When studying the work of elders, we sometimes use terms that help us understand the broad categories in which they serve. We have done this in the past using descriptive words like “feed,” “lead,” “oversee,” and “protect.” Residing quietly within these duties are many administrative skills upon which elders rely year after year. Often overlooked, they are, like many of life’s seeming details, critical to successfully working with people. If I had to choose two administrative skills that are crucial to good leadership, I would mention first, the skill of facing and dealing with problems in a timely manner, and secondly, the skill of communicating clearly. These are worth some serious thought.
The one I place first is dealing with potential problems swiftly. Or to say it another way, elders must not procrastinate. Now, someone reading this may be shaking his head in disagreement; “Let’s not be hasty brother; haste makes waste. What about the many warnings about waiting on the Lord? We can’t have a rush to judgment in the church of God……” Let me state emphatically that I do not advocate undue haste in the work of the Lord. But let the reader ask himself a question. Looking back over your years in the Christian community, have you seen fellowship suffer more because sins and problems were dealt with too quickly or too slowly? Answers will vary, but if the concerns expressed to me by sincere believers over the years are any indicator, most will think of more occasions when problems were not addressed but allowed to drag on, sometimes for years. In fact, it is probably not an exaggeration to suggest that this is one of the greatest faults of leaders today.
The key word is “timely.” Problems must be addressed in a timely manner. That means not looking the other way while a situation worsens, and it certainly means not running ahead of the Lord. Good lessons may be learned by considering the example of the apostles’ approach to problem solving as recorded in the book of Acts. Several notable examples are found. In Acts 5, two individuals in the church pretended to give all to the Lord from the sale of land when in fact they gave only part. Perhaps if that happened today some might suggest that they should go for counseling or describe their sin as “a little white lie.” Peter saw it differently, saying that they had lied to the Holy Spirit. They died on the spot and fear came upon the whole church. In Acts 6, the complaint of certain widows who felt neglected was reported to the apostles. Interestingly, the apostles never blamed the people for complaining. Although no exact time frame is given, the text implies immediate action, as capable men were chosen to address the problem. Finally, in Acts 15 a doctrinal question threatened to divide the church. After some disputing, a group of representatives was sent to Jerusalem, thus referring the problem to the place from whence it had come.
Now in all these cases, there is no hint that much time was allowed to pass. No statement can be found to indicate that the situation was steadily growing more serious, much less that the work was beginning to suffer. Nothing, not even prayer is cited as a reason for delay. The apostles acted (doubtlessly with prayer) in a way that underscores an important truth: every day is crucial when dealing with a spiritual infection in the body. One measures the spread of leaven throughout a lump of dough in hours, not days or weeks! We can only surmise what might have become of the church had the apostles followed the time table of some church leaders today.
To sum up, in each of the incidents referred to above, three elements may be traced. Inquiry was made through questions or testimony, decisive action was taken and finally, the result clearly communicated. This last point should be taken to heart. In the matter of the Acts 5 story of the couple who lied to the Holy Spirit, young men who seemed to have some involvement in the work were aware of the problem and its conclusion. In the other two passages the entire assembly participated in resolving the problem, and in the latter, letters were written and sent along with those who could bear witness to the facts. No wonder there was great joy among the churches and the work grew strongly.
How can all of this help us? What steps can be taken? Elders, let us hear the concerns of the flock, especially those who have labored among us with a track record for faithfulness. Let us not become defensive, branding as a complainer the one who brings the concern. Let us be more concerned about “Is it true?” than “Who said it?” And most important, remember that very few problems “just go away by themselves.” Someone must do the hard thing, ask questions and discover the truth. Often it is thankless work, but in the long run, it will be verified as one of God’s primary means of preserving and blessing His church.
In the next article, we’ll take a look at the second skill, communication.