What does an elder look like in heart and action? How does a man evaluate a call to serve while he wrestles introspectively over whether or not he qualifies? The short story of Boyd Walker the Elder sketches a timeless answer in a quaint but surprisingly compelling way.
As a pastor, my grandfather put copies of this fictional account in the hands of men he thought should consider church leadership. Boyd Walker left an impression on me as a teenager. Written over seventy-five years ago, it’s a bit dated. Still, the heartbeat of Boyd Walker transcends time, place, and culture.
Boyd Walker was thirty-two years old when he was elected elder in the Cedarvale church. He had lived all his life in the Cedarvale neighborhood and almost everyone called him by his first name.
Boyd was next to the youngest of a large family of children. The father died while the younger children were quite small. This interfered with their education and Boyd got little further than the country school. He was not brilliant, but was above the average of intelligence for one of his opportunities. He was never a bad boy, but he was not particularly religious in his inclinations. He went to church and Sabbath School and said his prayers, but his mother feared he was too full of fun ever to look seriously on life.
At twenty-four Boyd was married and he and his wife began housekeeping on a rented farm. Three bright children – two boys and a girl – came to gladden their home. At the age of four the younger of the two boys was stricken and after a brief sickness was taken away.
This was a new experience in the life of Boyd Walker. He and his devoted wife, as never before, felt the need of relying on Christ. They realized the comforting power of Jesus and from that time on their religion was a matter of daily religious experience.
The Cedarvale congregation met on the twentieth of the following April for the election of four new elders. John Davis and Arthur Copeland went in by a big majority on the first ballot. Clarence Hunter was elected on the third. Boyd Walker went in on the fourth by a majority of three.
The first three elected indicated their willingness to accept the office before leaving the church. Boyd Walker only shook his head and hurried away with a troubled soul. The election had come as a surprise to him, and the thought of the deep responsibility of such an office almost overwhelmed him.
Many of the people lingered after the service to comment on the election. “It looks like Boyd is going to turn it down,” said Elder Bell as he watched him drive hurriedly away.
“I think it would be the best thing he could do,” replied Elder Hayes, who had not given him one vote in the four ballots.
By this time a group had gathered about the two elders and joined in the discussion as to whether Boyd Walker ought to accept the eldership. One thought he was too young. Another thought that no man should accept an office when elected by such a small majority. Another said he didn’t think Boyd Walker was settled down enough to make a good elder. But these remarks came from those who had not voted for him and who hadn’t gotten any votes themselves.
Troublous days were ahead for Boyd Walker. He talked it over with his wife that evening, and family worship seemed to mean much more to them than usual. He sat up after the rest retired and read the Bible. He searched for all the passages that dealt with the qualifications and duties of such an office.
He read the passage in Titus, first chapter, from the seventh verse, how that the elder “must be blameless as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to much wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate, holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers.”
Then he turned to First Timothy, third chapter, the first seven verses, and read the qualifications there.
“That settles it, Lord,” he said, closing the Book, “in those two lists there is only one point where I see I can qualify and that is where it says ‘not given to much wine.’”
Then Boyd Walker dropped to his knees and stayed a long time.
It was considerable after twelve when he slipped into bed. With his mind fairly well made up as to his duty regarding the eldership, he dropped off to sleep.
“Well, the matter is all settled,” he said to his wife the next morning. “God showed me in the Bible last night that I am not fit to be an elder, so I decided to decline it.”
“Why wouldn’t it be better to become fit and accept it?” said Mrs. Walker, with her usual sweet smile.
Just then their boy came in to breakfast and the subject was dropped. But that one remark by his wife upset Boyd Walker’s peace of mind nearly as much as the election had done the day before.
“Become fit and accept it,” “Become fit and accept it” kept ringing in his ears all that afternoon as he rode on the plow.
Boyd Walker thought of a multitude of things as he was about his work that day. He thought of the failures of the elders he knew. He thought of Elder Hayes, who attended church quite regularly and pretended to be very strict about keeping the Sabbath, but everybody knew he was a tobacco user and he never came to prayer meeting oftener than once a quarter.
Then he considered Elder Bell. He professed to be very zealous to defend the principles of the Church, but he seemed to have very little love or sympathy for the young people. He was sort of a legalist who wanted to bring everybody into session who violated the letter of the law. Boyd remembered the time he himself received a harsh rebuke from Elder Bell, which he knew he deserved, but the spirit in which it was given long left a sting.
Boyd Walker then lived over again the recent sorrow in their home. He recalled that during the three weeks their little boy lay on this death-bed not an elder was in their home to offer comfort. Many church members and friends were there but none of the elders ever came. In fact, no elder had ever prayed in their home in the eight years they had been married.
There was no bitterness in Boyd’s heart as he thought of these things, but he saw what he feared might be a picture of himself if he accepted the office.
“Of course, I cannot accept it!” he said aloud. “I’m not fit!”
Then again he heard those penetrating words of the morning: “Why not become fit and accept it?”
