some are called in a vision, like Isaiah. No matter how or when or where they are called, they must be sure that the call is of God.
Speaking on this point, Ellen G. White says "God has repeatedly shown that persons should not be encouraged into the field without unmistakable evidence that He has called them. . . . God knows the heart, and He knows whom to select." —Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 209.
God calls men, first of all, not to do something but to be someone. It is true that the preacher is called to preach, but to be a preacher means more than being a fluent speaker. The question is not whether the preacher can say the preaching of the gospel is urgent, but whether he is experiencing an urgency in his own heart. The question is not whether they can quote from the Church Manual as to what authority he has, but whether he knows himself to be an instrument of God's authority.
An elder is God's man, to do God's work in God's time, by God's method, in order to bring men into fullness of God's salvation and to keep them there. If the elder knows he is called of God, he will also know he has a message from God, and he will preach it with passion and conviction. By this I do not mean there must be fuming and frothing, ranting and raving and beating of the air. God would look with disfavor upon such misbehavior. There should be a holy emotion under the control of the Holy Spirit, and this may be revealed in a quiet-mannered preacher as well as in one who has majestic eloquence. Genuine preaching is not necessarily measured by the volume of the voice, but rather by the volume of the heart. Anyone preaching the great doctrines of Christ and not feeling his own heart warmed and touched should never enter the pulpit. To preach the doctrines of Christ without a holy feeling and a positive conviction is a dangerous undertaking.
Blessed is the congregation whose elders preach the doctrines, for they shall be built up in the faith.
The outstanding preacher Paul says, "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee" (1 Tim. 4:16). Blessed indeed is the congregation whose pastor and elder preach doctrine.
Blessed is the congregation whose elders diligently study the Word, for they shall be spiritually fed.
Many congregations have been greatly strengthened through the years because of ministers who have been deep students of the Word. In a day when there are so many divisive forces and when some run after the so-called new light, it is more important than ever to diligently study. Some ministers and elders do not have time to study because they are using most of their time looking after so many bureaucratic and administrative affairs of the church. Some do not have time to study because they do not know how to improve their time. Some do not take time to study and pray because they feel that they are working for God only when their legs or the wheels of their cars are in motion.
A young Canadian minister remarked one day, to a friend of his, that preaching was no problem to him. He said, "I have often written a sermon and caught a salmon before breakfast." His friend replied, "All I can say is that I had rather eat your salmon than listen to your sermon." Evangelist Torrey said, "Study, study, study the one Book and preach, preach, preach the one Book and teach, teach, teach the one Book, the Bible, the only book that has power to gather, and hold, and bless the crowds for any great length of time." —Quoted in Harold L. Calkins, Master Preachers, p. 97.
Blessed is the congregation whose pastor or elder studies the Word, for his congregation will be fed.
Blessed is the congregation whose elders have a sensible and consecrated wife, for they shall be glad in her presence.
Many an alder has had more than ordinary success because of his wife's dedication, devotion, and good judgment. Others have done below-average work because the wife did not manifest an interest in her husband's calling, nor was she interested in the people.
The elder is a leader and a shepherd. There are a variety of sheep in every flock. Some are lame and cannot walk. Some are healthy and others are sick. Some are young and foolish, others are old, and set in their ways; yet the elder the shepherd loves them all and never shows partiality to any specific group. The wife, too, must keep this in mind and never show preference to any sheep. She should not associate with the healthy sheep only. The surest and quickest way for the wife to ruin her husband's influence, and hers too, with the congregation, is to attach herself to a certain kind of sheep, commonly known as a church clique.
Incidentally, I wish to state here that an elder has an obligation to his wife and family. Many times we are so anxious for success that we fail in the most important part of our work—the work in our own homes with our own families. This is our first responsibility, and we cannot wave it aside lightly saying we are too busy. This excuse will hardly stand up in the day of judgment. If we are too busy to give attention to our own companions and children, we probably should never have stood at the alter promising to "cherish and love." Let's keep that promise. Blessed is the congregation whose elder has a dedicated wife, for certainly they will be glad in her presence.
Blessed is the congregation whose elder is a shepherd, for they shall receive loving and tender care.
There are experiences in the eldership that have a tendency to make us act like wolves rather than sheep. If we are not careful, we might become revengeful. There are times when we meet with stubborn people. There will be obstinate church councils. We will come in contact with church politicians. There will be members who seem to have only one goal in life, namely, to vex our soul and test our patience to the limit. But be of good courage; there are very few of these. In spite of these ministerial afflictions, we must exhibit the spirit of the shepherd. We must love. Remember that "love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen" (1 Cor. 13:"7, 8).*
Henry Drummond said in the book The Greatest Thing in the World:
Where Love is, God is. He that dwelleth in Love, dwelleth in God. God is Love. Therefore love....Lavish it upon the poor, where it is very easy; especially upon the rich who often need it most; most of all upon our equals, where it is very difficult, and for whom perhaps we each do least of all. There is a difference between trying to please and giving pleasure. Give pleasure. Lose no chance of giving pleasure. For that is the ceaseless and anonymous triumph of a truly loving spirit. —Pages 31,32.
