In the military, at least when I was drafted back in 1952, the popular saying to all of us recruits was, “Rank has its privileges.” As the years have gone by, I have come to the conclusion that a similar saying can be adopted by those of us have reached the “golden years.” I believe it can truthfully be said in many instances that “age has its privileges.”
For a good portion of my life I have been acquainted with the observation that “age does not always imply wisdom.” However, I believe that most would agree that true wisdom only comes to one as he grows older. By this I mean that one, in order to gain the kind of wisdom of which I speak, must have lived long enough to have experienced the overall living of life, having experienced both the good and the bad. Having done this, if he is an astute person, he will know how to separate the wheat from the chaff.
With these remarks behind us, I intend to discuss some things that go on in some churches of the Lord that need not be, and somethings that must not be, especially as they relate to the elders and the preacher.
A congregation which has men meeting every qualification given by the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul should and must appoint such men to the work of an elder. For a church to fail or refuse to do this is indicative of the fact that it is not operating in harmony with the Scriptures.
Paul left Titus in Crete to “set in order the things that were lacking” (Titus 1:5). The churches on the island had appointed no elders, one of those things that evidently was lacking. Paul’s instruction to Titus was that he should take care of this matter and “appoint elders in every city.” Paul states that these men who compose the eldership must have enough knowledge to detect a false teacher and his teaching. They must also have enough love for God and for the souls under their care to “stop the mouths of the gainsayers” (Titus 1:9). It is their grave responsibility to feed, nourish, lead, protect, and defend from all false teachers and their teaching, the precious souls of all those whom they oversee.
Yet, many of those who have preached for fifty years or more, and have served in several different churches during those years, have witnessed elders, and sometimes the entire eldership, who have been much more interested in attendance numbers and bank account figures than they have been in spiritual growth of the members of the church they are serving. Even though elders do have the responsibility to see that such things are taken care of, it should be noted that God has made available to them those special servants (deacons) to attend to these matters. The Scriptures do not teach or command that the elders are to spend the major portion of their time with things concerning the church building and grounds.
Elders have an important and specific work to do and they are not authorized to assign this work to others, the preacher included. First, even though wisdom would dictate that the elders listen to and consider any comments made by the members about the choice of a preacher they may be considering for the local work the final decision must be that of the elders. They must choose a man (male gender – a female will never be considered by an eldership that loves and obeys the Lord.), who is sound in the faith, and a man whose morals, and the morals of his family, correspond to the teaching of the Scriptures.
These men must also understand that they are not inviting a man to work with the church for him to do their work for them. They must also understand that the man whom they are considering should not be expected to simply be a “go-for” for the membership. The one thing which they must demand of the preacher is that he “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).
To illustrate this point; several years ago in a city where I was preaching there was a rather large congregation located across town. When its preacher left for another work the elders compiled a list of fourteen duties which any applicant for the work would be expected to accept and fulfill. I obtained a copy of that list. In that list of duties were some good things, some somewhat silly things, and some ridiculous things. Yet, in all of those items, there was not one requirement that the man must be able to preach. This was a sad situation.
Second, the elders must insist that the preacher do the work of a preacher then give him the time to do this work. They must not be hesitant in telling him what they expect. Scriptural elders want the “whole counsel of God” taught. They must realize that they have no right to forbid him from preaching on certain biblical subjects, as did an eldership with whom I interviewed several years ago. I was invited to accept the work on the condition that I would not be allowed to preach on: 1) The different translations; 2) Marriage – Divorce – Remarriage; 3) The work of the Holy Spirit, especially how He did His work. Needless to say, I did not accept that work.
When the preacher fails in his obligation to preach the whole counsel, and begins to ride some kind of hobby or just gets lazy and/or indifferent to his work, the elders must attempt to guide him back to his work. If he continues in his indifference, or if he insists on preaching constantly on his “hobby,” he should be dismissed regardless how likeable he may be to the members or how “good” he seems to be with the young people.
First and foremost, the preacher’s work is to preach. In order for him to do this he must prepare. For several years I have taught a course in a school of preaching in India on First and Second Timothy, and Titus. I firmly believe that all such preacher students should be soundly indoctrinated in both the importance of learning how to preach, and how to prepare themselves for this most rewarding work. I especially emphasize 1 Timothy 4:6-16.
A warning: Regardless of how much knowledge a young man receives in college or a preacher training school, he neither possesses the wisdom, nor the experience to accept the position (work) of an elder. He must remember that it is not his duty to go to any given congregation and immediately “appoint” elders. Nor is it his work to “get rid of the elders” because he believes himself to be more qualified to know who should or should not be elders.
We would encourage preachers, both young and old, to read and carefully study Second Timothy chapter three. After having done so, let him carefully and prayerfully note the charge that the apostle gives immediately following in chapter four: “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
May it ever be faithfully preached and lovingly obeyed!