Responding to Biblical Eldership (Part 3)
The Bible implies that every believer knows which elders he/she is accountable to obey under the Lord and that elders know which believers are directly under their pastoral care (Acts 14:23; 15:22; 20:28; Phil 1:1; Tit 1:5; 1 Pet 5:2-3). Insofar as these appointed men follow Jesus Christ and extend his shepherdly care, members of a local church should submit to the elders God has placed over them in particular (Heb 13:17; cf. 1 Thess 5:12-13; Jas 5:14; 1 Pet 5:5). But what does such submission to one’s elders include?
Acknowledge Your Placement by the Lord
First of all, it means we acknowledge that the Lord places Christians under the care of specific elders for their eternal good in Christ. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” God designed healthy submission to your elders to be for your spiritual advantage. Elders should provide regular oversight of your soul through the word of God, all the while remembering that “whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-45). It does you well to follow their spiritual direction and leadership, and to do so in a manner that makes it a joy.
Call Attention to What Honors Christ
At the same time, biblical submission does not mean blind obedience, passivity, resignation, being a ‘yes’-man, or even a doormat to the wishes of overbearing elders. Rather, submission to elders always functions in relation to what honors the authority of Christ. Jesus Christ has unlimited authority, and we must submit to him first and at all costs. Elders have limited authority, and we submit to them insofar as they represent Jesus Christ faithfully. In fact, the Scriptures acknowledge ways in which even the elders may need confrontation by the church (1 Tim 5:19-23; cf. Matt 18:15-20). Moreover, the Scriptures assume that the congregation recognizes, appoints, and evaluates elders, so that they all remain undivided in their devotion to the Lord and his work (1 Tim 3:1-7; Tit 1:5-9; 1 Pet 5:5-6). Thus, healthy submission also means giving input whenever it will benefit the elder in particular and the church as a whole to follow Christ more closely.
Serve the Church with Willingness and Zeal
An additional way submission to elders expresses itself is through your willing and zealous participation in the life of the church. The elders do not teach merely to fill our heads with knowledge. Rather, they equip the saints “for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). Their oversight has a particular aim and should result in very tangible acts of service that strengthens the church and advances the gospel. Hence, Hebrews 13:7 commands us to remember our leaders, “consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Hearing without imitating shows little desire to follow the will of Christ being explained and applied by the elders for your particular context and community.
Honor Your Elders
Submission will also include honor, not just in the sense of respect (1 Thess 5:12-13), but also in the sense of material support (Gal 6:6; 1 Tim 5:17; cf. 1 Cor 9:1-18). Some elders may serve the church while receiving compensation from outside, but the Scriptures exhort the church to support those elders who toil in preaching and teaching (1 Tim 5:17-18). The point is not to support them with extravagance, but to support them sufficiently for the regular study and teaching of the word of God. It is a matter of freeing them to support the word's advance. After all, it is the ongoing ministry of the word that grows the church (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7; 12:24; 13:38-39; 19:19-20).
Pray for Your Elders
Elders need God's strength to continue faithfully in their ministry. Elders need God's truth to withstand in the evil day. Elders need their eyes opened to areas of care to which they may be blind. Elders need boldness in tough situations that require rebuke and correction in love. Elders need the wisdom necessary to handle all the complexities of the lives of members in their congregation. Elders need protection from pride and cynicism that may develop when hurt by others, and they need power to continue taking up their cross and laying down their lives. Elders need help resting in the Lord, trusting the Lord who knows all things, can do all things, and can be in all places. Only the Lord can give them these things. Your elders need your prayers as they lead the body. Ask them how you can pray for them. Stop them in the midst of their busy-ness, and pray over them. The Lord gives generously to those who ask.