Elders Presiding in a Fine Way
“Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God.”—Acts 20:28.
1. What circumstances make the elder arrangement timely?
JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES are grateful to Him that the Scriptural arrangement of elders in the congregation has been instituted by the “faithful and discreet slave” class at this time when there has been such a large number of persons taking their stand for God’s kingdom. During the past five years over three quarters of a million persons have been baptized as Christian witnesses of Jehovah, 90,519 of these during the “Divine Purpose” assemblies in 1974. The congregational elder arrangement makes for better care of these new ones in dire need of shepherding than did the former temporary “congregation servant” arrangement, because tens of thousands of elders are now busily engaged in giving aid to the flock.
2. (a) How do the congregations benefit from this arrangement? (b) What is the advantage of group decisions?
2 The congregations are benefiting from this Scriptural arrangement in several ways. With a body of elders, more of the congregation are encouraged to make full use of their teaching abilities, personal initiative is encouraged and there is no longer reliance on just one individual to set the pace. It has an enriching effect as a result of the pooling of knowledge and experience of the elders. All can learn from the others and gain a better understanding of their responsibilities to Jehovah and to the congregation. The rotation of the elders in assigned duties also allows for good distribution of the load of responsibility. A body of elders produces a balancing effect as to judgment of matters. While group decisions may seem to take longer, they are more solidly based and, in the end, save time. Truly, “in the multitude of counselors there is salvation.” Other men of the congregation are also encouraged to cultivate the needed qualities, to ‘reach out’ for the office of overseer and to share in the work.—Prov. 24:6; 1 Tim. 3:1.
3, 4. (a) Literally, what is meant by “presiding”? (b) What is the enlarged meaning?
3 At 1 Timothy 5:17 the apostle Paul refers to the older men as presiding in the congregation in a fine way. In what way does the elder “preside”? According to the Greek word used, “to preside” literally means “to stand before,” to lead, conduct, direct, to care for others as when one stands before someone or something to protect or shield. While one of the body of elders is designated the “presiding overseer,” all the elders should preside in this Scriptural sense, as shown by 1 Thessalonians 5:12: “Have regard for those who are working hard among you and presiding over you in the Lord and admonishing you.”—1 Tim. 3:5.
4 While the elders preside by literally ‘standing before’ the congregation, giving Bible talks and conducting meetings, in a broader sense they preside when they give the right lead and guidance by their thoughtful care of the interests of the congregation as a whole and the spiritual interests of each member of the congregation. This harmonizes with their being both overseers and shepherds, as Paul shows at Hebrews 13:7, 17: “Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith. Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.”
5. (a) What quality does presiding call for in elders? (b) To whom are they accountable? (c) Who only should be the prominent ones in the congregation?
5 While presiding, as shepherds, they must render their account to God’s Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. So they must preside in “real earnest.” (1 Pet. 5:4; Rom. 12:8) They respect Christ’s headship by reflecting his personality in dealing with others, by imitating his humility. (Matt. 20:24-28; John 13:13-16) Their being elders gives no justification for exalting themselves. Rather, “in brotherly love have tender affection for one another. In showing honor to one another take the lead.” (Rom. 12:3, 10) This protects one from falling into the snare of seeking personal prominence, being possessive or wanting the ‘chief places,’ as did the Pharisees. (Matt. 23:6) Prominence is due only to Jehovah and to the appointed Head of the congregation, Jesus Christ, and so elders should seek prominence for Them. Seeking to “be somebody” is being stupid. Having humility enables elders to manifest empathy, to bear burdens of others willingly and to listen patiently to problems, so as to be able to render assistance. Having humility will also aid them to show flexibility when no Scriptural issue is at stake. The brothers in the congregation will then find it easy to “have regard” for the elders and to give them “more than extraordinary consideration” in love for their fine work.—1 Thess. 5:12, 13.
6, 7. (a) Is the chairman of the body of elders their “head”? (b) Who is the “head,” and what does the chairman endeavor to do?
6 In taking the right lead and caring for the congregation’s welfare, it is vital that the elders work together in unity and harmony. They must show the same humility among themselves as they show in the congregation as a whole. The one serving as the presiding overseer and chairman for a year does not become the “head” over the other elders. Note that there is a difference between presiding and being “head.” A family head, for example, has the right to overrule the rest of the family members; as “head” he can make decisions that may differ from what the other members of the family favor. But the chairman of the body of elders, at least where matters of major importance are involved, does not make the final decisions. He is only one of the body and submits to the decisions of the group. The occasions should be rare when those in the body do not “all speak in agreement.”—1 Cor. 1:10.
