It's an interesting process, because especially for the Churches of Christ, we're choosing men who will not be paid, but will be the ones casting vision and guiding/shepherding the church. At Otter Creek, the elders candidates are suggested by the congregation, and then asked to consider being an elder. If they assent, they are brought before the congregation and there is a period of time where the congregation can question them or ask them about their perspectives on issues. If the congregation agrees, the candidates are ordained for 6 year terms, at which point they can decide if they want to be considered for reaffirmation. Is this a perfect system? No, it's not. Does it seem to much like an American democratic philosophy? Sure, but until we're willing to go out there and cast lots, it seems like a decent one.
The interesting thing about all of this is the qualifications for being an elder. The reason I bring this up is because a few weeks ago, I got an email from a friend suggesting a single man being nominated for eldership. My first reaction was, "Yeah, right. That has as much a chance of happening as I do of being an elder." But as I read this email, I got more and more curious. You see, the qualifications for elders are found primarily in Titus 1:
5The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.Also in I Timothy 3:
1Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.Like I said, when I first got the email, I scoffed a little because the Biblical witness seems pretty clear. But as with many things, I started to wonder 2 things. 1) Why would Paul (through God's inspiration) put down these qualifications? and 2) Even though those qualifications were very explicit for a 1st Century Euro-MidEastern culture, were they still applicable now?
A lively email discussion followed, where the reasoning behind this suggestion was shown that there are singles at OC that don't feel like their concerns are being addressed or focused on to the extent that couples and families and children are, which I can say from becoming dear friends with several of the singles over the last couple of years, that I can sympathize with. I think that speaks to a deeper issue of integration of demographics at Otter Creek, but that's another story. Where I ended up coming down, is that I think the elder qualifications are what they are. Where my personal inconsistency came in is that I said that I would strongly support a single Ministry Coordinator or what is Biblically known as a Deacon, even though that would seem to go against the qualifications that Scripture lays down, also in I Timothy 3:
8Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.
11In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.
12A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.
Well, that's kind of a long way to get to what I was thinking about this morning.
- What do you look for in an elder/shepherd? Tim Woodroof, our preaching minister, said a few Sundays ago that a congregation cannot progress past her elders. So do you look for someone who will help a congregation progress or maintain the status quo?
- Do we look for people who are like us or different from us? Do we look for successful business leaders or do we look for men who might not have the "trappings of success" but have shown spiritual maturity?
- What about their wives? I've long contended that when an elder is ordained, it's not just him but his wife that is also becoming a part of that. If I were ever chosen as an elder (waits for laughter to die down), I know that Sheryl would be as much a part of that I am.
- Do you look for a certain age? I know one friend who once said that he would not nominate or vote for a man who had children in grade school because he should focus on his immediate family rather than the congregational family. How much does age play into our estimations of maturity and wisdom?