Elders ShopNotes has always been about helping people by helping those who lead people. I don’t often do this, but I’d like to devote this article to a conversation I had recently (and unexpectedly) with an elder who lives in a different part of the country.
During our conversation, I happened to ask him how things were going in the work where he lives. I did this half expecting the usual reply from an elder in a small assembly that has been small for a long time, and the word “struggling” might have been spoken in the past. It’s an old story; a handful of faithful saints; a couple of good, godly elders trying to keep things afloat – and even make some progress but “just when someone new comes in and seems promising, someone else leaves. . .” Over the years, it can be discouraging.
What I was about to hear was surprising; might I say (in a good sense) even shocking! Thus, this article.
Before proceeding, I want to reassure the reader of the motive in which I write. It is certainly not to promote a certain “method,” nor any “quick fix.” It is not to praise any man or assembly. It is to share with any who may be interested in an account of how the Lord has worked in a situation where those who lead decided to move beyond simply orthodox doctrine and traditional meeting schedules, into the area of active discipleship – even a bit of “thinking outside the box.” How better can we glorify the Lord than to build up His bride – the church?
His opening answer to my question was “Things are going really well; better than they have for a long time.” I wanted to hear more.
I’ll summarize his report. Last year, the elders came to a decision to become more proactive in discipling people; they decided to begin with a few younger men. This decision was not without some challenges. First, they needed to admit that the way they had always done things wasn’t working. It certainly kept the meetings going, but that was about all. As a missionary friend likes to say, “Admitting the problem is 51% of the solution!”
Second, they realized that they couldn’t make needed changes with every age group at the beginning, so they chose to work with the young men of the assembly. These were still flexible and were looking to be challenged for the Lord.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle was to find credible, helpful material that they could use with the men. This would need to be Christ centered, biblically grounded, interesting, and intensely practical. This was discovered on an internet website (www.BiblicalEldership.com) geared to help elders with just such a task. “Sure, we’re students of Scripture,” he told me, “but we needed help as we had neither the time nor ability to write new study materials. Why reinvent the wheel if someone has already done the work?”
A simple plan including meetings with the elders and opportunities to practice was developed. Nothing highly unusual, just older brothers meeting with younger brothers with a healthy dose of accountability. Words and promises alone would not do; there needed to be self-discipline, hard work, and the willingness to apply what was learned (and possibly fail!). A loving, nurturing atmosphere would be the foundation of it all.
Above All We Ask or Think
The idea caught on, and proved to be a huge blessing. Others got involved. The elders opened up time for trial messages by the younger men on Sunday morning. In time, one of the wives asked if the women might serve the effort by providing a meal on the night of the study. That brought couples and even families together. Growth became evident.
All this is refreshing. but does it move “beyond what we could ask or think?” Listen to what my friend told me next: “This past Sunday for the first time ever, not one of the older men participated in worship; there simply wasn’t time. The younger men were filled to overflowing, and that’s what they did. We sat and gave thanks to the Lord.”
The wise reader will remember immediately that the adversary will be active where God is at work. It is inevitable that potential problems will arise. Part of good leadership means foreseeing evil and where possible, making provision to counter it. I found some humor in one of his examples. He said, “After a while, I made an announcement on a Sunday morning that the saints should help and not hinder our work with these young men,” which by now was numbering about 15. “If you have words of praise or commendation following a message spoken by one of them, go ahead and speak to them directly. But if you have any criticism or complaint, please come and speak to one of the elders. We’re putting a lot of time and hard work into this, and we’ll have no drive-by shootings in this assembly.”
He mentioned one other benefit of all this: “Most of our Sunday ministry from the platform is now done by the men of this assembly. Speakers coming in from outside is the exception, not the rule.”
One rejoices to hear accounts of the blessing of God anywhere, but especially in places where the ground has seemed dry for years. As I thought about the conversation, a few words came to mind. “Humility” – the willingness of elders to face and admit that all was not well. “Teachability” – the elders’ willingness to look out into the body of Christ at large for assistance (which is again, a mark of humility). And “Accountability” – the commitment to be sure that words spoken are carried out.
One thing this brother did not say when I questioned him was. “God is good.” Now we all know that God is good; Scripture tells us so. But I have always felt a little uncomfortable when the goodness of God is given as the reason for sudden blessing in the work. Why? Because it seems to imply that God is not so good in places where things are not happening; and of course that’s not true.
We can’t make rules about how or when or where the Lord will work, but we should always suspect some failure or neglect on our part, rather than an unwillingness to act on God’s part. A case in point is the account of those in Acts 11:19 – 26 who went everywhere “preaching the word to . . . the Jews only.” We read, “And the hand of the Lord was with them; and a great number believed, and turned to the Lord.” What happened here? Most of them limited their work to the way in which they had always worked. But a few (perhaps remembering the words of the Lord Jesus “Go into all the world . . .” ) spoke to Gentiles, and saw immediate blessing.
Are these not good things to ponder in our day as we seek to “strengthen the things that remain”?