7 A chairman presides for one year by agreement of the body of elders and the others accord him certain initiative, so that the congregation matters are promptly cared for and the activity of the meetings moves along smoothly. Thus Jesus Christ remains the one Head of the congregation, and the chairman will not assume the attitude that now, since “he” is presiding, things will be done “his way.” Rather, he seeks to serve his fellow elders and the entire congregation by coordinating the theocratic activity for smooth functioning.—Col. 1:18; 1 Pet. 5:4.
8. What can the chairman do to ensure a harmonious acting together of the body of elders?
8 At the quarterly meeting of the elders, all should work together harmoniously. To assist in this, the chairman needs to recognize his position in relation to the others. He ought to apply the Bible rule of ‘taking the lead in showing honor’ to others, ‘considering that they are superior to him.’ He should listen to them and solicit their views. He should be careful not to “condition” the opinions of the elders. This danger may exist if he always insists on giving his opinion first. The others will listen to what he says, but may hesitate to express a different view. So when various matters are considered, the chairman can ask others for their opinions first. At the same time he does not want to give the impression that what he has to say is the final word on the matter and nothing more need be said. So he may choose not to give his opinion last. He also should take care not to call on the same elder first each time, especially if that one has a strong personality and tends to want to shape others’ opinions. Each elder should be given equal opportunity to comment first. If the chairman remembers that all are equals and his duty is merely to keep order, the meeting should progress smoothly and accomplish its purpose. Also, if he can keep the meeting informal, that too will minimize his importance.
PREPARATION FOR MEETINGS IMPORTANT
9. (a) Why is preparation for the elders’ meetings important? (b) Who are involved in the preparation? (c) How can the meeting be kept orderly?
9 The meetings of the elders are important, so the chairman should make proper advance preparation. This gives evidence that he is presiding in earnest. “The plans of the diligent one surely make for advantage.” (Prov. 21:5) When possible, the other elders should be informed in advance of what matters will be discussed so they can give due thought to them and be in position to contribute to the discussion. If the chairman waits until the meeting starts, the others may not be properly prepared to speak. Of course, other matters may be brought before the meeting by other elders, and, when possible, the chairman should be informed of these ahead of time so that he can include them on the meeting’s agenda. He does not want the discussion to get “bogged down” or to ramble; hence, he should see that each matter is disposed of before another is discussed. Thus he can keep the meeting orderly. That does not mean that the meeting should be so formal that spontaneous comment is discouraged. He needs to remember, too, that some may not be able to express themselves fluently, so he must exercise patience and allow these time to express their opinion.
10, 11. (a) How can the length of the meetings and the number of meetings of the elders be controlled? (b) What should all the elders keep in mind in dealing with one another?
10 If the chairman is prepared so that there is something definite to discuss and decide, and if he conducts the meeting properly, the length of the meeting can be controlled, and also the number of meetings can be held to a minimum; probably the suggested four in a year will be sufficient. This emphasizes good planning. Much depends on the chairman’s handling of the meeting, so he should be alert. But not all depends on him.—1 Cor. 14:40.
11 Time is valuable. So that it is not wasted, all the elders should be as brief and to the point as possible. Those who are naturally wordy should practice curbing that tendency for the good of all. King Solomon’s counsel at Proverbs 10:19 is appropriate: “In the abundance of words there does not fail to be transgression, but the one keeping his lips in check [under restraint] is acting discreetly.” Some have more ability to speak than do others (sometimes colloquially called “the gift of gab”), and so they should guard the tendency to “wear down” a different view by much talking or eloquence. (Compare Romans 16:18.) If they cannot get the others to adopt their views it will not result in a calamity! Rather, meekness and a quiet spirit are evidence of true wisdom. (Eccl. 9:17; Jas. 3:13-17) The elders should guard against the danger of making matters a personal issue just because some “pet idea” of theirs is not adopted. Paul counsels: “I desire that in every place the men carry on prayer, lifting up loyal hands, apart from wrath and debates [“divided reckonings”—Interlinear; “quarrelsome thoughts”—New English Bible].”—1 Tim. 2:8; 6:4.
12. What must elders, using wisdom, recognize as to individual conscience?
12 At their meetings to discuss the welfare of the congregation, the elders petition Jehovah to guide their hearts and minds to reach conclusions that are in harmony with Jehovah’s will, and that the wisdom from above may prevail. Such wisdom, says James, is chaste, peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey, full of mercy and not hypocritical. (Jas. 3:17) If the elders keep this in mind, as well as the fact that Jesus is there in their midst (Matt. 18:20), it will result in Jehovah’s blessings on their deliberations. They appreciate that there are areas in life that the Bible shows we leave up to an individual’s conscience. If the Bible and the publications of the “faithful and discreet slave” do not clearly outline a course, the elders should not impose their personal likes and dislikes, as if these were rules to be followed by the others. Thinking too much of one’s own opinion could lead one to speak of one’s own ideas and achievements beyond what the Scriptures allow.—2 Cor. 10:12, 18.
