Anyone who serves as a church elder has probably come to understand God’s wisdom in providing a plurality of men to share the workload. Biblical church leadership does not refer to several individuals each “doing their own thing,” but rather the development of a team that works together while respecting one another’s different gifts and abilities. And this process of team building is not just something that happens inevitably because men are laboring in the same church. Paul’s well known words to the elders of the church at Ephesus: “Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock of God…” (Acts 20:28 KJV) remind us that elders must care for one another as a brotherhood before they can effectively shepherd God’s people. This means spending quality time together, often in the form of the elder’s meeting, occasionally referred to as “the oversight.”
People Needs and Time Pressures
Scripture tells us to redeem the time because the days are evil (Eph. 5:16). It is not a stretch to conclude that as the days become more evil, time pressures will increase. Paul captured the thought well when he wrote: “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Ro 8:22). The needs of people and families today are staggering. How can a man keep up with the demands of his own family life, his employment, the need for proper exercise and rest, and still have time to care for the flock of God? Obviously, good stewardship of time is critical. Time is a precious resource; a gift of God’s grace; too precious to waste. Thus when elders meet together to address the needs of the church, it will be important to make best use of the time.
Respecting the Differences
At the outset, we must recognize that local churches differ greatly in size and shape. Some are located in cities, some in rural settings. Some are large; others are small. Some exist in countries that are hostile to the gospel; others can worship in peace. There are great differences in age makeup, opportunities for ministry and outreach, and a variety of available gifts and resources. In addition, there are widely differing leadership styles. Some men like an informal approach; others prefer a very businesslike model. Obviously, the Scriptures do not provide detailed instructions on how elders must meet or how they must address the needs of their particular flock. But we can discern some principles in the New Testament that will commend themselves to the thoughtful believer as clearly important for leaders.
Priorities for the Elders Meeting
Looking at the big picture, there are at least three time priorities for a good elders’ meeting; time with the Lord, time for the team, and time for the flock. The earliest church leaders – the apostles were careful to devote time to all three, and there is a priority of importance discernable in the record.
First, time with the Lord
It is easy to see the connection between the tremendous growth of the early church, and the prime place given by the apostles to fellowship with the Lord as Head of the church. Who has not pondered the words in Acts 6, “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (vs. 4)? Or the record in Acts 13:2. “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted….” Clearly, the apostles lived and worked with a strong sense of the presence of the risen Lord in their midst, and they evidently depended on Him for guidance and direction in everything. Elders today would do well to take note of this. Too often the elders’ meeting is “opened in prayer,” and then the business at hand consumes the rest of the time. Those who have devoted substantial time to prayer and meditation in the Word can attest to the wonderful way in which the Head is still able to direct the meeting and guide His church! In all our decisions, we should desire to say “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…..” (Acts 15:28). But the Lord, as a true Gentleman, will never force His way into the preeminent place. It is our responsibility and privilege to give Him that place each time we meet.
Second, time for the team
There must be time for the brothers who make up the leadership team to minister to one another. This is not time wasted! Any brother who is weighed down by troubles and discouraged in heart will not be an effective elder no matter how pressing the agenda. Bearing one another’s burdens is not an option. It is the only way in which we can fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). How can this be practical? Spending time together in the Word and prayer not only allows the Lord to disclose His mind about our many decisions in the church, but it also opens the way for Him to make us more transparent with regard to our walk and relationships. Perhaps for this reason some are uneasy with such “opening exercises” as they call them. But wise elders will do just as written, namely, “take heed” to the brothers who meet together to see if prayer or the ministry of comfort or exhortation or perhaps just listening is needed. In any case, this is a precious opportunity to follow the example of the Lord Jesus in the upper room as He ministered to the needs of His own before He went to the cross. Having cared for one another, we can now turn our attention to the needs of the church.
Third, time for the flock
How much might be written here! The needs seem endless. We no more get one problem resolved than the devil throws a dozen more in our way. But the Word is our faithful resource. For the sake of brevity, let me simply list a few items that have brought blessing.
– Rely on your deacons. To keep elders from becoming primarily business managers and decision makers, the Lord has given the blessing of deacons. According to the proto-type of Acts 6 these are men who can relieve the elders by being their assistants in temporal matters, especially finances.
– Consider a men’s meeting. Some assemblies have found blessing in regular times for the men of the assembly to meet and work together on some of the decisions of the church.
– Remember the old saying: “work with your Timothys.” It is too easy to be fighting small fires and pouring great amounts of time into troubled people and families and neglect the servants. Younger men must be discipled and encouraged to take on responsibilities.
– Keep the emphasis on the positive as much as possible. What good things has the Lord done recently? Where are opportunities and open doors? In which areas can we move ahead?
– Devote quality time to feeding the flock and shepherding the families of the church. Never allow business items to compromise this important work. – Deal with difficult matters as quickly as possible; do not let them fester and harm the church.
– Take advantage of the help available in the different gifts within the church. Wise elders will not expect all needs to be met by elders alone; other men, sisters, and young people have much to offer.
Over the past year, I’m sure I have heard the expression: “As leadership goes, so goes the church” at least 10 times. The Scriptures expound it, experience affirms it, the people know it (and talk about it); why should we not accept the truth of it and ask the Lord to help us in our meetings about the overseeing of His church? What joy it must bring to the Lord to see His servants dedicate one of their greatest assets to Him: the wise use of time with Himself presiding!