Monday, June 23, 2008

On the Role of Elders

With apologies to my friend "Kent" of "Kent B. True," I just have to point out some stupidity found in the pages of a recent Christian Standard. It seems one of the brainiacs wrote an article on the role of elders. In the article, the author stated that we can discern from Scripture what an elders is "to be," but we don't much understand what an elder is "to do."

The author says that it was easy to understand the elder's role as shepherd in the first century or in rural America. Now that we live in the 21st century in mostly urban cultures we have to ask, now what? The rest of the article was the result of some reasearch on what contemporary elders do. What they do in the city is serve in an advisory capacity to the staff. Where do you find that role in the descriptive passages of the New Testament elder. Here is what I wrote as a letter to the editor of the Standard.

So we know what elders are but do we know what elders do? Apparently not! Not since we live in a 21st century culture that is often urban and can't identify with the role of shepherd. I have a theological word for that thought: balderdash!

Perhaps it would be a good idea for the author of the article to read They Smell Like Sheep and the Bible. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize that a church is comprised of people who are often as dumb as sheep. They still need someone to look after them and to minister to their needs just as much as they did when they lived in rural areas. Maybe those urban sheep need even more shepherding.

The issue isn't that we can't figure out what elders do, the real issue is that elders have abandoned their God-given responsibilities to a group of people who are at best an expedient for their roles are nowhere seen in the New Testament. The New Testament Church didn't have "a staff," it had elders. For a movement that began with a desire to get away from the laity-clergy distinction, our contemporary elders have permitted just such a distinction to exist. Why "the staff' is even using the title "Pastor" which rightfully belongs to an elder. Maybe what we need to do is adopt the denominational practice of letting "the staff" be the elders and the elders be the deacons and the deacons just be just another brand of peon in the church. We seem to be adopting all the other denominational stuff that seems to be so inviting!

Everywhere we look in the once biblically-oriented Restoration Movement we see the abandonment of principles taught in Scripture regarding the New Testament Church. I'm not much into patternism, but I still think there are principles that mean something and can be aptly applied to the contemporary church. We've supplanted the biblical principles of leadership for corporate practices complete with a Board of Directors (Elders) and a CEO, COO, CFO, and so on. We've replaced biblical principles of leadership with the pragmatism of so many irrefutable laws of leadership (with proof texts rather than real biblical support). I don't think elders should micromanage, but I think they should be overseers and superintendents who know what's going on and who know the difference between sound doctrine and false doctrine.

Okay, I now get all the perks of a senior citizen so you can write off my meanderings as the ranting of an old man, but you can't escape the fact that in the qualifications of elders listed in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and Acts 20 you can find out what an elder is supposed to do. Their servant leadership is implicit in their qualifications. Maybe ... just maybe ... our folks need to spend more time in the Bible than in John Maxwell's tomes!

Michael Hines
Palm Springs, California