The chairman of the elders of our church called to invite me to join the elder team of our congregation. At the time, I was vice president for student services at Cincinnati Christian University and an active member at Mason Church of Christ (now Christ’s Church) in Mason, Ohio. I wound up accepting his invitation, which started an interesting chapter in my journey during which I was able to see the work of an elder from an altogether different viewpoint.
For the previous 13 years, I had been in leadership ministry in the church or teaching at one of our Bible colleges. Now, in addition to leading a Sunday class and a home Bible study, I would be serving on our elder team.
The six-year experience serving at Mason gave me valuable perspectives on the responsibilities and rewards of elder leadership.
The Elder’s Responsibilities
Elders invest a large amount of time, effort, participation, and prayer into their ministries. It can be hard, emotionally taxing work. In addition to all of the victories, blessings, and joy, elders can also experience extreme grief and criticism. Being an elder is not a ministry for the faint of heart!
Elders (and church staff) carry the primary load of responsibility for the life, ministry, culture, finances, and impact of their local congregations. They are the “points of the spear” when it comes to successfully managing the direction and operation of the church. A serving elder has said “yes” to God’s call in his life.
The typical elder . . .
- will participate in many meetings during his tenure of service
- prays daily for the congregation and the church’s leadership
- leads by example
- prepares Bible lessons for classes and small groups and uses his other gifts to serve the church
- participates in making decisions that require innovation, creativity, and understanding (take the impact of COVID-19 on the church, for example)
- listens carefully and uses the Lord’s wisdom and discernment to guide his thinking and comments
- contributes financially beyond what is expected
- helps manage conflict, disagreements, contentious members, and church discipline when the need arises
- assists in leading through capital campaigns and building programs
- receives and bears criticism (sometimes scathing!) with a high level of self-control and a patient spirit
- guards the church from “wolves” and false teaching so prevalent in our day
- lives a life of integrity, honesty, and personal devotion to Christ
- loves his wife and is faithful to her as together they raise their children to know the Lord
- with his wife, opens their home and practices hospitality in the name of Christ
- is persistent and remains in place like a rock, strong in spirit, and sees the church through great upheaval and stressful, difficult times
And all of this from a volunteer who receives no payment!
The Elder’s Rewards
The good news is that elders will be rewarded for their ministry and service. Elders can anticipate a reward from the Lord in three ways.
First, elders get to see people come to faith in Christ and find salvation due to their ministry. What a joy it is to witness baptisms that in large part are due to the leadership, management, and vision of the elder and staff team.
Second, elders, through their involvement, strengthen their own faith. Paul instructed, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you”(1 Timothy 4:16, New American Standard Bible). When we are involved in serving others, this involvement can greatly stimulate our own spiritual health. Service can bring strength. Our elder work stimulates our love for Christ and stirs our own spiritual awareness. We are blessed and nurtured in our spirits through our service to Christ’s body.
Third, elders will receive a wonderful reward when Jesus returns: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4, NASB).
From the Greek, we know that this “unfading crown of glory” is not the crown made from gold and jewels (diadem) worn by kings and potentates. But it is the beautiful laurel wreath (stephanos) woven from olive branches and flowers, given to the person who has won the marathon race! It will be given to the elder who enters the race, serves faithfully, perseveres, and finishes. Elders, this will be part of your reward. Your name will be called and a laurel crown of reward will be placed on your head, indicating your acceptable service to the bride of Christ! I truly believe that at that moment, all of the stresses, struggles, hassles, problems, and difficulties of church leadership will be worth it.
Romans 13:7 says, “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” (NASB, emphasis mine). We take this opportunity to sincerely honor and thank every elder and church staff member who faithfully serves at the Lord’s call. We appreciate you. We thank you, deeply, with grateful hearts.
John F. Kennedy said, “We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” Brother elder, you have made a difference. You will be rewarded both here and now and around the throne of our Father.