The elder needs constant readjustment of his personal life with the purpose of God in the Bible. Part of that process is prayer. Without it there is always lacking that something that makes holiness holiness.
The Habit of Prayer
Luther once said: “Prayer, meditation and temptation make a Minister”. The same is true for the elder. The need for prayer in the Christian ministry is underlined by the disciples’ request in Luke 11:1 “Lord, teach to pray”. That request is often misunderstood. Notice that the disciples did not say: “Lord, teach us how to pray”, but teach us “to pray”. They are not asking for techniques or a prayer manual. Their request is “teach us to pray”. Many elders, perhaps, know how to pray, but they do not actually pray. Shepherding God’s flock demands that elders carry out their pastoral commitments in a prayerful spirit. The elder who is concerned for the welfare of the flock will make the church a subject of continual supplication.
In Acts 6: 1-4 Luke records the following incident within the church in Jerusalem:
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
What do we learn about the organisation of the early church here?
Luke tells us that as the result of the preaching of the gospel, the church grew in numbers, and whenever the church grows in number new conditions of Christian service must be created. The apostles recognised the importance of caring for the disadvantaged in the community, but they said: “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables”... “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” What was the purpose of this?
The Habit of Bible-Reading
One cannot read the words of Paul “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13) without concluding that this is a general word to office-bearers in the congregation. Elders, therefore, should cultivate the habit of Bible-reading. In fact, the elder should carry out his ministry from beginning to end without exception by “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:5). This obviously involves reading. Bible-reading is hard work and requires delight in the revelation of God. For that reason, the elder does not simply read the Bible to meet the expectations of his role, but reads the Bible because the interaction with the sacred text is spiritually satisfying to his mind and heart. How do we do this? Bible-reading comprises four steps: reading the text, meditating the text, praying the text, and living the text. This way of reading produces delightful enjoyment of the Bible (Psalm 119:97) and provides passion for God and gladness for service (Psalm 39:3). If intimate acquaintance with the words of God is deficient, the elder will struggle to become a faithful man “who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
When we read the Scriptures we lose concentration easily. We get fidgety. Very often we have to drag our wondering thoughts back to the Bible. Why do you think we are losing the ability to read and take pleasure in reading the Bible? What might be the solution to the problem?
Read 2 Timothy 3:16. What is the emphasis of this passage?
What sort of things can Bible-reading do for leaders in the congregation?
The Habit of Being Relational
Part of the job of being an elder involves the development of personal skills. Being an elder does not mean keeping a distance. It requires a relational behaviour that gets right in among the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:2). Eldership is not indifferent oversight. In the act of indifference, other believers have no presence, and what happens to him or to her is really outside the sphere of our concerns. This attitude must be viewed as contradictory to Scripture.
The elder then, should be able to talk to people, to understand them, in order to establish a relationship that encourages openness and trust in the church. The elder will discover that influence and leadership comes by the choice to relate, not from position of rank. This process of becoming more open, more understanding, and more relational is the key to effective communication in ministry.
If the relationship between the elder and the members of the church does not grow stronger, it will get weaker; if they do not become closer, they will become more distant. Of course, it is not easy to alter ineffective methods of relating to others. But if we are conscious of our calling, and we are willing to allow God to replace inadequate ways of relating, it will be impossible to remain the same. Change is inevitable. It is important to remember that in all domains of relationships, the idea of being near or distant has nothing to do with proximity or spatial distance, rather the experience is simply the result of the degree of emotional interest that one extends to people in our environment.
In Hebrews 13:7 the author tells the congregation to respect the leaders who spoke to them the word of God, and also to imitate their way of life and faith. It’s obvious that those who guided the flock had a powerful influence in the church. What does this teach us about their interpersonal skills?
It seems that the leaders whom the author of Hebrews recommends as examples of life and faith were very close to the people, and the people loved them deeply. What are some of the barriers that hinder people in the church from wanting to imitate the life of an elder?
Take a moment to reflect on your style of relating to others. Ask yourself these questions: Do I wait for people to make me talk? Do I realise the importance of improving my relationships skills? Remember that when you reflect, you are actually doing something to change.
Notes on good Communication
Communication is the most important skill in life. But communication, and contrary to what is commonly thought, is much more than producing acoustic sounds. Communication involves physical gestures, body postures and movements that become a response to stimulus in the moment of communication. So, we need to abandon the idea that we can only communicate through words: all behaviour is communication. Ruesch and Bateson tell us that interpersonal interaction or communication is made up of three actions:
(1) The presence of expressive acts on the part of one or more persons.
(2) The conscious or unconscious perception of such expressive acts by others persons.
(3) The return observation that such expressive actions were perceived by others. The perception of having been perceived is a fact which deeply influences and changes human behaviour.
As you can see, it is impossible not to communicate. Whatever you do when you are with people, you will be communicating. Even when the person who perceives that is not being perceived (i.e., not acknowledged in communication) will know that we are saying something to him or her. Good communication in the church, therefore, rests on the basis of good interactions among Spirit-filled speakers.
Ruesch, J., and G. Bateson (2008) Communication: The social Matrix of Psychology. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
The Habit of Putting First Things First
Elder, can you take a moment to think about the following questions: What sort of motivation would I like people to see in me? How I can help my brothers and sisters to feel inspired and move forward with joy and confidence to the future of God? The apostle Paul would say to us: don’t worry about your business, your friends, or your dreams of worldly recognition, just worry about one thing:
"Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14 ESV).
Here we find Paul looking back, and looking forward, and then telling us about the overwhelming passion in his mind. He turned his back on the past, and re-centred his behaviour towards the future, and in three words he reveals the secret of this change, “but one thing! This became the frame of reference by which everything else was re-evaluated. This is what defined him. This “one thing” was the vision that he had for his life, and the vision that inspired others to imitate his example.
This “one thing” was not just one thing he did –but one thing he became –one thing that influenced others, one thing that he visualised and shaped his entire outlook on life. But, what “one thing”? The things before him, that is, the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. You see, by putting first things first, Paul was able to find passion for Christian service and passion for pressing towards the things of the future –the final perfection in Christ Jesus. So putting first things first means to start and continue our ministry as Elders with a clear understanding of our destination. It means that we know where we are going and we are taking steps to become the man of “one thing” in life. Paul says to us: Get that vision, set your life in the right direction and pursue glorious things by faith in Christ. Brothers, we may be very busy, we may be very efficient, we may be very moralistic, but we can only be the elders that our people need us to be, by doing the “one thing”. Put first things first.
What did Paul mean when he wrote, “forgetting what lies behind” (v.13)?
Sometimes we live in the memory of a conversion experience that happened ten, twenty, forty years ago. Should we leave this blessing in the past? And why?
What can you do (that you’re not doing now) that, if you did it on a regular basis, would make you more motivated to do the “one thing”?