As you probably know, I've never been one to shy away from difficult topics, and I fully realize that these posts may step on a few toes. It is not my intention to condemn any specific church or denomination, but rather begin a dialog on how we might all be able to do things more effectively and, ultimately, more biblically.
Patterning our churches after America's political structure is, I think, dangerous. Especially since our system of government was developed in the late 1700's, while the Bible was written thousands of years prior. It kind of seems backward to me.
However, since so many churches seem to be set up in this "democratic" way, perhaps it will be helpful to continue with the political analogies.
1. Elders should be more like Supreme Court justices than Senators.
Contrary to popular belief, the American political system is not actually a democracy...it's a representative republic. 'We the people' elect representatives (Congress) to do our bidding in Washington D.C. To fight for our wishes. It's a "from the bottom up" type of system that puts us in control. Whether it be taxes, security or education, if we don't like the direction things are going, the first Tuesday in November is never far away. Changes can be made. And they often are.
Supreme Court justices, however, operate very differently. Each of the nine judges is nominated (for life) by the President, not elected. They are (ideally) put in power because of their experience, wisdom, knowledge and character - not to do the bidding of the people, but to interpret the Constitution. To provide guidance and direction based on the law. To ensure that the country's leaders are governing and legislating within the parameters set forth by our forefathers.
With those two definitions in mind, what is the role of an elder in your church? Do they do the people's bidding, rather than provide guidance and direction based on the Bible? Are they voted into power, rather than placed there because of their experience, wisdom and character (1 Timothy 3:2)? Are they the congregation's mouthpiece when the drums are too loud, rather than "overseers" or "leaders" of the church's overall direction?
In a representative republic, the body controls the head. And frankly, in our churches, it seems that we rather enjoy that style of government. We relish that kind of power. We like the knowledge that if we disagree with our leadership about worship style, sermon topics or the number of spaces in the parking lot, we have recourse. We can vote them out, or at least complain loudly enough to them with the hopes that they'll whip the pastor or worship leader into shape for us.
Unfortunately, that's not how it is...or at least how the Bible says it should be. Christianity is not a representative republic. It's a monarchy (dictatorship maybe?), with Christ at the head. Elders are not vote counters. They're leaders and shepherds, with the Bible as their guide.
Acts 20:28 (ESV), speaking to elders (or "overseers"), reminds us that they are not given a position of authority within the church by the church, but instead, by the Holy Spirit: "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God..."
If "we the people" vote elders into "office", that makes them accountable to us...just like Senators are accountable to the American people. But if elders are called by God, they'll be accountable to Him and Him alone as they provide leadership and direction for the church.
Next time: What Makes a Good Supreme Court Justice/Elder?