13. Using the Scriptures as a guide serves what important purpose?
13 The governing body of the first-century Christians was careful not to impose any unnecessary burden or rule on the congregations. We do well to follow that example. The Scriptures must be the guide of the elders, so that there is always a Scriptural basis for counsel and decisions. This will have the benefit of giving unified teaching as well as correct teaching. Then one elder will not say one thing and another elder something else, in contradiction, leading to confusion. Unity must exist among the elders, and they should see “eye to eye” if their service is to be effective. This does not mean that every elder at the meeting must comment on every point. Solomon wisely counseled that there is a time to keep silent. (Eccl. 3:7) If a person can add something constructive, fine; if not, he can just listen and learn, and see how to improve his own contributions to the meeting.
14. (a) What should the elders understandably avoid doing? (b) When only would it be proper to discuss together the good points and the bad ones of a brother or a sister?
14 All the elders should appreciate their position in relation to the other brothers and sisters in the congregation. They are not spiritual bosses or spiritual policemen. They do not have to pry into the lives of other members of the congregation or concern themselves with the personal problems of every brother and sister. The brothers and sisters are dedicated to Jehovah God and usually can work out their salvation in integrity. The elders are available to help when they are called upon, but they should not go beyond proper limits. (Phil. 2:12, 13) The other brothers and sisters have rights and privileges, and so the elders must respect their free moral agency. It is not the business of the elders at their meetings to review all the good points and all the bad points of every publisher. About the only time that it would be appropriate to do this would be when qualifications of brothers to serve as elders or ministerial servants are being considered, or when there is a serious problem involving one in the congregation that calls for careful scrutiny of that particular person.
15. Why are the discussions at the elders’ meeting not made public?
15 The meetings of the elders are not secret gatherings. But there is no need to tell everybody, or anybody not concerned, what is discussed at the meetings that is of a confidential nature. Why burden or upset others with matters with which they are not individually concerned? There are confidential matters that are disclosed to the elders that should not be publicized. Others, especially the wife or other members of the elder’s family, can help by not probing elders for information on such matters. Matters not of a confidential nature, especially concerning the progress of the Kingdom work, that were discussed will eagerly be shared with the congregation by the elders.
16. Instead of always counseling or reproving individuals, how can the elders make use of their time to the good of the congregation?
16 The elders should not feel that they must always be counseling or reproving other individuals directly, especially when the individuals are doing reasonably well. They can, though, do much good by friendliness, kindness, encouragement, commendation and association with all in the congregation. An especially fine way to do this is by making friendly “publisher” calls, not merely on those who are newly interested, or those considered spiritually weak, but on every “sheep” in the flock, including even those who are engaging in the preaching work full time. They likewise need shepherding and could, through neglect, stray away from the fold. Elders therefore recognize the need of accepting and discharging their responsibilities as shepherds as set out in the Bible.
17 Elders ‘become fathers through the good news’ by making disciples. Hence, although they do not let themselves be addressed as “Father,” they must exercise the same patience, endurance and consideration that the head of a family does. A father of a family manifests love for those under his care; he does not exasperate them but upbuilds them. (1 Cor. 4:15; Matt. 23:9) Paul was outstanding in this regard, as shown at 2 Corinthians 12:15 and; 1 Thessalonians 2:8. So elders do not mind being “put out,” inconvenienced or imposed upon. As shepherds, they recognize this as all part of their commission.—John 21:15-17; 1 Pet. 5:2, 3.
18. Should elders be satisfied with their present service, and what is an incentive to them?
18 Does one, after attaining the position of elder, no longer need to advance or improve? We are counseled not to think of ourselves more highly than is necessary, “so as to have a sound mind.” (Rom. 12:3) So all the elders can continue to improve in that prime quality, namely, teaching ability accompanied with humility. Does the elder believe he is efficient and effective? Then he should strive for more effectiveness in teaching. He also can always improve in showing humility. By improvement on the part of the elders (and of ministerial servants, who are reaching out for the office of overseer), they will continue to advance in their ability to serve the interests of their brothers in harmony with Jehovah’s requirements. They also will be a greater blessing to those who are now associated with Jehovah’s organization and those making their way into it. To all who are unstintingly serving as overseers of the flock of God, we say: “Become steadfast, unmovable, always having plenty to do in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in connection with the Lord.”—1 Cor. 15:58.
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At their meetings, elders discuss the welfare of the congregation