I’m not finished with the series on Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, but it’s time for a break. We’ll return in short order.
One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is how to deal with bad elders. After all, even if we get our theology fixed and start doing a better job of appointing elders, there may still be a generation of elders brought up on a false gospel.
And even for very progressive Churches of Christ, bad elders can be appointed by mistake. Or good elders can become bad. It happens.
Obviously, prevention is better than trying to fix a problem. And many a bad ordination can be prevented with the following:
* Don’t ordain a man just because he meets the standards of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3. “Not a brawler” is a very low standard, don’t you think? What many churches fail to do is to require that the elder be qualified. Not disqualified is not the same thing.
If the man is not obviously gifted by the Spirit for church leadership, he should not be ordained. Period. Regardless of how many nominations he receives or how much political support he has, let the Spirit decide.
I would rather suffer criticism and be forced out of the eldership myself than ordain a man who is not called by God to the work. Indeed, to me, an elder’s most important task is to assure healthy, spiritual succession. There is no room for compromise or politics. Get it right, and get it right every single time.
* Leaders have followers. A good man with no followers is a good man, but not a candidate for elder.
* Never, ever ordain a man hoping he’ll grow in office and rise to the task. Many don’t. Only ordain men who are already acting very much as elders.
* Never ordain a man whose wife may prove an embarrassment to the eldership. If he can’t keep a secret from his wife and she is a gossip, he can’t be an elder. If she is likely to abuse her position as an elder’s wife, he may not be ordained.
While the wife of an elder has no authority or position, the fact is that members will defer to her on the assumption that she has a great deal of influence with the elders. She has to be sensitive to this and not abuse it.
* Never ordain a good man with a bad theology. Elders are called to teach. If he needs remedial instruction, his ordination has to wait.
* Never ordain a man with a following that is a faction. If a man is nominated because he speaks for the young members or the old members or some other faction, then he’s not an elder for the whole church. This is not Congress. Elders don’t represent segments of the church. Every elder represents the whole church or he can’t be ordained.
* Never ordain a man who isn’t Spirit led and gifted by the Spirit for the work of an overseer/shepherd/elder. If the Spirit is not manifestly present in his life and dealings with others and relationship with God, he’s not qualified, no matter how smart or successful he might be.
* Elders are supposed to be part of a plurality. Therefore, they have to be team players. Men who have to have their way, who don’t easily work in collaboration with others, are bad elders. It’s ultimately a failure to be submissive, and if you’re not submissive, you’re not much like Jesus.
I learned years ago (and have re-learned more than once since then, being a slow study and all) that if you hire someone you have doubts about, it’ll be a bad hire — and one you’ll regret. The same is true of elders. No one is ever 100% qualified for the job. No one but Jesus is Jesus. But when you have doubts about whether a man is suited for the calling, it’s likely a mistake to ordain him.