When speaking of the work of elders, there are multiple aspects of his work and his life outlined in Scripture. He is an “elder” (“A person of responsibility and authority in socio-religious matters,” Louw-Nida, 53.77; “being relatively advanced in age, older, old,” BDAG). He is a “pastor” or “shepherd” (“To care for, provide,” WSNT, Zodhiates; “To care for the congregation…to seek the lost…and to combat heresy,” TDNT, Kittel, et al, eds.). He is an “overseer” (“one who serves as a leader in a church…caring for the needs of a congregation as well as directing the activities of the membership,” Louw-Nida, 53.71). His qualifications are seen in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, his relationship to the membership seen in such passages as 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 and Hebrews 13:7,17, and his authority in such passages as 1 Timothy 5:17, but among the three designations identifying him nothing may be more pressing and important than his leadership. Too often, preachers or other influential members fill the vacuum and void of leadership left by elders who fail to assume this role. When this happens, God’s pattern for church life is not followed.
Wendell Winkler once wrote, “Leaders cannot lead where they do not go anymore than they can come back from where they have not been. They influence some by what they say, more by what they do; but, most by what they are” (Leadership: The Crisis Of Our Times, 15). Citing the example of Isaiah, Franklin Camp wrote, “Isaiah’s response (to God’s question in Isa. 6:8, NP) was as though he were afraid that someone else might volunteer before he did. This attitude is that of which real leadership is made. When there is a challenge placed before the church, read leaders, like Isaiah, are ready to accept it” (Principles and Perils of Leadership, 50). Then, J.B. Myers adds this, that “a leader is one who guides others and directs a course of action. Fundamental to leadership is the willingness to take the initiative in behalf of a group, such as the church” (Elders and Deacons, 166). These and other men have written books or articles, preached sermons, and taught classes urging the church’s elders to be leaders. The need is as great today for this as ever!
How can elders effectively lead today?
Love. Be tender and compassionate, as a shepherd. Be gentle and wise, as an elder. Be faithful to God’s will, loving Him first, as a leader.
Exemplify. Study and follow the example of the Great Shepherd. Have a long track record of righteous living, as an elder. Show before you tell as a leader.
Admonish. Realize the care attached to warning, as a conscientious shepherd. Summon the benefit of experience, as an elder, to be reminded of the abject neglect attached to ignoring sin “in the camp.” Appreciate that sheep need a clarion, understandable voice from the leaders.
Decide. Know that confusion and scattering lies in the wake of an indecisive shepherd. Trust the accumulation of wisdom gained as one who has reached the age befitting an elder. Grasp the connection between decisiveness (even if unpopular) and leadership.
Bigger, stronger congregations hinge upon good, godly leaders. The faithfulness of Christians rests in the hands of capable leaders. Evangelism flags and fails minus the sure guidance and equipping of leaders. Pray for every elder everywhere to L.E.A.D.!