/ elders / Bryan Schneider

Your elders will fail you

I was talking to some elders of another church recently about struggles they were having, and they mentioned something I've heard countless times: A member is leaving the church and taking swings at the leadership as they walk out.

Please hear me out. The church needs elders. The church deserves to have good elders. God Himself demands elders to shepherd His flock well. However, the church can also be damaged by idealism. Sadly, we live in a world marred by sin. We live in a world where no elder on this side of heaven will ever live up to the ideal standard. Idealism, when it comes to either church membership or church leadership, will ruin relationships, destroy unity, and is deeply unbiblical. There will never be a perfect elder nor a perfect member.

I am not saying you should stay in an abusive church. I am not saying you should stay where the elders show blatant ignorance of your soul. I am not saying members should just put up with poor or sinful leadership. What I am saying is, elders will always fail you if the standard is perfection. Only Jesus, the chief shepherd, is perfect.

My hope from this article is that we, as a Christian community, may give and grow in grace. I'm not giving a pass to sloppy, neglectful, or even sinful shepherding. But, I am advocatign that we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep. Why? Because your elders will fail you.

The Shepherd's Heart

The church deserves to have a shepherd who shows Jesus' compassion and love for His flock. Jesus routinely showed empathy and understanding to His people. He wept with Mary and Martha at Lazarus’s death. He understood perfectly the hearts of those around Him. Jesus, as the chief shepherd, knows our hearts better than we know them ourselves. My elders, and your elders, will never know your heart perfectly. Elders may be physicians of the soul, but it is Jesus who is the great physician. If a member expects the elders to understand everything going on in their hearts, they have expected men to do God's work.

The Shepherd's Vision

Jesus knew exactly why He was here. Jesus came to do His Father’s will. Jesus had a mission and accomplished that mission. Jesus then commissioned His Apostles to go and make disciples of all nations, promising them the Holy Spirit. But He never promised the Apostles they would have perfect mission vision. He did not promise Peter he would be right on everything. Sometimes the Apostles caught themselves off guard as they were prevented from doing things. Sometimes they would drift in the wrong direction and have to be rebuked by another Apostle. Jesus did not set up the church with elders who would be perfect. To hold elders to an ideal vision is to expect of them a level of knowledge and wisdom reserved for God Himself. The elders do not have a perfect plan for your spiritual health and well-being. They may have a Biblical plan, but only Jesus can cast the perfect vision for a Christian's well-being.

The Shepherd's Voice

Jesus never spoke a sinful word. Jesus never spoke a word out of season. Jesus knew the perfect tone to strike at the heart. He knew when to give parables to both obscure and illuminate, depending on the listener. Jesus was perfect in shepherding with His voice. Elders will never be perfect in speaking. Jesus was the perfect man, taming His tongue. The human elder will fail and struggle to keep his tongue under control. Your elder may say something out of season, in the wrong tone, or fumble in his speech. But God did not make your elder perfect. God redeemed your elder and is still sanctifying him.

The Shepherd's Guidance

Jesus was the perfect disciple maker. Jesus gave liberally of His time and energy. Jesus wore Himself out to the point of falling asleep exhausted on a boat across the lake. Jesus mentored both individually and within groups, leaving nothing back. He was authoritative yet approachable, available for guidance yet allowing his disciples to grow independently. Your elders cannot perfectly disciple. They may not always be available when you want them. They may not be the most gifted at individual mentoring. They may not be dynamic in group settings, able to keep conversations moving in the directions they planned. They may at times need to say they cannot meet with you because of competing priorities. Why? Because they are not perfect. What you need ultimately, amidst the elders' failures or limitations, is the ministry of the perfect Shepherd.

The Shepherd's Protection

Jesus corrected and rebuked the Pharisees. He called out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He comforted Peter that even Satan himself had tried to sift him out, but Jesus had prayed for him. Jesus protected and even laid down His life for His sheep. Your elder is not Jesus. They may be Christ-like, but the ultimate voice a Christian should hear and follow is Jesus’s, and not their elder's. Your elder can pray for you, warn you, show you safe paths, and plead with you. But ultimately, every member is in the hands of the Lord Himself. We are God's sheep, the people of His pasture. When elders forget this, they will either develop messiah complexes or become despondent when illness happens. When members forget this, they will resent the elders or, even worse, resent God.

The Shepherd's Sacrifice

Jesus Christ laid down His life for the sheep. He laid down His life for His friends. He paid the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus calls the elders to act sacrificially, to lay down their lives for one another, to be selfless. Yet, Jesus knew the human condition well. He knew no elder could ever perfectly sacrifice, so He did. Elders are to imitate Christ and even be willing to die. But your elders are mere men. They must count the cost. Not every hill is worth dying on. Not every meeting is worth sacrificing their family for. They may misjudge how important or urgent something is. But they are not called to die for everything, or else they would be dying for nothing.

Being an elder in Christ's church is difficult. It is not for the faint of heart. Sacrifice and even criticism come with the territory. The elder is challenged to live up to the calling of Christ in their life. But we do not believe in the doctrine of perfectionism. My elders have fumbled and failed at times. Your elders will too. That does not mean we sweep things under the rug or excuse sin. But we can show grace. When we shed the lies of idealism regarding the eldership, we only have one place to look: up. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ. Jesus is the perfect shepherd.

Bryan Schneider

Bryan Schneider

Husband to Olivia. Father of Nathan, Deborah, Daniel, & Ellie. Blessed to serve Sharon RP Church (sharonrpc.org). Loving Rural life.

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