Upon coming to a church, the newly arrived christian asked; who are the elders in this church? The response given was, that the believer who was coming into the fellowship should come back in a month ( I believe that was the time period) and say who they thought the elders of the church were!
Now, the degree of reliability of the feedback from this suggestion will depend upon the wisdom and spiritual maturity of the person concerned. However, it does raise certain issues:
- It is the church who have to own the recognition of people to eldership. Imposition, whether it be from an outside body or the present elders, is not acceptable. In the same way that the church at Jerusalem selected and trusted those selected into deacon service (see Acts 6:2-7) so it is with elders.
- The appointment of someone to eldership does not make them an elder. The church, under the guiding of the present elders, has a responsibility to recognize those whom the LORD has already made elders. So Paul says to the Ephesian elders Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood (Acts 20:28). It is the Holy Spirit who makes overseers not the church.
- The concomitant truth to this, is that the church cannot prevent someone operating as an elder. If they fail to formally recognize him, he will still operate as an elder.
- In seeking out elders the present elders should keep a keen ear open to what the church is saying about certain men in the church. A groundswell of conviction in the church, about a brother may be the Holy Spirit leading the church to recognize that brother as an elder.
- As shepherds tend to the sheep in their flock so spiritual shepherds tend to the sheep in their flock. Eldership is a calling to and within a local church. So Paul writes to the Thessalonians and says Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you (1 Thess. 5:12). Those who are doing the shepherding are among the Thessalonians.
We have a great need for true elders in the church of God. May the LORD be gracious to raise them up among us. And may we be given wisdom to recognize whom the LORD has raised up.
(Originally published at Venabling on July 31st 2013)