I had breakfast with a brother in Christ yesterday morning and we chatted about a lot of stuff but one thing we talked about kind of grabbed my attention for a second look. It is a topic I have written on a lot in the past but not so much recently, namely elders in the church of Christ.
What do we know about elders? Elders in the New Testament and therefore in the church were multiple rather than singular, exclusively male, led by example of service rather than dictated by decree and were recognized from within the local church rather than recruited from the outside. How that actually plays out in the church is not as clear and that has led to man "filling in the blanks" which is how we end up with bishops, elders and pastors being seen as different "offices" in the church, professional elders who are paid to serve, elders hired on the basis of educational achievement and their ability to deliver a monologue and of course the single elder/pastor church.
We got to talking about elders and how they look in a local church. How does one know that a brother is an elder? Imagine a new person coming to your church. If you don't tell them right away who the elders are, would they know? Does the church treat them differently, are they the only ones who talk? Should an elder look different from the rest of the church? I don't think so. Elders shouldn't be recognizable by attire or titles or deference. What should identify an elder are the qualities that make them an elder in the first place and those are qualities that require observation and getting to know someone.
Conversely, someone who spends time in your church but is never told who the elders are should easily be able to figure it out based on observing their lives. Not because they dominate the church conversation or are getting paid or have their name on the sign out front or in the bulletin. No, they should exhibit in their daily walk those attributes that we see in Scripture clearly laid out. I guess what I am saying is that you don't need a name on the sign or in the bulletin to be known as an elder and no one should have to tell you who the elders are because after a while it should be apparent.
Another idea came up having to do with the correct number of elders in the church.
If there are 50 men in a local church or fellowship or whatever you call it and 15 of those men exhibit the qualities of an elder, then you should recognize those 15 men as elders. I have run into a lot of churches that create an arbitrary number of elders, whether that is 1 or 3 or 5. I have seen 3 a lot actually. Both in Michigan and here locally we have been part of groups with a three man eldership but with many more men who were, based on what I was seeing, qualified to be elders who should have been recognize as elders. I think some of this has to do with the 12 apostles. We know that after Judas was exposed as the betrayer it was decided that another should take his office, lots were cast and Mathias was chosen. The reason there were twelve is very specific but it doesn't apply to elders in a local church. I have said before and I will say again, every man in the church should either be an elder or growing toward being an elder. Any man who is not an elder or on that trajectory is being completely failed by the church (see What is the right number of elders? ).
The elders of the church are nothing short of a gift from our gracious Father, brothers given to the church for no lesser purpose than equipping the rest of the church for the work of ministry (Eph 4: 11-14 ) and serving as a model to emulate for every single brother in the church as they too grow into the fullness of maturity in Christ. When the church so long ago changed elders from examples to emulate to rulers over lessers, it lost the very purpose and means that God ordained. Today's modern model of a overworked combination of non-profit administrator /babysitter/ motivational speaker is only marginally better but still a far cry from what the church was given and what the church so desperately needs.
Lord renew a desire for godly men to be the examples to the flock that we need and rekindle the desire in the church for a robust model of elders that rejects the administrator and the tyrant alike.