Preparing To Shepherd
“Today, many churches exist without elders. For some, elders seem like a luxury. For others, they are a hassle. Still others make the position unattainable for any imperfect human being. However, few churches intentionally train and develop Christians for this leadership position. While we do an outstanding job identifying, training, and developing evangelists, elders seem to be an afterthought” (“Elders: Developing shepherds in God’s image”, Christian Chronicle, Clark, July 2010). The writer goes on to wonder whether we could answer the question of who will be elders five, ten, or even twenty years down the road. While we can quickly identify somebody who has preaching skills, and set them on a path to achieving their goals in that ministry, it seems like becoming an elder is hardly ever in anybody’s plans.
There is a great need in every church for good, strong men to lead as elders. “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). Paul did not accept “ifs, ands, or buts” from Titus, but commanded him to leave nothing lacking in a congregation. Paul himself even made it a point to return to churches that he had worked with previously in order to help appoint elders there. “And when they had appointed elders in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23). With all this being said, how should we look to the future and intentionally develop the men of this congregation into potential elders?
“From the early stages of a church, Paul and other evangelists sought out leaders to shepherd the congregations. We intentionally train evangelists for new churches. We encourage young people to enter the ministry. We should carry this same passion into training others to shepherd churches. Being intentional about elder development gives a church hope for the future” (Clark).
Shepherding is hard, dirty work sometimes, and we should never think that being an elder will be easier than it is. We can make the transition easier on ourselves, though, if we prepare for the eldership by practicing pastoral skills as young men in the home. Notice the parallels:
We need to develop a habit of making time for our wives and children, which will help us make time for needy church members as elders.
We need to invest in the problems of our children, as elders care for the problems of their flock.
We need to keep in mind how our families see us, since a reputation in the community for love and good works is necessary for elders (1 Timothy 3:7).
We need to learn self control in our tempers, never punishing our children more than their deeds merit. Elders, too, must have self control and must not be pugnacious (1 Timothy 3:3).
We need to accept the discipline of making mistakes. Sometimes we fail our families, disappoint our wives, and succumb to temptation. Allow these failures to temper your spirit and make you stronger, so that all may see your prudence.
We need to teach our children (Ephesians 6:4), and lead our wives (Ephesians 5:23), since teaching and leading are required of all elders (1 Timothy 3:2, 1 Timothy 5:17).