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They Watch for Your Souls

They Watch for Your Souls

Various passages which mention elders equally mention their task of carefully shepherding or watching for the spiritual lives of the individual members of the flock:

  • “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).
  • Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight” (1 Peter 5:2).
  • “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account” (Hebrews 13:17).
  • “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate  those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

If any man desires the office

“It is a trustworthy statement:  If any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do” (1 Timothy 3:1).

The Greek word translated “aspires” means, “to reach or stretch out, and is used only in the Middle voice, signifying the mental effort of stretching oneself out for a thing or to long after it, with stress upon the object desired”[1].  It means to set your heart upon something, and thus to long for and be willing to work toward the object of your desire.  When we consider the qualifications, it will take a man with a wife by his side, who has a strong desire to be an elder, to end up not only qualified, and being willing to serve.

Without Elders the Congregation is Incomplete

Titus 1:5 “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that were wanting, and appoint elders in every city, as I gave thee charge” (ASV)

“Set in order”: To straighten further.  “To set in order (epi, upon, dia, through, intensive, and orthos, straight), in the sense of setting right again what was defective”. [2]   “What remains” (NASV):  What is wanting or lacking.  Consider the following translations:

  • “That you may set right the things still requiring attention” (Wey).
  • “That you might straighten out unfinished business” (Ber).
  • “Further correct what is deficient” (Con).
  • “Put in order what has been left unsettled” (TCNT).
  • “To make the improvements still needed” (Beck).

As has been noted in recent discussions, a congregation can function without elders, but without elders we are simply maintaining.  As conscientious and hardworking a group of men in a business meeting setting can be (and we have a great group of such men), this is never an equal replacement for elders. 

It is a Good Work

“It is a fine work he desires to do” (1 Timothy 3:1).  The work performed by elders is one of the most important or valuable works that exists on the planet.  It is the noble and excellent task of helping people to grow spiritually, to shepherd souls for whom Jesus died, and to protect valuable souls from the enemy.

“But There are Aspects of the Work I Do Not Desire”

A man might be hesitant about serving as an elder because there are parts of being an elder that he does not relish or look forward to performing.  Yet this does not necessarily mean that he lacks desire for the office.  There are aspects of any job that are not pleasant.  There were aspects of Jesus being our Savior that were not pleasant.  Jesus did not look forward to the pain of the cross (Luke 22:42).  In fact, there are aspects of being an elder that it would be wrong to eagerly look forward to performing.  If I love confrontation, or look forward to exercising church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17) there is probably something wrong with my attitude.  Paul would rebuke and correct people, yet he did not necessarily enjoy it (2 Corinthians 12:20-21).

Do We Desire Elders?

It is easy to talk about how much we need elders or how much we want to have elders again, but do we really want to be shepherded, because part of the work of such elders will be:

  • Talking to us about our choices, if they see us making some very unwise decisions.
  • Talking to us about our priorities, if they see a change in them.
  • Talking to us about our attendance if they see a significant drop.

It can be tempting to think that we have been Christians long enough that we don’t really need any supervision anymore.  Yet, no matter how long I have been or will be a Christian, I do not ever see God saying, “Oh, you have been a Christian so long that you don’t need someone watching for your soul”.

What They Will Be Accepting

  • “For they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account” (Hebrews 13:17).
  • “Nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge” (1 Peter 5:3).

Elders will not answer for all the souls outside of this congregation, but they will answer for how they watched the souls in this particular congregation.  So if we are going to ask men to serve, then we honestly need to be willing to be shepherded.  It would be unfair to ask men to perform this very challenging and important work, for which they will give an account to God and then make it difficult for them to watch over our souls. 

Making Sure about the Kids

Having served as an elder I can certainly sympathize with a man who wants to make sure that his Christian children are spiritually grounded or going to remain faithful before being appointed.  On the one hand I know how disappointing it can be to be appointed and then step down because of an unfaithful child.  I also realize that no one knows your children as well as you do.  So I understand having some reservations or wanting to “wait and see”.  Yet consider the following thoughts as well:

  • The need for elders is not 10 years from now, the need is now.  There is a sense of urgency.  Souls need to be shepherded at this very moment.
  • There really is not point in time that I can know for sure that my children will remain faithful.  There is no line that  person crosses that one can say, “Okay, they are set in their decision”.
  • The decision to serve can also provide helpful motivation for all my children, that is, more is on the line now and thus everyone needs to make sure that they are taking their relationship with God seriously.
  • While I cannot speak for all congregations, I do know from experience that at Beaverton if a man needs to step down because of an unfaithful child, I did not feel any finger pointing, or “I told you so”.  Rather, I found empathy, support and many people immediately trying to help my daughter.
  • So if you are hesitant to serve because you are afraid that you and your family will end up in a glass house, I did not encounter that scenario.  I believe that most of us know each other well enough, and that we are fairly aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, that if you are asked to serve, people are fully aware of your imperfections and yet still want you to serve. 
  • All of us probably, from time to time worry about our children, even our grown children.  Yet we also need to be equally concerned about continuing as a congregation without elders.  Mark Dunagan/mdunagan@frontier.com
 

    [1] W.E. Vine 'Desire' pg. 298

    [2] Vine 'Order' pg. 145