When You Have Faithful Elders
In a few weeks I’ll begin preaching on Ezekiel 34, God’s disputation against the false and selfish shepherds of Israel. He includes fiery accusations like these:
Should not shepherds feed the sheep?
You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with wool…but you do not feed the sheep.
The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed…
So [my people] were scattered because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. (from v. 2-6)
Frightening and sobering stuff. But for the time being, I’m in the middle of our annual elders’ planning retreat. All day yesterday, and much of today, has been given to the study of the Word, singing of Psalms, intercessory prayer for the sheep of this fold, and thoughtful planning for the next year. While I would never accuse our session of perfection, I do gladly accuse them of faithfulness. Our church is five and a half years old; for that short time, these men have given of themselves faithfully to guard and love this flock. Because of their shepherding hearts, our planning retreat is one of the highlights of the year for me.
The Biblical contrast is striking. Some undershepherds are selfish and by not caring for God’s sheep, they call condemnation on themselves. But other undershepherds by ruling well and caring sacrificially for the Shepherd’s sheep earn for themselves double honor (1 Tim. 5:17). The reality of false and faithless shepherds is surely a tragedy, one that God takes personally. But the reality of faithful (not perfect, but faithful!) shepherds is just as surely a victory of Jesus on behalf of His people.
Because we are often bent on gossip and destruction, stories of Ezekiel 34-type undershepherds abound. But Jesus is King! This is His church and He’s working constantly to raise up and strengthen faithful shepherds for her! In addition to pointing fingers and decrying the false shepherds, should we not be celebrating the faithful ones? (Because, as Ezekiel 34 goes on to note, those faithful undershepherds are the love and care of God for you.)
So there’s all sorts of instructions in the Bible (and on blogs, too) about what to do when you have unfaithful elders. But what should we do when we have faithful elders? Here are a couple ideas from the Bible:
Honor them – Honor them by being thankful to them. If your elders take time away from their families and work to pray for your souls, the least we could do is be thankful. Honor them by speaking well about them: in 1 Timothy 5:19 Paul explains to Timothy how and why the church needs to be especially careful in how they speak about their elders. So if you have faithful elders, be thankful to them and God.
Make their work joyful – Here’s a secret: good elders love being elders. It is a deep delight to them to be allowed and equipped to follow Jesus in His Shepherding of the flock. But Hebrews 13:17 tells us that we have a role in this: “Let them [keep watch over your souls] with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” You can make your elders’ work of shepherding deeply joyful or deeply distressing. How? The same verse tells us: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls.” If you have faithful elders, follow their leadership. Respond to their counsel. Give yourselves to their teaching. Submit to their discipline. The most joyful thing for your elders is seeing God’s people respond to God’s Word through repentance and committed discipleship!
Surely some reading this note long to be in a church with faithful elders. But I’m convinced from Scripture that many more of you are already in such churches. While my heart breaks for the first group, my heart also longs for the second group to celebrate with gratitude. Do you have faithful elders?