"Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" To this the prophet responded, "Here am I, send me"
So you have been asked to serve as elder of the local church! This may be your first year in this responsible position or perhaps you have held it for several years. In either case the anxious question in your heart is: Just what is expected of me and how can I most effectively fulfill those responsibilities?
S o you have been asked to serve as elder of the local church! This may be your first year in this responsible position or perhaps you have held it for several years. In either case the anxious question in your heart is: Just what is expected of me and how can I most effectively fulfill those responsibilities?Even a quick survey of your responsibilities will point up the extreme importance of the office you hold. You are the one that stands next to the pastor, sharing most in the concern and over-all work of the church, seeking always to assist and encourage the congregation in its mission.
Considering the qualifications for this important office as noted in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, one can readily see that without much of the grace and power of God he can never measure up. The work is too important, the standards of conduct too high, for any man to assume them except first he looks to God in true consecration.
That feeling of unworthiness
As you think of the responsibilities to which you are called and of the sacredness of the office, and then of your own poor heart you may be led to exclaim with Isaiah: "Woe is me! For I am undone" (Isa. 6:5). If so, be thankful. Rejoice first that you have that sense of need, and second that God responds so quickly. To Isaiah came the immediate answer: "Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged" (verse 7). Then came the call, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" To this the prophet responded, "Here am I, send me" (verse 8). Isaiah never forgot the experience of his early years. This same experience kept fresh in our minds will help to keep us humble and trustful as we try by God's grace to answer our call to service.
As stated before, in your role as elder you stand next to the pastor in the care of the church. A basic essential to the overall program, one that is perhaps the most important yet difficult task of the pastor, is that of knitting the hearts of the unbelievers together into a wonderful fellowship of love. Until and unless the spirit of true brotherhood and unity prevails it is difficult, yes impossible, for the church to prosper. Here then is an elementary yet most essential role in which the elder can play a most important part.
The elder often has some advantages over the pastor in creating this atmosphere. He is usually a respected leader who has been with the church for some years. This means he knows the members well. He has seen children grow up in the church, get married, and take their role in the church and in society. He understands problems through which they have passed. His heart has often gone out to them. He has earned respect. He bears an influence not only in the church but also in the community. This being so, this influence rightly exercised can go far toward creating this sweet atmosphere of mutual trust and concern that members should feel one for another. His wisdom and kindly words can help bring unity out of disorder, confidence out of suspicion, and support instead of criticism.
Not an easy task
To gain this much-needed fellowship of mutual respect and love is not an easy task. This is best illustrated in the experience of Jesus with His disciples. They were to be the leaders of the newly born Christian church, still how unprepared they were. To the very last they were festering with pride and jealousies clamoring for the highest seats in the kingdom they expected soon to be set up.
Seeing the desperate need of a decided change, Jesus spent the last few weeks of His ministry almost exclusively with them, trying to teach them the importance of humility and love the elements of true greatness. In the upper room, kneeling before them, He washed their feet. It was Thursday night, just before Gethsemane and death. Facing this ordeal there was one thought uppermost in His mind. Nothing else seemed to matter. Unless this vital need was realized, all would be lost. He voices this concern in the words of a special commandment. Hear Him speaking: "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" (John 13:34). Having said this, they walked slowly out of the city and across the Kidron Valley toward the Garden. Then Jesus began to pray. Facing death, one's prayers are apt to express what is nearest to the heart, and the prayer of Jesus was no exception. His concern was still the same: "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou has sent me" (John 17:21).
Brother elder, this prayer still awaits fulfillment. True, it found its answer at Pentecost and that accounts for the marvelous working of the Spirit then. But it awaits its further fulfillment today. And until the answer comes, and the true love among the brethren for which the Savior prayed is realized, it is presumptuous to expect that our work will be completed and our Lord return. It is an essential part of the true revival and reformation we seek.
This, then, is the first and most essential need of the church. To bring this experience to the congregation is the greatest challenge to the pastor. It should also be the one great concern nearest to the heart of the elder who stands by his side. This may be where you can make your greatest contribution. For until this experience comes to the church all campaigns, evangelistic endeavors, and special projects will fall far short of the mark.
How wonderful to know that Jesus stands ready to help us as we draw nearer to Him. He stands ready to forgive us where we have failed, and to help us to do better in the days ahead.
His promise is, "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:1 7). Let us claim it today just now.
My prayer: "Dear Father, humbly I confess my great need. I have sinned in not always seeking Thy glory. Self has often stood in the way, and my example has not always been what it should be. But Thou hast called me to serve as a spiritual leader of the church. Please forgive. Cleanse my heart. Then use me, O Lord, as an instrument of Thy grace to help bring to the church that true spirit of fellowship and love for which Thou didst pray. Do bless every brother and sister of our congregation. Bless the youth. Bless every child. Be especially with our pastor and guide us as we labor together. I pray in Jesus' name, Amen."
Orley M. Berg was Associate Editor of Ministry magazine when he wrote this article.