This is a word used to express the character that should be displayed by believers in Jesus Christ. So in Philippians 2:15 we read that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. This idea behind the word blameless is that the christian is to be without reproach. There is nothing in our lives which blemishes our reputation. It speaks of reasonableness and honesty.
It is especially to be so of those who are called to eldership in the church that they are blameless. When the qualifications for eldership are examined in 1 Timothy 3 we see that they start with: an overseer must be above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2a). This is the headline quality that an elder should have. In the church and in the community he should be known for the quality and consistency of his godliness. The rest of the qualifications stated in 1 timothy 3:2b-7 really explain what it is to be without reproach.
There are many good things to aspire to in life. However, for a Christian this must take priority. We need to aspire to being blameless. This is not a glamorous quality in the world and often it is not appreciated in the church. But with God it is well-approved of.
And may we be seeing many many rising up to shine out with their blamelessness so that they can be elders who can shepherd the flock of God.
When we see this attribute emerging we will be seeing more of our Lord Jesus in the church through the characters of His people. He is after all the ultimate blameless one. And as Robert Murray McCheybe said: It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus.
We read theses words at the end of Esther concerning Mordecai: he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people (Esther 10:3b).
Let us consider some of the attributes of this man which made him such a great leader:
- In the believing community multitudes warmed to Mordecai. It does not say all warmed to him, but a vast majority did. True elders among God’s people can never expect universal acclamation. However, if he is not popular with the majority of the church then questions need to be asked as regards to the suitability of a man to be a leader.
- He was not seeking a position for himself, but seeking to use whatever position he had for the benefit of others. Those who are seeking to gain postilion for self-seeking gain should not be elders among God’s people.
- He was looking out for the welfare of God’s people. he wanted the best for them; he cared for them. Mordecai expended his energies in order that God’s people would prosper in the Lord’s ways.
- He spoke peace to God’s people. He was not set for harshness or division, but for harmony and peaceableness among God’s people. We must notice that this was for all the people even those it was not so easy to love. Speaking peace does not exclude speaking firmly, but it does prohibit nastiness.
In all these things we see shadows of our great true leader; our Lord Jesus. The ultimate One to seek the welfare of His people; the One above all others who speaks peace to all His people. The One who with overwhelming sacrificial love came to bless his people.
In the listing of the qualifications for elders we read he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil (1 Tim. 3:7). It is important that an elder has a good reputation among outsiders.
In view of this, I suggest, that it is a good practice, when considering someone for eldership, to do some investigation among outsiders who have awareness of the prospective elder. One good thing to do is to contact their employer and find out what that person’s view is of their charachter.
In doing this we are exercising due diligence to make sure that we are only recognising those as elders who fit the requirements of scripture.
We need to remember that leadership is a significant role on the church and that leadership effects the health of the church “big time”. God has given us the pro-forma for elders in scripture and we should make sure that we get those as elders who are aligned therewith.
One of the key monikers of a church leader is “overseer”. The person called to lead among God’s peoples is to be a person with an in-built inclination to oversee the church. Crucial in this is to have an awareness of what is going on in the church.
One of the striking things about the account of the slaying of Goliath by David is the complete lack of awareness that Saul had of what was going on. In particularly I note in 1 Samuel 15:55-58
As soon as Saul saw David go out against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is this youth?” And Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.” And the king said, “Enquire whose son the boy is.” And as soon as David returned from the striking down of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”
The lack of awareness displayed by Saul is breathtaking given that in the previous chapter we see recorded how Saul had gotten David brought from his father Jesse to play soothing music to him (see 1 Samuel 16:14-23.) And then he had actually spoken to the same David before David went to defeat Goliath (see 1 Samuel 17: 31-40).
All this shows us a man who was not fit for leadership. And in saying that we are reflecting what had happened. He had been deprived of leadership capacities because of his prior unfaithfulness the Lord.
I have come across able end even good men in church, but they do not have this characteristic of awareness. People and happenings just seem to pass them by. They may be great assets to the church, but they would be great liabilities if considered as elders.
To have this inclination to watch over the fellowship of God’s people is one indication that a a younger brother is being raised up to leadership. Existing elders there by should be looking out for this as they pray for the raising up of elders in the fellowship.
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)
We had a leadership seminar at Feltham on June 15th. One of the exercises which we were given was to score ourselves out of ten for the various characteristics which should be being displayed by an elder. The list was taken from those revealed in scripture. We were then instructed to go away and ask others who know us well, whether that be in family or in whatever realm, to similarly mark us out of ten. We could then compare our self-awareness with how others perceive us. The list is this:
- Above reproach
- Faithful to his wife
- Not overbearing
- Loves what is good
- Self controlled
- Able to teach
- He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught
- Not given to drunkenness
- Not violent but gentle
- Not quick tempered
- Not quarrelsome
- Not a lover of money
- He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect
- He must not be a recent convert
- He must also have a good reputation with outsiders
If you are an elder it will provide a good exercise, if not perhaps a little painful. So why not try doing it? And when you have got a spread of responses make a point of working on the characteristic which you scored worst on.
Is your church praying for the raising up and recognising of further elders? It would be my contention that a church that has decided it has enough elders is in a very dangerous position. Churches should always be aware that the death of the church is being hastened if there are no elders in place or being raised up to bear the load, under God, to carry the work of God in the church forward.
So every church should be praying for the coming forward of the next generation of leaders. And the present leaders should be taking the lead in this. If your present leaders are wanting to protect their position and not welcome new younger elders then they are not fit for the role of elder. Being an elder is a releasing ministry not a constraining ministry. Ephesians 4:12 tells us how elders are one of the groups with the responsibility to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
It is a great concern when you observe churches where the present elders are moving into their seventies and eighties and there is no initiative or energy to look for younger elders. Such churches are effectively sealing their death-knell.