The calling of a man by our God to shepherd a local congregation can easily be seen as a blessing from God. The eldership is one of the most honourable yet often the least appreciated work within the body of believers. Elders are the backbone of the spiritual growth of an assembly and often one of the key factors of the quality of the church they represent. A congregation will never truly fair well without the care of qualified elders to shepherd the flock. From the outset, we want to be clear what we mean by “shepherding”. What we mean by the term “shepherd” signifies guiding rather than ruling. What we have an even deeper gratefulness for are those who are capable of tending to this work with humility and love for others. We know that they are supposed to carry on their work in this fashion but this is not always the case. The truly called elders are to be mature men who are leading by an exemplification of Godly moral character. They are men who are hospitable, in control of themselves, their families and most importantly they are givers of themselves and not seeking self-exaltation. They are teachers of the Word of God able to minister with it with power and wisdom. These are men whose calling and qualifications are clearly identified in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 & Titus 1:5-9. These men of God are humble believers who don’t need to question whether they have been called to this work but they see it in the natural outworking of their lives. They are servants who are lead by the Spirit to feed and care for the people of God. They are not looking for respect through titles or some flattery of their ministry but they are people their flock will be able to point to as an example of a life of shepherding that God had worked through. They love the church, guide it, serve it and are willing to give of themselves fully to it. These men are prepared to sit with the flock as we carry on the mission of the church to preach, teach and baptize.
In a perfect world every church would have these elders who bring wisdom and unity to a local congregation but as we know this is not a perfect world by any stretch of the imagination. There are those elders who approach things from a different perspective whether knowingly or out of ignorance. There are those men who seek the respect and flattery of men rather than a desire to serve. These are rulers rather than guides. A close friend of mine once said that many pastors suffered from a disease called “reverenitis”. These are elders/pastors that seem to feel that they deserve a certain amount of reverence and are perfectly willing to demand it. They do more than simply lead a congregation but demand that their ways be the only way. Some are known to dictate its every move that a church makes and stress their “influence” on those who might not be so keen to obey. There is no real effort to lead by example or caring for the flock since this is not how they would define a “ruling elder”.
Now, let’s take this a little further and add a little celebrity status to the mix. We have plenty of individuals today who are trying to mirror the world and they have placed men on pedestals. We see men who are selling out arenas with large ministries who gross millions each year. There is no longer the need for a call to worship to have individuals come to gather at church but simply an announcement that a particular celebrity pastor will be there is enough to draw the crowd. They pump out books and sermons weekly which they are happy to charge a small “donation” for. Their churches are gigantic buildings that seat thousands which reminds us all how far we’ve come from the upper room. These men have such a celebrity name that they become bigger than the church. Most of these shepherds answer to no one since they know that the church would never function without their name on the front of the building. These celebrity pastors have a severe case of reverenitis.
What you are witnessing in all this is North American Christianity. Men have been put into positions of shepherding who I believe don’t have the qualifications of an elder or simply can point to a few of the qualifications in Timothy & Titus. They are willfully or ignorantly seeking self-glory and control. There is another point that must be considered mainly that of the continuation of these qualifications in the elder’s life. Are these qualifications to be apparent at the time an elder becomes an elder or are these qualifications something that we can put our fingers on throughout the elder’s ministry? I believe that these qualifications are ever apparent in the life of the called elder and in fact that it should be increasingly manifested in their lives.
I don’t want this post to make people think that there are no good elders in churches or that they have to somehow test their elders on a regular basis to see if they fit the qualifications. I also don’t want this post to think that there is something necessarily wrong with having a larger ministry or that people will not benefit from some para-church ministries. I do believe however that the elders/pastors should examine themselves to see if they continue to meet the qualifications of an elder. Have you read 1 Timothy 3:1-13 lately? Do you still meet these qualifications? This post is a call to pastors/elders to examine themselves to see if their ministry is one of humility and love for others rather than a pursuit of making a name for themselves and their ministry. Are you guiding the church rather than ruling over it? Finally, this post is a call to God’s people to support their local church and the elders who oversee it. These men should be respected but not revered as the head of the church. There can be only one head and that is Christ alone!