This was the nature of the struggle that went on in Boyd Walker’s heart for more than a week. Finally, one day in the middle of a field, he stopped his horses and looked up and said:
“Lord, it is one of two things. Either it is to remain unfit and decline this office or to become fit and accept it. Which do you want me to do?”
In an instant there came to him these words of the Eighteenth Psalm which they read that morning in family worship: “It is God that girdeth me with strength and maketh my way perfect.”
Boyd Walker fell on his knees beside the plow and told God he would accept the office but that he would depend entirely on His girding power to sustain him and make him what he ought to be.
The ordination and installation service took place on the twenty-third day of May. As the pastor and session that day laid their hands on the heads of the elders to be, and as the pastor prayed for the baptism of the Holy Spirit for these men who were being set apart to a holy office in the name and by the authority of Jesus Christ, there was one at least to whom that ceremony was a blessed reality.
Early in July the first session meeting was held, with all the new elders present. There were nine to answer the roll call instead of the accustomed five. There was the routine business of the roll call, reading of minutes, call for committee reports, etc. After general and informal discussion about nothing in particular it was time to adjourn.
“Before we adjourn, Mr. Moderator, may I say,” said Boyd Walker in a timid manner, “I am just a new man and don’t want to appear forward, but I wonder if our session couldn’t meet once a month for prayer. I make that a motion.”
It was some time before anybody would second it. In fact, they discussed it for fifteen minutes without a second. The older members said that the elders wouldn’t attend, that they couldn’t keep it up in the busy season, that they could pray as well at home.
But Boyd, who lived farther away than any of them, outlined his reasons. He showed that they couldn’t do anything in their own strength; that there were problems to be solved that were vital to the very life of the congregation; that some members were drifting to perdition and that the elders would have to answer before God as to how they have used their office. He showed that prayer was the mightiest force they had to use. When he had finished he had all the new elders with him and three of the old ones. John Davis seconded the motion and it was carried with no negative votes.
Ever since that July meeting of session, the elders of Cedarvale church have been meeting the first Monday evening of each month to pray for their church and community. Boyd Walker never missed one of these meetings and he always has a number of specific persons or problems to present for prayer.
The next quarterly business meeting was in October. Once a quarter they combined their meeting for prayer and business into one. Since they had been praying more they found they had less business to attend to and it took less time.
At this October meeting, Elder Bell reported that he had heard that Tom Ross, one of the boys of the congregation, had attended a dance at Westlawn some time before and moved he be cited to come before session. Elder Davis seconded the motion.
Boyd Walker said nothing until the matter was about to be put to a vote. Then he asked how many there had been praying for Tom. Not one of them had. Then he said: “Are we qualified to sit in judgment on anybody we haven’t prayed for? If we cite Tom to appear in an atmosphere like that we will likely drive him out of the church. Let us agree to make him a subject for earnest prayer till our next monthly prayer meeting before taking formal action.”
“That sounds very well,” said Elder Bell, twisting in his chair, “but some of these young folks need to be taught a lesson. What is a session for if it isn’t to attend to cases like this?”
But Boyd Walker persuaded all but Elders Bell and Davis that no session was qualified to exercise discipline on a member whom they had not previously made a subject of prayer. At Boyd’s suggestion they had a short session of prayer for Tom and the other young people before they adjourned.
About two weeks after this Boyd saw Tom in town one afternoon and motioned him back into the ware-room of the White Front Grocery Store. There they sat down on a couple of boxes and soon were heart to heart in conversation. Boyd told Tom what he had heard about his attending the Westlawn dance. Tom admitted it was so.
Boyd Walker could have told Tom Ross that he had broken the rules of the church and that he was causing the session a lot of trouble and that he had better live up to the rules or get out. But he didn’t. He appealed to Tom as a follower of Jesus Christ; how Christ loved him; how grieved Christ is when one of his children turns away, and of the influence he was having on other young people. In a few minutes Tom’s eyes were filled with tears. So were Boyd’s, and perhaps we should keep the curtain closed upon that sacred scene of two young men on their knees in the back of the store.
“Tell the session for me,” said Tom as they separated, “that I’m sorry, and I want to thank you, Boyd, for this talk we have had together.” Boyd told the session and even Elder Bell pronounced the matter closed.
The victory which the Cedarvale session had won by prayer encouraged Boyd Walker to plan for greater things for their young people. At this same meeting Boyd presented each member of session with a list of all the young people of the congregation. Some of these young people were drifting and everybody knew it. They were all meeting temptations every day.
Boyd asked the elders to keep that list and make these young people a matter of daily prayer. He insisted that the elders should take an interest in the young people’s activities and occasionally drop in at their Sabbath evening meetings. He himself frequently attended these meetings. The young people loved him and were always delighted when he came. They knew that the Walker home was always open for young people’s gatherings whenever they wanted to come.
One evening as the family had settled for a season of fellowship together at home, the telephone rang and Boyd answered. What he heard was,
“Hello, is this you, Boyd? This is Tom Ross. Mother took very sick about five o’clock. I just thought you would like to know. The doctor is here now. Goodbye.”
