Where Have All the Elders Gone?
An alarming trend seems to be happening in many of our assemblies in North America. Many assemblies have just a few elders, with no upcoming younger men ready to step in. Many assemblies have lost elders (death, moved geographically or stepped down) with none to replace them. If this continues it is obvious the negative impact it will have.
Let me clarify what I mean by elders. I’m specifically thinking of shepherds. Those who genuinely care for the spiritual well-being of the local churches they are leading. Biblically these are the pastors. They feed, nurture, protect and care for the sheep. They are invested in the lives of the flock. They are not merely decision makers or administrators or event planners.
They are also not merely firemen who put out fires when they arise but are proactively on the alert for the attack of the enemy and the disease of sin within the group.
A significant need
It’s not too much of a stretch to say that in order for our assemblies to grow and maintain a healthy spiritual state, strong elders will need to be in place to lead the people of God. We need strong shepherds who will give their lives for the sheep. Not as a hobby but as a passion to lead the people of God into a greater knowledge and relationship with the Lord Jesus.
We need more shepherds who will visit the weary and encourage them in the way. We need more shepherds who will admonish the unruly in love and grace and point them to the Savior. We need more shepherds who will feed the hungry with the Word of God. Above all, we need more shepherds who will lead the flock by example, modeling the way of faith and devotion to the Lord.
As I speak to many in assemblies there are some common traits that keep coming up. These observations do not apply to every assembly or region but they do apply to many. I am sure there are others and I would be interested to hear your comments below.
- Discipleship has been dropped in many assemblies. Elders need to be disciple-makers. Many elders have no young man or group of men they are discipling. This is a tragedy as without discipleship there can be no hope for real growth in others.
- Visitation is a thing of the past. To many elders, visitation means a visit to a home only when there is a problem. Elders who care about the saints will be active in visiting them on a regular basis to pray with them and to listen to the needs that are causing heartache.
- A lack of decision. One comment I keep hearing is that “Our elders take forever to make decisions.” Leadership that can’t make decisions in a reasonable time will frustrate the people of God and create mistrust.
- No plan to train up others. Elders who are proactive in training up younger men will be prepared to meet the needs of the leadership as older men are no longer able. It’s healthy to have new, fresh insight into the leadership of the church.
- Elders who refuse to give up control. This is a major issue in our assemblies as many elders try to hang onto control too long and do not allow or encourage younger men to take up leadership.
- Elders who refuse to change. It’s a sad reality that the assemblies have lost a large number of solid men and women because of elders who refused to make needed changes within the church. Holding onto preferences and preaching them as doctrine has cost us dearly.
A note to young men
There has been a lot of criticism about the lack of younger men who are ready to step up into leadership. We can point fingers and say that it’s someone else’s fault but the reality is that we need to be seeking the Lord and taking our responsibility seriously. Much of the criticism is unfounded but much isn’t.
I see men in their 30’s and 40’s more interested in video games, cars, sports, making money, TV and movies than they are about the Word of God, the people of God and prayer. I see young people who don’t think the people of God are high enough of a priority to make it out to a Sunday night or mid-week meeting.
The plague of materialism and the quest for pleasure and comfort seem to be front and center while the Lord Jesus is pushed off into a corner. It may be that you (young man) want to follow the Lord but are held back by sin and can’t break free.
All of these scenarios require one thing: repentance. A genuine falling on our knees before the Lord and saying, “I’m yours! All of me.”
I care about the assemblies so deeply. I want to see them grow and be a vibrant testimony for the Lord. Many are, and I thank God for each assembly in tune with the Holy Spirit. I am thankful for elders who lead by example and care intimately about the saints in their fellowship. Unfortunately, many assemblies are perishing from a lack of vision and shepherding.
May we all present our lives as living sacrifices and seek his face to help us be the leaders he wants us to be in humility and grace!