There is nothing sexy about the call to eldership.
We all recognize the elders as the men who sit in those painstakingly long meetings making the hard decisions for the church.
But as I returned with five classmates from 40 hours of driving a 15-passenger van to Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s “Weekender” in Washington D.C., I was reminded afresh that elders are the men who share in the eternally significant privilege of shepherding the souls of a local congregation. This appropriately difficult work of eldering serves the correspondingly weighty responsibility of shepherding souls.
I first attended Capitol Hill Baptist Church as a college intern in the D.C. metro area in Summer 2008. Although I was only there for a short season, I felt known and loved by elders and members of this local body. Now as a seminary student at Bethlehem College & Seminary who is training to be an elder myself, I was able to step behind the scenes at Capitol Hill Baptist Church this past week to attend an intense, movie trailer-like conference of what eldership looks like. While observing elder meetings, membership classes, Sunday services, a congregational meeting, and a staff service review, I watched firsthand how church eldership demands incredible patience and humble service, making me all the more grateful for Bethlehem Baptist Church’s faithful elders.
As I aspire to eldership, here are three lessons I want to remember and apply:
- Lay Elders Are Crucial
Lay elders are not the B-team benchwarmers but rather the gifted amateurs who contribute to the success of the team. I use “amateur” in the classical sense (from the Latin amator or “lover”), as in those who play a sport (or serve a church) purely out of love rather than for pay. Lay elders invest countless hours in the lives of individual members, in prayer, in thinking through the relationship between doctrinal issues and the practical questions of ministry all out of love for their local church. Qualified lay elders are crucial team members.
- Seek the Wandering and Wounded Sheep
Shepherding takes patience, empathy, and a pursuing love on the part of the elders. Eldering means pursuing members who are experiencing acute suffering or who are floundering in sin and who therefore need love, counsel, and possibly church discipline. Elders are the first in the congregation to press into the pain and brokenness of the flock, allowing their own hearts to break for them. Elders pursue the lost and wounded sheep not only to show the hurting members such love, but also so that the rest of the flock might follow their example to love others in the congregation in the same way.
- Measure Your Eldering by the Last Day
Eldership is an eternally weighty responsibility because of the account taken on the Last Day. Hebrews warns elders that they will “give an account” for those in their flock (Heb 13:17). Therefore, elders should measure everything they do against the eternally significant judgment that will happen when Christ returns.
The call to eldership, though full of hard work and eternal weight, offers the joy of seeing God’s grace at work in the life of the Church. And it is a call I am eager to grow into as I finish my studies at Bethlehem College & Seminary.
The “Weekender” was a fresh reminder to me to pray with thanksgiving to the Lord for the elders here at Bethlehem, who watch over our souls with patience and discernment and most of all an eternal perspective.
Bethlehem Seminary Student
As Bethlehem College & Seminary comes to mind, please pray that …
- the Bethlehem Baptist Church elders would continue to shepherd the church faithfully. Pray that God would give them patience and enduring strength to love the lost and wounded sheep in the flock
- the Bethlehem Seminary students in the eldership class this fall would have the eternal weight of what they are training for impressed upon their hearts and minds. Pray that their teachers would model the care and concern of godly elders.
- the support in prayer and finances would continue to supply what Bethlehem College & Seminary needs to train up the next generation of faithful elders for local congregations around the world.