A couple of years ago, a friend (and peer) of mine recounted an experience he had some weeks earlier when he was filling out a government form. While recording his identifying information, he came to the section regarding age group. A series of options were available such as 30-39, 40-49, etc. with the final category being ‘elderly’. He was shocked to realize that he was now considered ‘elderly’ because he certainly didn’t view himself in that way. Of course, when the Bible refers to the office of ‘elder’ it is not speaking of age primarily but of a spiritual and leadership role to be exercised within a local church such as West London Alliance.
Two or three years ago, Pastor Jude led the elders through a study of Jeramie Rinne’s book “Church Elders” to help us develop a common understanding of how we, elders are expected to serve at WLAC. Rinne noted that the Bible uses three titles, pastor (shepherd), overseer and elder to describe our role. To be more precise, he identified the person we typically call pastor as a paid elder and those we call elder as unpaid lay pastors (p. 16).
Most of the chapter headings of Rinne’s book emphasize this ‘shepherding’ role such as “Serve Up the Word”, “Track Down the Strays”, “Model Maturity” and “Plead for the Flock”. Paul instructed the elders of the church in Ephesus “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God” (Acts 20:28). Peter used similar terminology to describe this key responsibility “So I exhort the elders among you . . . shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight . . . being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-5).
Paul referred to this responsibility in 1 Timothy 3:1 as ‘overseer’ (ESV) or ‘bishop’ (NKJV) while in Titus 1:5 (ESV) he instructed Titus to ‘appoint elders’ to fulfill this function. Believers are instructed in Hebrews 13:17 (ESV) to obey their [spiritual] leaders ‘for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account’. Again, each of these terms refers to the same spiritual role. But how easy it can be to get sidetracked from this primary obligation of shepherding the sheep to other things.
In my first draft of this blog, I focused on our recent experience in developing/recommending an annual budget for presentation to the congregation at the annual meeting. Without question, this is important because a church budget essentially represents the scope of ministry that we believe the Lord wants us to undertake in the year ahead. I tried to show how dependent we are on the Lord’s leading in this matter because our view of the future is so unreliable, especially considering the uncertainties brought on by Covid 19. Let me illustrate this challenge further.
You may recall that as the end of 2020 approached, we were overjoyed to see how the Lord had provided all that was needed for the ministry in 2020 and even gave the church a surplus to begin the new year. In fact, the giving in December was the highest we had ever seen. At that point, we wondered aloud ‘what is God telling us’ with respect to the new fiscal year. Did He provide this surplus because He wanted us to undertake some new ministry endeavour? Or, was He telling us that many in the congregation would not be able to give in 2021 as they had in 2020? If so, did He want us to follow the pattern He gave to Joseph many centuries ago in Egypt? Were we given a year of abundance in 2020 which would be followed by a year of famine (scarcity) in 2021? As the weekly offerings were counted, it appeared that we might be facing a very lean year because our January offerings were lower than in recent memory.
Many of you will be aware that the elders typically have two meetings each month; one meeting is devoted to praying for the needs of individuals in the congregation, while the other focusses on the more business-type matters of the church.
Recently, we have been faced with a greater number of heavy burdens within the congregation. Although we felt the weight of these burdens, they also lead to considerable joy as we saw the Lord answering our prayers. In the past year and a half, we have recorded over 30 distinct answers to our prayers as a group of elders! What a blessing it has been to see this fresh evidence of the Lord’s loving care for us!
While we lift these congregational prayer requests collectively, each of us must strive to ‘Model Maturity’ individually and I have found this to be a continuing challenge. I sincerely want to see the Lord honoured in every aspect of our behaviour, attitudes and practices in the ministry of West London Alliance Church. Only the Lord sees inside my heart where my desires lie hidden from view. But sometimes I wonder if my motives reflect a form of pharisaism in simply wanting to retain familiar practices or values from an earlier generation.
This is the challenge that I as an ‘older elder’, must overcome as I seek to serve the Lord faithfully here at WLA. I am so grateful that we can ask Him to guide us through all the current unknowns and to provide everything we need for life and godliness. We are assured that if any of us lacks wisdom, we can ask God, who gives to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5). I trust that you will join me in praying for this wisdom that only God can give.