Delight Joseph Ngwira is an elder at a local Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lilongwe, Central Malawi Conference, Malawi.

As expressed in part in the Church Manual concerning the elder’s work, “. . . under the pastor and in the absence of a pastor, the local elder is a spiritual leader of the church and is responsible for fostering all departments and activities of the work. The elder should maintain a mutually helpful relationship with all other church officers . . . . ”Not only is it clear that it is a humbling privilege for one to be a church elder, but it also presents a challenge for the elder’s exemplary personal character. 

Spiritual leadership calls for real time connection with Jesus Christ to acquaint oneself with His will. Fostering church activities demands creating quality time on a daily basis to review and plan church work for mainstreaming evangelism, for both outreach and in-reach purposes. Maintaining healthy relationships requires more than interpersonal skills as applied in organizations motivated by profit, or driven by dividends, or guided by results performance. In church, individuals come together for salvation against backgrounds of varying degrees of character deficiencies, defiled past lifestyles and impure mental faculties, where the only common tangents are hope and faith which no elder can define. Elders’ service is a privilege which carries with it heavy responsibilities that far more outweigh executive powers over earthly conglomerates bent on satisfying human wealth. People’s eternity, and not value generation or wealth creation, is at stake.

Such is the weight of duty on an elder that even after one’s term of service there is an accountability responsibility for the opportunity accorded to improve one’s character and that of the church. On being ordained into office, an elder is like ushered into the inside of the veil with Christ; one is like accorded the honor to evangelize based on the tasted and proven goodness of the Lord through personal evidence. It is like one sworn to share in the bittersweet of the path to glory. Deviating from that path is tantamount to perjury of the highest order. One just has to think about how Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot must have felt after their betrayal of Christ’s trust! Such is the awesomeness of the privilege that one has no excuse to know less of God’s standards than what one can know. Being prepared for the worst as for the best, as both the church and the elder are still marching on the path to perfection, the elder’s desire becomes like that of David, to be in the house of the Lord forever.

An elder must focus on Jesus Christ as the Owner and Head of the church. The elder should be the first in the congregation to have personal experience of talking with Jesus in prayer and in hearing Him through meditative Bible study. If one is an elder and does not pray, pray, and pray, then God’s work is in jeopardy.

Oftentimes elders fail to see or do God’s will because they focus so much on either themselves (how they are doing) or on how the church members perceive their performance, after which they analyze their personal weaknesses that blur their vision of Jesus’ capabilities through them. While analyzing is good for reviewing church work, they ought to be done in full honor of God who expects successes and also perfects defects.

The Holy Spirit sharpens human efforts in God’s work. Elders will therefore not achieve much for Jesus if they do not create quality time at least on a daily basis to reflect on church work. Being in a better position to assist the pastor to understand how contemporary issues affect the congregation calls for deliberate personal commitment on the part of the elder to ensure that church programs are not offtune with the congregational needs. Amidst the hassle and bustle of daily work programs, it is a blessing practice to commit time to reflect on the spiritual needs of the church and how to initiate appropriate programs to meet those needs. With Jesus at the core, quality time may not have to be in long hours sometimes. Gradually nonetheless, one discovers the growing sweetness and goodness of the Lord, the longer it takes to serve Him!

Lastly, building helpful relationships depends on understanding one’s team members. God’s work requires a whole lot of diverse but complimentary traits which only in Jesus we find a combination of them all—meekness without giving in to abuse, justice with mercy, rebuke without hurt, endurance without a murmur, and so on. However, the Holy Spirit distributes such traits sufficiently amongst different people in the forms of gifts, and a discerning elder will identify them in the team and ensure that they are used profitably.

Privileged to personally know Jesus and His will for the church, serving Him who “came not to lull the world to sleep, but to point out the narrow path in which all must travel who reach at last the gates of the City of God” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 565) therefore provides motivation enough for the elder against either indolence while in office or reduced after the term of office without transient expectations.

Delight Joseph Ngwira is an elder at a local Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lilongwe, Central Malawi Conference, Malawi.