In our Wednesday night Bible class, we have started a new quarter with the Young Professionals (20’s and 30’s). One of our elders has stepped in to teach the class, and he is doing something very different than anything I’ve ever experienced before. There are six elders in our congregation, so for the first six weeks of this class, a different elder will come before the class to talk about his life growing up, what led to his decision to become a Christian, what difficulties he has faced spiritually as a young Christian and father, and ultimately how he prepared himself to become an elder. We will then have some time that we can have a short Q&A session with them. I was excited for a slight change of pace in the class, but I was a little nervous how it would go basically listening to someone’s life story for a whole class.
We’ve only been through two sessions of this class, and I am already blown away. It has been amazing to sit and listen to these two men speak about their lives. We’ve heard about spiritual and physical struggles, family triumphs, heartbreak, and a longing for Christ and His Kingdom. We are finding out very quickly that our elders are just men who, like the rest of us, are trying to navigate this life with a family. I think sometimes we see the eldership in the Church as being this group that is segmented from the rest of the congregation, almost the way you treated your principle and teachers when you were in elementary school. When you see them coming, you kind of straighten up a little bit and act a little more formal. I think the reason we do that is because we don’t understand them.
We are only one-third of the way through speaking with our elders in class, and already it’s very clear to see that we all have much more in common with them they we may have thought. Unless they are retired, they work secular jobs around town. They have responsibilities and deadlines that they have to meet outside the congregation. They go home and mow their yards. They like watching sports and watching their kids and grandkids grow up. But then they have this whole other responsibility on their shoulders that the rest of us don’t have to carry. They ultimately watch for the souls of everyone at the congregation. They pray for us and about us. They hurt when we hurt. They lose sleep over decisions they have to make when they know the decision will not be popular. All of this is on top of the “normal” life we all live.
All of us should make a concerted effort to get to know our eldership on a more personal level. Invite them over for dinner after services. Sometimes talk to them about more than just Biblical topics. You might be surprised to find that they probably know just as much, if not more, than you do about sports, technology, literature, etc. Also, understand that their job is not easy. It is without a doubt the most difficult job on this planet. Even James A. Garfield, who served as an elder in the Church until 1881, made this statement prior to becoming our nation’s 20th President: “I resign the highest office in the land to become President of the United States.” Have patience with the elders and understand that they need your prayers and encouragement to carry out such a difficult task.
To the elders, thank you for what you do. We don’t always show it, but we know you carry a weight that most would buckle under. It’s a labor of love, and we know that you do it because you love us and love God. We love you for what you do, and we will continue to ask God to provide you with strength and courage to shepherd His flock.
Jonathan thanks so much for sharing your insight. Is an Elder I can speak with firsthand knowledge of countless sleepless nights. Setting with families that are facing some of the most difficult times of there lives. Sickness, death, bad decisions, and just struggling to understand why things happen the way they do. Some may wonder why or how anyone could desire this added burden. A former Elder I served under explained it like this, what parent ever desired to set up all night with a sick child? What parent desired to set up with a crying child? What parent ever said I cant wait to change a diaper? None that I know of, but they desired to be a parent and all that would bring. The big hug, the kiss on the cheek, seeing there eyes light up when you walk into a room, watching them grow up to be productive adults, faithfully serving God. That what it means to be an Elder. Helping someone bare the pain, sharing in there sadness and happiness, but ultimately living there life for God. That is why we do what we do.