An Elder’s Greatest Priority
An Elder’s Greatest Priority

By David Roadcup

Luke reveals the grand priority to which we are called as shepherds of the flock.

Two sisters and a brother loved Jesus deeply. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus had an abiding relationship with him. They entertained him and his traveling entourage; they provided a place to stay, meals, and no doubt made contributions to his ministry. Luke 10:38-42 records a meaningful exchange between Jesus and his hostess. Martha is busy fixing a meal and is frustrated that Mary, “who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to his word” (v. 39, New American Standard Bible), was not helping her.

A frustrated Martha interrupts Jesus’ teaching and (in the Greek) commands Jesus to make Mary help her. Jesus responds with one of the few criticisms in their relationship. He says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (vv. 41, 42, NASB).


The Grand Priority of Our Lives

This is one of Jesus’ most impactful teaching moments. When he says, “only one thing is necessary,” he means we should have one great priority over all else.

Mary was seeking Jesus. She was drawing near to him and connecting with him. She was spending time with him. She was being nurtured and fed through listening intently to his word, and no doubt, hiding it in her heart.

As elders, our main priority should be to connect with Jesus daily. This is foundational for any leader of the church. It is the most necessary thing. It may mean closely examining our personal priorities and readjusting our schedules to allow for more time to be with him.

It should lead us to spend more time with Jesus and focus our attention directly on him. We should connect with him, talk to him, listen to him, and read and internalize his Word until it becomes part of our inner core. When we fast, we should approach a level of love and fellowship that takes us to a new spiritual awareness. We should grow in him and our understanding of who he is. As we prioritize our time with Jesus, our roots will grow deeper, our discernment will be sharpened, and we will become like him.

This needs to be the grand priority of our lives if we are to lead the church as Jesus wants it led—with prayer, purpose, power, and unity. Leaders must have deep roots. We must lead with great discernment and from a surrendered heart and mind. Jesus leads his church through us. We will become more like him as we spend quality time with him.


The Key to Our Ministry

A growing and healthy spiritual life is key to the ministry of elders. Shepherds of the church must be men of depth! We must learn how to dig deep wells and irrigate widely. We must be men of wisdom and spiritual discernment. Jesus’ spirit must truly be part of who we are.

We must earnestly seek Jesus when we are alone during our quiet time. We must ask him to build his fire within us. In his excellent book Spiritual Leadership, Henry Blackaby writes, “Spiritual leadership flows out of a person’s vibrant intimate relationship with God. You cannot be a spiritual leader if you are not meeting with God in profound, life-changing ways.”

In The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer writes,

O God, I have tasted Your goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want You; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Your glory, I pray, that so I may know You indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me.

Three Ways to Stoke the Passion

Here are three proven ways leaders who are growing in God stoke the passion fires:

1. Eat from the Banquet Table. Leaders find a way to make the milk and the meat of the Word part of daily life. We read Scripture, listen to it, meditate on it, and memorize it. We make God’s Word the compass for our daily spiritual journeys. As leaders, we discipline ourselves to nurture the Word of God in our lives in impacting ways.

2. Drink Deeply from the Fountain. Communication is key to relationships. This is why regular, focused, personal prayer, offered from a seeking heart, is so important for us as church leaders. Our Father loves to connect with us through prayer. “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight” (Proverbs 15:8, NASB). If you struggle to develop a prayer life, keep struggling. Don’t be discouraged or give up. Prayer is work. This discipline takes time and consistency to grow.

3. Live as a Band of Brothers. Fellowship and community are fundamental to a deep spiritual life—an absolute must. We should not be independent of one another; God’s plan is that we be interdependent with one another. Being deeply connected with other brothers—spiritually, mentally and emotionally—is a foundational value for leadership development.


The Critical Link to Healthy Churches

The spiritual health and growth of an elder is critical for two reasons.

It is critical for the elder personally because a close relationship with the Lord enriches the elder spiritually.

And it is critical for the elder’s congregation because spiritually healthy elders make good spiritual shepherds. Healthy elders can produce healthy churches, families, and individual believers.

It is impossible to spiritually lead others where we have never personally been. We cannot spiritually feed our members if we ourselves are starving to death. We cannot empower those for whom we are spiritually responsible if our lives lack spiritual power.

Jesus told Martha, “Only one thing is necessary.” The most important thing.

As effective elders, let us stand back in awe of him. Let us love him with great passion. Let us lead from a deep well of adoration and praise. In doing so, as shepherds and examples to the flock, we will lead well.


David Roadcup is cofounder and outreach director for E2: Effective Elders. He also serves as professor of discipleship and global outreach representative with TCM International Institute. He is also on the board of directors of Christian Arabic Services.

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