Now that we have considered the spiritual gifts of elders both individually and as a group (see previous issues), it’s time to think about how they relate to the gifts of others in the church. How can elders be faithful stewards (Titus 1:7) of this vital resource: the Lord’s people, a gifted people?
It has often been said that an assembly exists to worship God, equip the saints, and reach out to the lost. True enough, but while all three of these functions are the privilege and responsibility of every believer-priest, worship and witness actually have very little to do with one’s particular spiritual gift. Ministry, on the other hand, has everything to do with gifts, or as we have called them, “tools for service.”
This dimension of assembly life is extremely important because every Christian has a need to serve and to be served. In fact, I believe that both worship and outreach are the inevitable overflows of an edified church and a serving church, a point borne out by the book of Acts.
Elders then, will have an interest in the spiritual gifts of believers in the body of Christ as a whole. Certainly, missionaries and gifted servants from other areas will visit the assembly, and bring their unique contributions to the local work. Their gifts must be applied wisely. But by far the greatest challenge elders face is the spiritual training and equipping of those right within the local church.
Every assembly must be a place where believers can discover and develop their gifts in a safe (i.e., non-threatening) environment. There must be an atmosphere of acceptance and forbearance; a place of opportunity and healthy communication. Some time ago, we studied the four works of elders (ESN, March 2000) and it is interesting to see how these responsibilities come to the fore in this matter of equipping to serve. Equipping means good, solid food from God’s word for growth, oversight and protection from dangers and discouragements that would quench the gifts (I Thes. 5:19), and good leadership so that young servants may understand how a particular spiritual gift fits into the overall picture of assembly life.
One special area for this subject concerns the elders in their work for the assembly. Sometimes one sees assemblies where the elders have strong gifts in, for example, teaching and administrative areas but lack significant pastoral gift. Here is an opportunity for fellowship and interaction between the elders and those with such gifts among the believers.
How can this cooperation take place?
Elders who have worked through the subject of their own giftedness, have probably also faced the question of gaps or areas where important gifts are lacking within the elder group. This requires humility! Paul appeals for this humble attitude right in the context of his teaching on the gifts: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” (Rom. 12:3).
They must remember that all the gifts needed for the work of an assembly are not confined to the eldership. Also, there are gifts like “governments” (I Cor. 12:28) and “ruling” (Rom. 12:8) which may reside in people who are not elders. So elders must be willing, not only to delegate work out to the flock, but also to bring in and accept help from those who can assist them with the work they do.
Is this a confession of weakness in leadership? On the contrary, it is a mark of spiritual meekness and strength! And it should not surprise us, for elders frequently employ the services of visiting speakers to help in feeding the flock and this is both proper and edifying. Why not call upon gifted believers within the assembly to share in work for which they have special abilities by reason of gift? A group of elders that can accept assistance and even training from other believers will be both enriched and respected.