During my tenure as an elder at East Hill—I was installed in 2011, so I’m
approaching a decade—other men have come and gone in and out of our ranks. I’ve
served with as few as five men at a time and, more recently, with nine. I count eight
elders (I probably missed someone) who have come in and gone out during those years,
including three who made the decision this year to end their tenures. Alex and Becky
Williams moved to Missouri (our loss), while Shane and Todd decided to step down after
more years of service than I will probably complete myself. The others were a
combination of resignations and moves away from York.
Much of this pattern simply reflects the comings and goings in the lives of God’s
people. None left in anger. Some left feeling they had completed that particular ministry.
Some were simply tired. That’s the thing about the eldership. It can make you tired.
Sometimes Christians create a bubble around themselves, one in which they take
refuge, surrounding themselves only with good people, like themselves; people they’re
sure won’t disappoint them. They seek a faith that is based on only wanting to hear good
things about their fellow followers. They are intent on not wanting to hear about the
failings of their brothers or sisters. To them, “good news” is not hearing any bad.
But that’s not really the “Good News” we read about in Scripture, is it? The good
news of Jesus Christ is that he came to earth and lived among sinners and elected to die
There’s an old saying in the church. Maybe you’ve heard it before:
To live above,
With the Saints we love,
Oh, that will be glory.
But to live below,
With the Saints we know,
Now that’s another story.
The thing about being an elder is you don’t have the option to swing wide of the bad
news. It’s the job of elders to minister to those who are hurting, failing, struggling,
battling, losing. You don’t get to ignore the human frailties within the body. You don’t
get to pass the buck to someone else. Elders, to use a term we’ve all heard repeatedly in
this year of Covid-19, are often the church’s first-responders. And that responsibility can
be a challenge. Sometimes we learn of a family’s struggles or someone’s destructive
lifestyle too late to help.
But if being an elder can be a challenge, it can also be a blessing. I’ve watched my
fellow elders wade deeply into the lives of our members who were struggling with every
imaginable problem under the sun. I’ve seen commitment through personal engagement
with the flock that resulted in revival, recovery, and restoration. (I’ve watched elders’
wives doing this, as well, and sometimes they do it better.) More than once I’ve
witnessed my fellow elders, while they were helping someone struggling with sin, make
themselves vulnerable by admitting their own faults, their own spiritual failures. Being an
elder doesn’t mean you get to rise above it all and camp out on the moral high ground. It
means you put yourself in the midst of the flock, readily admit your are just as human as
the next guy, and run the risk of smelling like sheep.
I hope all this doesn’t cause any of you who are asked to serve as elders at East Hill
to say no. Please give any ask your prayerful consideration. There used to be a tag line
used in ads for the Peace Corps: “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love.” That’s what
being an elder is about. It’s tough, but at its center you will find love.
written by Tim McNeese