In fifteen minutes, Mr. & Mrs. Walker drove their Ford out of the barn lot and headed to the Ross home. Mrs. Ross, who had passed her three score and ten, was perfectly conscious when they arrived.
“Oh, Boydie, I just knew you would come!” she said faintly. Boyd sat down by her bedside, talked of Jesus and repeated precious promises. Then he knelt by the bedside and commended her to the Savior. No one can ever know the comfort it brought to that suffering mother’s heart. Every day the Walkers inquired about Mother Ross. Eight days later, Tom Ross telephoned that they thought the end was near.
Boyd Walker and the pastor were present when the end came. When the different elders took Tom Ross’ hand at the cemetery two days later you can understand why he felt a little warmer toward the one who hadn’t waited to give help sympathy until the day of the funeral.
This is only one instance of Boyd Walker’s ministration to the sick. He visits and prays with the sick in the community whether they are members of the church or not. In fact, folks who are not Christians sometimes call on him in times of need. Mothers ask him to talk to their boys and to lead them out of sin.
Boyd Walker became a soul winner in his community. No one will ever know how many lives he helped to an acceptance of Christ. He talks Christ in the harvest field and at the threshing machine. He joins in the wholesome jokes and the merry making wherever he goes, but no one who knows him ever indulges in profane language in his presence. His neighbors have learned that they will find a poor market for their lewd stories if Boyd Walker is in the company.
When the young men’s class at Cedarvale was in need of a teacher, of course they voted for Boyd Walker. He took the class and not only taught them on Sabbath but prayed for them through the week. The class became the most popular one in the Cedarvale church. Fellows from outside came in and joined the class. No member of the class who was not a Christian was there long until Boyd had a private heart to heart talk with him, seeking to lead him to a personal acceptance of Christ.
In the course of time Boyd Walker organized his class into a Gospel Team. They receive invitations to hold meetings in schools, chapels, homes and prisons where they witness for Christ. Many have been saved and blessed in these ministrations and the joys of service delight and strengthen the men themselves. Three in this class now hope to enter the Christian ministry.
When the congregation at Cedarvale was left without a pastor, it was Boyd Walker, more than any other man, who kept the people together. He saw that the Sabbath morning prayer meeting was arranged when they had no preaching. His remarks always had a lift to them. He attended the young people’s meetings nearly every Sabbath meeting and tried to keep the enthusiasm going. He noted the people who seemed to be losing interest and gave them words of encouragement. It was largely through his influence that the congregation made an early call for another pastor and six months after their first one left another was there to take his place.
Three years after the ordination as elder, Boyd Walker was elected a delegate to the Synod. Above all years it seemed to be the hardest time to get away. The duties were unusually heavy on the farm but he arranged to go because he felt it was the Lord’s business and must be attended to. He followed keenly all the proceedings at Synod. He never missed a roll call. He especially enjoyed the periods of devotion. He joined one of the prayer groups and always attended its meetings. He said very little on the floor of Synod but he tried to vote in accord with the mind of the Master. When in the last days others were chafing to get home and seeking to be excused, Boyd stayed until the business was finished. His report to the home congregation warmed the hearts of the people toward the Church’s work.
All in all, Boyd Walker is a striking example of a successful life. He seeks no honor for himself, but no one in the Cedarvale community is more honored and loved than he. He is not striving to be rich, yet God is giving him a reasonable degree of prosperity. He is not running after pleasure, yet few men are happier or experience greater joys. He does not push himself forward, yet no one in the community is more sought after and more welcome among the people who know him.
Service is the keynote of this elder’s life. It is the blossom of love. It is the fruit that springs from a consecrated Christian. While he is bringing a wealth of happiness to others he is laying up treasure for himself in heaven.
No earthly records will ever tell of the lives Boyd Walker has pointed to the Savior, of the wavering ones he has strengthened in the time of temptation, or of those whom he, through the Spirit, has helped to a better life.
And he is still in his prime. Multiply his influence by the years he may have yet to live and see how much better the world will be. Multiply it again by the nine elders in the Cedarvale congregation and then by all the elders in the Church! Why not? Multiply it still further by the membership of the Church and by the Christians of the world, every one of whom has access to the same inexhaustible source of riches from which Boyd Walker drew his supplies. Why not?
Any person fully yielded to Christ, who seeks not pleasure nor wealth, but opportunities for unselfish service, will find open doors for the service he is willing to render.
If I follow after pleasure, It like mist will flee away. If I covet earthly treasure, There’s a heavy price to pay. But if my creed is GIVING, And I CHRIST with others share; There is joy and peace in living, And fruitage everywhere.
This story was reprinted in 1944 by the Forward Movement (an effort to encourage leadership development and outreach) of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. It was reprinted at that time by the then-operating The Service Print Shop of Topeka, Kansas. Though printed without attribution, my grandfather claimed Pastor D.H. Elliott authored the pamphlet.