Jump Start # 2194
Acts 14:23 “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
Appointing elders, here from our passage, seemingly done quickly in these young congregations. It also seems that every church had them. This verse is raised up as a standard but for far too many congregations, decades, even generations, pass without having shepherds to lead and guide the people of God.
Let’s give some thought to this:
First, it may be the way we go about appointing men to be elders. Did you watch any of the Brett Kavanaugh meeting before the Senate judiciary committee last week? It was heated and harsh. One would think finding someone who was gifted enough and willing enough to serve on the Supreme Court would be a highlight of our country’s history. But instead of a joyous moment, tempers flared, fingers were pointed and motives were questioned. It was ugly. As I watch some of that, it reminded me of what some congregations go through with the appointment of elders. Instead of being one of the joyous highpoints of a congregation, it also, turns ugly with finger pointing, motives questioned and tempers flaring. I’m known people to leave and never come back. I’ve heard of congregations splitting during the process of appointing elders.
Some of this may come from a total misunderstanding of what shepherds do. They do not “run” the church. They oversee people. Those that view the eldership as a climb to the top, as the church’s CEO, do not understand the work and the nature of shepherding. They do not control the money, decide about the building and run deacons as managers who report to them. They oversee people. The people are not the parking lot, the copy machines nor the carpet. The people are the church. Not getting this, some wrongly view the eldership as a “promotion,” and a position of telling people what to do, rather than showing them by their example and helping them get closer to the Lord. Shepherding is a people business. It’s about leading, showing, teaching and helping God’s people.
With this, not only are unqualified people pushed to become elders, men who are not leaders, and men who do not know the word of God, but the appointing process begins with the idea of looking for something wrong in a person’s life. We turn critical, reaching back for decades and hanging on to rumors to keep a man from becoming a shepherd. Too often, we expect perfection. It is amazingly inconsistent to have fellowship with a man for years and years, to allow him to pray for the congregation, teach class and be active, but when his name is suggested as an elder, then all of a sudden all this dirt, mud and ugliness about his character comes out. Why is it ok to fellowship that and tolerate that as long as he is not an elder? Most inconsistent. Some how we have within us the thought that with every name presented to be an elder, we must look and look for something wrong with that man. We dig until we can find something, anything. Could it be that we are starting on the wrong foot? Could it be that we ought to rejoice that some among us are willing to serve and lead us to Heaven? Instead of looking for what is wrong, consider what we have been fellowshipping and what we know. If an man’s character is such that he cannot be an elder, possibly we ought to ask “why are we fellowshipping him?” The problem may not be in the man, but in us.
Second, having witnessed the ugly side of appointing elders in the past, some who probably would be wonderful shepherds, do not have the nerve to go through all that ugliness. I wonder if we have just done that to our country with Kavanaugh. Why would someone want, especially the media, to go through old high school year books and find what you wrote decades ago. There may be many judges after this who will be content to stay where they are and not put their lives through all of this intense ugliness. They may feel that it’s not worth it. And, I wonder if in some places we have done the same thing with future elders. They have seen what happened to others, and they want no part of that. Shame on us for leaving that impression upon others. In many ways it has crippled congregations for years.
Third, there certainly seems to have been a quick desire upon these men in Acts 14 to serve as elders. Two verses before, Paul is returning to Lystra, Iconium and to Antioch. They had just been to those cities for the first time in chapter 13. Now certainly some time had passed, maybe five years. And certainly the Holy Spirit was helping those new congregations, but still, there were men who were qualified, willing and able to serve. Today, someone’s name is mentioned about being a possible elder and immediately someone says, “well, they haven’t been here very long.” The very long, is five to six years. How long did it take in Acts 14? The spirit of those early churches was driven by men and women who put Christ before all things. Today, it’s the demands of work come before leading the people of God. Today, it’s the family needs to grow and move out before one will think about it. Today, as soon as a man is in position with work and family, he decides that he wants to travel and won’t be here much. One spirit that seems missing today is the willingness to put the kingdom first, before work, pleasure, and family. We are content to let others do what we could. Some of this is cultural. There was a huge shift in patriotic thinking between W.W. II and Vietnam. In W.W. II, young men, like my dad, still in high school, couldn’t wait to get out and enlist. They wanted to do their part. By the time Vietnam came, many did everything they could to avoid going. That cultural shift had many reasons, but it filters into the church as well. Instead of devoting lives to helping the kingdom, even having the spirit of Isaiah who said, “Here am I, send me,” many ask, “Why should I?” And this, “Why should I?” attitude is why every quarter, congregations beg for people to step up and teach Bible classes. It’s why some have given up on VBS and other things because no one wants to help out. So, this is much larger than being an elder, it has to do with discipleship, stewardship and being will to give my all to the King who gave His all.
Our verse states that every church had elders. Can you imagine that in this country. Every congregation, led by men who love the Lord and love the people. Every congregation having visionary men who are devoting their lives to helping the people of God. Every congregation having wisdom and love at the helm.
And, for those congregations that currently are blessed to have godly men leading them, who will take their place? What’s the legacy? What thought has been put into finding the next round and mentoring those men so when the time comes they are ready to serve.
Maybe more teaching needs to be done about shepherding and the attitudes of a congregation rather than just running through the qualifications found in Timothy and thinking that’s enough. Maybe we ought to see what’s happening in Washington and ask, why do we find a similar process in our congregations? Maybe we ought to ask the Lord to help us, change us and shape us to what we need to be.
Every church—every church had elders. What an amazing thought!