The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.
1 Timothy 3:1 (ESV)
Are you an elder or do you desire to become one? Why? Maybe you felt called to be a pastor or you were elected by your church. Was it something you desired? What is your reason for seeking the office? In my next article, I’ll discuss 5 true motives for being an elder. For now, let’s explore some of the many false motives.
False motivations for becoming an elder.
Use each of the following questions for self-examination. If you answer “yes” to any of these questions (even in the slightest) you have some heart work to do.
Do you desire power or control?
Titus 2:15 says that elders should “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” The office of elder is charged with responsibility, and with this responsibility comes the authority to direct the church. The word authority here means “the right to command.” The elders of the church do have the authority to direct the church, but that is not their motivation. A desire for power or control will distort the work of an elder. Instead of serving the church, he will use the church to serve himself. This is exactly what Peter warned against in 1 Peter 5:3, “Not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” An elder’s use of authority is always for the good of others, never for personal gain.
Are you there to limit the pastor?
One church leader said, “My job is to oppose the pastor in every change he proposes.” I think the purpose behind this attitude is to make sure that changes are absolutely necessary and fully developed. However, the result is usually to create division on the board. This is never a good thing. The elders of the church (including the pastor) should always work and live in unity. This harmony is a blessing to the church and it gives the congregation confidence in God’s leading through the elders.
Are you an elder simply because you were elected or because someone has to do it?
Sometimes men become elders not because they desire to serve but because they feel like they have to. Some church structures are designed so that a certain number of roles must be filled. So people are pressed to fill these slots. When someone who doesn’t want to be an elder feels forced into the role it creates stress. An elder should be led by an inner desire to serve the people. Without this desire, he will become bitter that he is being forced to do something he doesn’t want to do.
Do you want to be an elder because you’re more spiritually mature?
This attitude can sound prideful but it doesn’t have to be. While spiritual maturity is an essential qualification for becoming an elder, it isn’t sufficient in itself. It is possible that a person really is more spiritually mature than most in the church and this may be recognized by the pastor, the other elders, and the congregation. However, if you don’t have the necessary spiritual gifts, desires, personality, and skills to work with the elders as a team, it would be harmful to the church for you to be an elder.
Do you want to be an elder because you know sound doctrine?
One of the primary responsibilities of the elders is to teach and defend sound doctrine. They protect the church from false teachers. However, simply knowing sound doctrine isn’t enough to be qualified for this job. Often, when Christians learn sound doctrine for the first time, they can become combative or arrogant. There’s a level of maturity with doctrine that must be acquired first. This maturity will allow you to teach, correct, and even rebuke with gentleness and patience.
Do you want to be an elder because you like attention?
An elder exists to point people not to himself but to Jesus. When an elder is doing his job well, he will not get much personal attention. Hopefully the church will honor him for his work in accordance with the commands of scripture (see 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13), but this is not why he does the work. An elder’s attitude should be similar to that of John the Baptist, who said of Jesus, “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30).
What do I do if I have false motives?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, here are a few things you can do:
- If you aren’t yet an elder, skip to #2. If you are already an elder, ask for a leave of absence. Tell the elders exactly why you want to leave. Maybe this is something all the elders need to work on together.
- Develop a deeper relationship with Jesus. Who you are becoming is more important than what you do. Leadership in the church flows from a heart that is shaped to be like Jesus. Learn to put on Christ and his character.
- Identify areas where you need to grow and find a pastor, elder, mentor, coach, or spiritual director to help you.
- If you feel like you should not be an elder, admit it and find what God has called you to be and to do. You will be so much happier and more fulfilled if you let the Holy Spirit lead you into service.
Elders, what would you add to these lists?
Please, leave a comment below. I personally read all the comments and I try to respond within a day. Or we can interact on Twitter (@PastorsSoul) or on our Facebook page.
© Sean Nemecek, 2018. All rights reserved. Request permission.
Sean Nemecek, (M.Div. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) is the director of The Pastor’s Soul, and pastor at First Baptist Church in Tustin, Michigan since 2001. A third-generation pastor, he grew up listening to pastors and their families talk about the realities of ministry. Now he wants to use this knowledge to bless the church. Sean is married to Amy, a poet and freelance book editor. Together, they have a 17-year-old son.