We must be more than cold, calculating administrators; we should be warmhearted, lovable men of God. We must be more than high-powered go-getters; we should be God- powered soul winners. We must be more than good loyal committeemen; we should be God's loyal committeemen. We must be more than strong, efficient churchmen; we should be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Andrew Bonar was one of three brothers, all Presbyterian ministers. They did their work about a hundred years ago and left an enviable record for future generations. Long after Mr. Bonar's death someone decided to write a biography of him. The author went to Bonar's daughter, now an old lady, and asked what her earliest recollections were of her father as a pastor. She then told him how, when she was a small child, her father took her along to church one day, placed her in the back pew with her dolls, and told her to keep them quiet because she was in the house of the Lord. After some time she got restless, looked around, and saw her father at the front of the church. He had just gotten up from his knees; tears were running down his cheeks; and he carne toward the rear of the church and looked for a name. Evidently he found the name he was seeking, for he stepped into one of the pews again, dropped on his knees, and prayed. The daughter said, "I dared not speak. It seemed God was in the place." She went on to say that her father did this many times that morning. She forgot to play with her dolls and watched her father. She said, "That day I got my first and real impression of him as a pastor. I had heard him preach many times, but then I was see ing him weep over the erring ones of his flock, for my father was a shepherd." Blessed is the congregation whose leader is a shepherd, for they will receive loving and tender care.
Blessed is the elder whose congregation consists of members who have a burden to share their faith, for this will keep him busy baptizing.
The single greatest blessing a congregation can be to the elder and pastor is to keep busy for God. This will keep them happy and minister too. There are those who still think the church is a sort of orchestra society where they pay their dues, go and hear the orchestra play, and if they do not play well, stop the dues and look for another society. However, the church is not an orchestra society. The church is the orchestra. Every member belongs to it and each one has a part to play. We may not all be able to play the violin or cello, but there are other instruments that all can play. The leader is the conductor. It is his responsibility to see that everyone plays, or participates. The elder who has a working congregation is blessed indeed.
Blessed is the elder whose congregation does not engage in gossip and criticism, for he shall be spared many an ulcerating experience.
Criticism, of course, can be a great blessing if it is given at the right time, to the right person, in the right spirit, and with the right motive. Criticism given in kindness and with a sincere desire to help should always be welcome. Perhaps we do not like criticism any more than we do bad-tasting medicine, but it must be taken at times. It usually proves helpful.
The preacher, Clovis Chappell, relates an experience that he had when he was a young minister, which is rather to the point. He said he was sent out to be a pastor of a university church. His first service was absolutely terrifying. His oldest brother, a choice and scholarly man, was present. This brother's heart was already bleeding for the young man, and young Clovis did not want to make it bleed any more by mistakes he might make. The president of the university was also there. He had the habit of looking down at his shoes. He did this morning. Never once did he lift his eyes unto the hills from which the young preacher tried to bring him help. To make matters worse, there also was present that morning the pompous bishop. The chariot wheels drove heavily all during the sermon. This was indicated by the fact that at the close of the service one of the saints came forward and told him how many times he had scratched the left side of his head with his right hand. Said Chappell, "I don't know how many times it was, but I do know that the number was out of all proportion to the way my head was itching. I did not enjoy the criticism but since then I have sought to reduce pulpit scratching to a minimum." —Anointed to Preach, pp. 32, 33.
There is, of course, another kind of criticism that has as its motive to destroy the influence of the minister. This kind comes from beneath and is classed as cannibalism. Blessed is the elder whose congregation does not engage in this evil and satanic traffic. This kind usually parades itself in the presence, not of the elder but of others. Quite often it appears around the dinner table when children are present. If any of us are guilty, let us hang our heads in shame. What a great blessing to the elder if gossip and criticism are foreign to his congregation.
Blessed is the elder whose congregation continually prays for him, for this will be worth more than many words of commendation and praise.
One of the greatest helps a preacher can have is a praying congregation. Some of the greatest sermons which have ever been preached were great because there was great praying by the congregation. Many a meeting has been declared a wonderful success, not because of great preaching but because of great praying.
There are times when certain congregations feel they ought to have a change of elder. Bishop Gerald Kennedy, of the Methodist church, makes certain suggestions as to how a congregation can get rid of their elder (1) Get the entire congregation to unite in prayer for him. He will become so effective that some larger church will certainly be glad to take him off your hands. (2) Say "Amen" once in a while and he will preach himself to death in a few weeks. (3) Pat him on the back and he will work himself to death. (4) Rededicate your own life to Christ; then ask the preacher to give you a job to do. He will probably die of heart failure.
Blessed is the elder whose congregation studies the Bible daily, for this will give him more time to do the work of an evangelist.
An alder must, of necessity, spend many hours counseling people. We are living in a world full of many problems, and there are more on the way. I wonder, however, whether we do not tax the elder with too many petty and trivial matters. It is my personal conviction that if we would study and pray more, many of our problems could be solved on our own knees in our own homes with our own Bibles. If the people today would still spend as much time with the Bible as they did a generation ago, many of the personal problems would not exist.
There are too many hours spent before television sets, and this is a poor substitute for the study of the Word of God. Television and radio solve few, if any, problems for us. In fact, they create problems. Let us all determine to study the Bible more. We should say with the prophet Jeremiah,"Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of Hosts" (Jer. 15:16).
Blessed are ye, congregations, elders, and ministers, if ye will work together for the advancement of the kingdom of God on earth. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.
R. R. Bietz was vice-president of the General Conference when this article was written.