We pay a lot of attention to veterans and especially those seasoned veterans who have served in our armed forces… and we should!! But in this series of blogs starting today I want us to consider the seasoned veterans in our churches… who may be known as elders??!!
As I have had opportunity to begin a new role at a ministry called Thrive (which is 3 churches in an area in Western Illinois that work together), one of the phrases that God has given to me early on in this role is that of “seasoned veterans”. In the 3 churches there is a fair representation of people who at least by age one would consider to fit into that category.
For far too long it seems that many of our men and women as they get to a certain age opt out or are directed out of the ministry of the church. I see this as a huge loss for the church, especially related to this extremely valuable resource of God’s people ( God’s A plan). I wonder if it also is mixed in with how churches not only appoint elders in the church but how they see their role in the church beyond a position in the church. So am looking to work through this with you a little bit in the next few weeks.
Elders & Spiritual Oversight??
My wife and I had the privilege a couple months back to attend a meeting of all the elders from 25 campuses that are all part of a movement of churches together in the Chicago area. The pastor who has been leading the charge for this movement of churches spoke during the evening… and I was so blessed to hear him speak openly to those who would take on this role as elders in these churches. By openly, I mean challenging, encouraging, through truth of the scriptures… speaking truth in love. Which was the point that really encouraged me… that he not only did this, but really put that responsibility before each of us as we consider “loving” on the people God calls us to in these families that come together (yes… each of them!! As we were reminded… not just the ones that appear to us to be the easiest to love on… as we were reminded they are each His child!!). Now he wasn’t saying we had to be responsible for each person (share the wealth with others who are called into this). It was refreshing to hear this because much of what I have seen related to elders being spiritual overseers in our churches doesn’t seem to be carried out well. The thought and challenge though that came across clear (and one that I have seen really fall too far short in too many of our churches in America) is what does spiritual oversight (which elders are called to do) really look like.
I have been attending church most of my life and now have been on staff at a couple churches and have sadly seen a scenario like the following play out far too often. I recall a couple at a previous church that had been at that church almost from the time it started up. Now they were never the couple that attended every Sunday… but for the most part had a decent pattern of coming. However, it was a pattern that started to head towards less and less participation as their children got older. It wasn’t that this went completely unnoticed. However, without there being in place spiritual overseers (sometimes known as elders) who had developed a process of response in these types of situations (the churches stance was that people needed to be in small groups to receive this kind of attention… which isn’t all bad… but most small group ministries in churches will have at best 50% participation from adults). The way this played out for this couple is that they fell out of church attendance completely. It was found out years later when the wife returned to the church that they had gotten divorced after a long struggle as a couple dealing with abuse and infidelity. How aggressively in a “loving” (there it is again) way do we go after that person or couple. If we do get the opportunity then to gather with individuals/couples what does it look like? Do we have the voice in their life to then gently call out what is going on? Do we truly allow God’s spirit to work in and through our life to confront our brothers and/ or sisters (this is a conversation for later… who is a brother or sister in Christ).
What are the tools, resources, and processes we can use… not on our own (because pop psychology is not what we are talking about here). Scary?? There it is… God will fill in the gap that we are unable to do on our own… an elder needs to be led by the Source (Jesus Christ) if he/she is going to help others. One issue that if resolved might help is to get a more consistent approach to the age old question once and elder always an elder or is it just the ones who have been given the office of elder at that time (by whatever process that church uses to appoint or elect them). One would wonder if simply having more active elders in your church by utilizing the approach of once and elder always an elder… would be one way to have a better chance to have spiritual overseers available for a particular church family. Why does it feel that in too many ways the church in America has wandered so far from the importance of Spiritual Oversight from Elders??