A Congregation’s Future
The responsibilities of the local eldership are much more than making the occasional decisions for the congregation. While it is true the current eldership has made several physical improvements to the meeting place, as well as making the decision to support additional gospel preachers, there are more important tasks to which the elders also give their time and mental energies.
The responsibilities of the local eldership can be summarized by one word: Shepherding. Elders serve as shepherds over the local congregation. Shepherding involves overseeing the local congregation. The apostle Peter wrote, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;” (1 Peter 5:2-3, NKJV; cf. Acts 20:28). The Greek word translated as “overseers” means literally “to look upon.” “It is not a matter of assuming a position, but of the discharge of the duties” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary). As overseers, the elders bear the charge of looking upon the congregation, discharging their God-given responsibilities.
Shepherding the congregation involves the duty of feeding or teaching the congregation. Hebrews 13:7 reads, “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct” (Hebrews 13:7, NKJV). Elders bear the responsibility of making certain the congregation continues to learn God’s word. Elders may use a local preacher (or two) to help fulfill this task. Elders, while being teachers, can use other members to help teach in Bible classes. However, in their role as overseers, elders are not to be “lords over” the flock (1 Peter 5:3). The flock belongs to the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Lord over the congregation. The elders are simply shepherds entrusted with feeding, guiding, and protecting the congregation.
Shepherding the flock also involves watching out for or protecting the souls of the congregation. In other words, elders are to always be on guard against spiritual threats to the flock. Paul wrote, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:28,29, NKJV). While the eldership does not run with suspicion in their hearts, they do look for warning signs and symptoms of spiritual weaknesses, as well as threats to the unity and faithfulness of the local congregation.
Considering the great responsibility which God has placed on the shoulders of the elders, it would be helpful for the elders to be forward thinking regarding the future of the congregation. The shepherds should look ahead to the path of the local congregation. It is not enough to take things one day at a time. Elders need to think to the future of the congregation, making certain the congregation is being guided in the right direction.
For instance, consider the elders responsibility to teach the congregation. The eldership should spend time giving forethought to the spiritual growth of the local congregation. Planning is a wise approach. Such planning allows the elders to consider from where the congregation has come and to where the congregation is going. Planning is like a road map. Congregations need roadmaps which help to balance topics covered, make certain all age groups are receiving proper attention, identify areas of needed growth, etc.
Another benefit of planning ahead could be seen in the protection of the congregation. The elders could look ahead, watching out for new issues, challenges, and doctrines which might threaten the flock. Such observations could also help in the planning process of future lessons, series, studies, etc.
When the elders discharge their responsibilities, knowing when and how can be very beneficial. Looking ahead (planning ahead) can help the eldership to see where the congregation is going. There is no real progress if no thought is given to the future path of the congregation.