Vol. 5, No. 6
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Question: "If a man possesses all the other attributes necessary to become an elder, is it wrong for him not to desire the position?" Answer: There are several elements pertaining to your question which need to be addressed. Please consider the following.
1. Development. Every congregation of the Lord's church needs to be constantly developing sound men for the eldership. *Shepherds are not born; they are cultivated incrementally over time. They do not suddenly appear when the need for them arises. One author observes:
We must face it -- we really don't want elders! Congregations exist for years without ordaining elders. Congregations with elders go for years without ordaining additional elders. Preachers, having had bad experiences, have a distaste for elders. Mediocre elders or power-hungry elders look upon prospective elders with suspicion and resentment. In such cases elders have to, literally, be forced into [office.] Cliques are always trying to get an opponent out or a champion in. ...Most elderships have been born in necessity or strife -- this is not as it should be. Young men are repulsed with such antics -- they have no desire to qualify as elders. There must be a constant development of spiritual elders! Weak or bad leadership will catch up with you! It can be "crutched" or "covered up" only so long. We must develop godly elders! [Charles Hodge, "Elders Are Tempted," Gospel Advocate, March 22, 1979, p. 184].
2. Readiness. A brother is to "be ready for every good work" (Titus 3:1). Paul indicates that one must not stand coldly aloof from any praiseworthy endeavor, but ought be prepared to do whatever is good. [Compare this to his words earlier in 2:14 where one is instructed to be "zealous of good works"]. Consider: Since a man is to be ready to every good work, and since serving as an elder is, in fact, a "good work" (1 Tim. 3:1), then why wouldn't he want to serve -- assuming he is qualified to do so? [While the Greek words translated "good" in Titus 3:1 and 1 Timothy 3:1 are different, this would not nullify the implication which might be drawn]. A brother who desires to glorify God and help his fellow saints go to heaven will be open to the opportunity to lead and serve.
3. Ambition. Every Christian man should aspire to mature to his fullest potential in the kingdom (cf. Philippians 3:7-15; 1 Corinthians 15:9-10). Consider: If a brother is qualified to serve as an elder, and he settles for being "just another member of the local congregation," is he actually trying to bring himself to perfection in Christ? We correctly stress that a man should not serve due to constraint** or monetary gain (cf. 1 Peter 5:2; 1 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:7), but what can we say about the motivation of a man who IS qualified, but refuses to accept the helm of leadership? It would seem to me that if he is unwilling to lead and superintend when he is fully capable of doing so, not only is his heart suspect, but the future of the local church is adversely affected. Not only does this brother rob himself of the growth he can achieve in his own life, but the local congregation is cheated too because he doesn't "step up to the plate." One who truly possesses all of the qualities enumerated by the apostle Paul cannot fold his hands and think that he has exonerated himself from responsibility. The more God blesses him with talents and skills, the more he will be accountable (cf. Matthew 25:24-30) for what he does with them.
4. Reluctance. It is natural and appropriate that a man feel a certain sense of hesitancy about accepting the office of an elder.*** In fact, if he doesn't experience any trepidation about leading with other men in the church, he probably is not qualified due to the fact that he has failed to consider the gravity of what is involved (cf. Hebrews 13:17). "Any sensible man is aware of responsibility; it is frightening!" [Charles Hodge, "Elders Are Tempted," Gospel Advocate, March 22, 1979, p. 184]. "But it is...an awareness of this great responsibility which will make a man who is an elder a good elder" [Bobby Duncan, "Desire The Office," The Elders Which Are Among You, p. 14-Recommended reading].
5. Unknown. In some cases, there are mitigating circumstances which prohibit a brother from serving as an elder. He may have all of the overt qualities which are necessary for the oversight of the church, but he may decline from accepting such a position due to factors beyond his control. For instance, he or one of his immediate family members may suffer with personal health problems which might impede his ability to serve effectively. Then again, there may be private family circumstances beyond our knowledge which hinder his suitability for leadership in the church. Whatever the reason, we need to be cautious before judging a brother's motives for not accepting a place in the eldership.
* Local churches can provide study classes and other personal growth-oriented venues to inspire and encourage men to qualify themselves for this role.
** "Not constrainedly but voluntarily," not because they must but because they want to; not like drafted soldiers but like volunteers; not needing to be urged to every task but as running to put their hands to it, delighted to do it [R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude, p. 218].
*** Biblical characters like Moses, Gideon, and Solomon were not initially anxious about leading God's people, but they certainly possessed the qualities necessary to do so.