John C. Maxwell rightly said, “He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.” This, no doubt, is one reason for the Lord’s qualifications for elders. If elders are truly qualified, they will be the kind of men we should eagerly get behind. This discussion is intended to reinforce our responsibility to submit to our elders.
The Hebrews writer charged his readers to “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17). The clear implication is that we as sheep under the care of our local shepherds must make their task of overseeing us as easy as possible. This is not always easy for us, as it requires a substantial measure of humility (cf. 1 Pt. 5:5-6).
If we are to honor Christ’s demands, we must understand the true nature of their work. Sadly, I have heard people talk about their elders in very distant, detached language. Some have even said they are scared when the elders come around. This is a sad state of affairs. No doubt, in some elderships, the source of the disconnect may be traced back to the way the elders function. It is often the case that elders lead more like a board of directors in a company, making the decisions with little to no relationship to the people they oversee. Sheep know and trust their shepherds. In other cases, the cause is in the perception of authority possessed by the members in question. We must bridge this gap if we are to enjoy the proper relationship between sheep, shepherds, and Shepherd.
Biblically functioning elders are no threat to the members of the congregation. Indeed, if they live up to the qualifications and do the work for the reasons named in the Bible, it should be a comfort to every member to have the elders involved in their lives. Consider a few biblical statements concerning their work.
First, they look out for our souls at high risk to their own. The previous passage is clear that they will give an account of how they watch out for our souls. Second, consider the biblical motivation for their work. In 1 Peter 5:1-4, we learn they are to do this work out of a pure desire to serve, not for personal gain, not as tyrants, but rather as examples of godly living. In reality, they stand to gain no earthly advantage from their work, and they risk their souls as they will incur stricter judgment (cf. Jas. 3:1). Finally, remember they are one of the gifts the Lord gave for the building up of the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11).
In the final equation, we ought to thank God for our elders. The best way to show Him our appreciation is to happily, and humbly submit to their lead.