As I write this article, our congregation is considering my husband to serve as an elder. He has long had the desire to work in this capacity, and recently, he decided it was time to take that step. Our current elders seem to be enthusiastic about working together with him.
When he was prayerfully considering whether the time was right for him to join the ranks of the eldership, he solicited advice from men we have known who have served or who currently serve as elders. Because of all the places we’ve lived during Doug’s time in the military we know quite a few, and their responses caused us no little dismay.
All but one of the men very strongly cautioned us to be aware that as soon as a man steps up to serve the Lord as an elder, nasty attitudes and hateful behaviors start popping up. They warned him to be sure I knew what was coming, because the kids and I could be in the line of fire also. They said as soon as a man becomes an elder he will start to see the unpleasant side of the congregation who previously appeared to be loving and righteous.
One man we talked to in the past even stepped down from the eldership because he said he wants to love his fellow Christian brethren again.
Is it no wonder that we can’t seem to convince men to serve as elders? Why would a man want to subject his family and himself to hateful diatribe and vicious attacks on their character? Why would a man be willing to sit in endless meetings vainly trying to bring his Christian brethren together in some sense of unity? Why would a man be willing to be available 24/7 to a membership who doesn’t appreciate the sacrifices he is making?
Sisters, it is a sad state in our church that when a man is willing to make sacrifices of his personal time he is punished by the people he is sacrificing his time to help. I find it depressing that grown men and women cannot seem to even try to solve their own problems without running to complain to the elders. I noted that this is probably the reason why elders are supposed to have children; shepherding the flock is an awful lot like raising kids.
So what can we do?
Let us begin with what we can do in our own lives to make sure we are not contributing to the problem. First of all, we need to develop in our hearts a right attitude. We all have our heart problems, and we know we have areas that could stand some improvement. David acknowledged his sin and asked God to, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10. We need to prayerfully consider if we are harboring bitterness, jealousy or spitefulness, and purify our souls, loving one another as Christ has called us to love. “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart,” 1 Peter 1:22
Once you have done that, take steps to resolve conflicts. Matthew 18 gives us very clear guidelines on how to deal with problems between brethren; let us take these words to heart and follow through with them. If there is a conflict that is causing dissention in the church family, deal with it and clear it up.
I have often found that when I have a problem it tends to diffuse with prayer, discussion with my husband, and humility. Most of the time I simply leave the issue in God’s hands and let it go. It is just not worth causing division in the church. Other times the problem is big enough it needs to be addressed, but when everything is in the open we find that there was a simple misunderstanding, or the other party didn’t even know there was a problem and is willing to do what is necessary to resolve the situation. When these things happen we can grow closer to our sisters through conflict resolution.
But sometimes the problems are big enough we need help, and that is when we approach the elders. But I’m here to tell you, if you follow the first steps, most of the time you will never have to take it to the elders! In the years that I have been a Christian I have never had to go to the elders to resolve a conflict with a sister. I’m sure it’s not just because I’m so easy to get along with and everyone loves me, so why is it? It’s because I’m willing to simply let it go most of the time, and humbly allow God to work through me in love and submission.
After we have resolved conflicts, we need to continue following this system. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:12, “But what I do I will also continue to do.” Paul knew what he was doing was right, and resolved to continue doing it. We should do the same. It takes perseverance, but isn’t that the Christian’s hallmark? Galatians 6:9, James 1:12, 2 Thessalonians 3:13 all are verses that encourage us to endure, knowing that we are patiently waiting for our reward.
Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. Hebrews 13:17
By living according to this system, esteeming others greater than ourselves (Philippians 2:3) and humbling ourselves by letting go of our personal desires for the greater good of the church, we will make our elders’ job much easier. We will make it a joy to serve the Lord in this capacity, not grief, and by doing so the church will be able to grow.
And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
By Fern Boyle
Fern Boyle is a homeschooling mom of six kids who lives in Enid, Oklahoma. Her husband, Doug, is an elder in the church of Christ at Garriott Road, and a pilot in the military, having served in both the Marine Corps and Air Force. Their time traveling from coast to coast has blessed them with friends in the church all across the country as well as many opportunities to grow as Christians. Fern enjoys running, hiking, reading and teaching ladies Bible class. She used to have other hobbies but then she had more kids. Her children are what she loves most, however, watching them grow and develop into wonderful young men and women.