Congregation Elders—“Preside in a Fine Way”!
“Let the older men who preside in a fine way be reckoned worthy of double honor.”—1 Tim. 5:17.
1. In the light of Proverbs 11:14, what value is there in having elders preside among God’s people?
PEOPLE who unite together for some noble purpose or work usually have someone preside over their affairs. When this is done in a fine way, proper direction can be given to them, resulting in progress and getting things done. Otherwise, they will flounder and fall. Proverbs 11:14 puts it this way: “When there is no skillful direction, the people fall; but there is salvation in the multitude of counselors.” As an organized people with a divine purpose and work, Jehovah’s Witnesses appreciate receiving direction and counsel from faithful elders who preside over them.
2. What questions arise about who presides in a congregation, and how does 1 Timothy 5:17 clarify the matter?
2 There are now over 40,000 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses world wide. While each congregation has an appointed “presiding overseer,” does he have the sole prerogative to preside? What about the other elders who make up the body of older men? All of them should recognize what God’s Word at 1 Timothy 5:17 enjoins upon them: “Let the older men who preside in a fine way be reckoned worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching.” Where a congregation has several appointed elders, each has a share in presiding over its various activities.
3. In what respects does an elder presiding in a congregation differ from a father presiding over his household?
3 In what sense, though, do the elders “preside in a fine way”? Not with the same authority as fathers preside over their households. Family heads are at times called upon to make final decisions on various matters that influence and govern their wives and children. However, individual elders do not wield such authority. They do not exercise headship, either individually or as a body, over the congregation. The position of headship as far as the congregation is concerned belongs to Jesus Christ. (Col. 1:18) He is also referred to at 1 Corinthians 11:3 as the “head of every man,” while “the head of a woman is the man.” So there is a difference between presiding over a congregation of God’s people and exercising headship within the family.
4. In view of their Scriptural responsibilities, why is it fitting for elders to “preside” in a congregation?
4 The Greek word for “preside” means more than being a chairman. “To preside” literally means “to stand before,” hence, to lead, conduct, direct, to care for others. How fittingly this applies to elders whom we view as “taking the lead” among us by their conducting and teaching at our meetings and directing our service activity (Heb. 13:7, 13); shepherding or caring for our spiritual welfare (1 Pet. 5:2, 3); and protecting us from anything that would endanger our relationship with the congregation and, above all, with Jehovah God! (John 10:11-15) In all of this they endeavor to follow the counsel and example of the “fine shepherd,” Jesus Christ.
ATTITUDE TOWARD PRESIDING AT MEETINGS
5. How should Paul’s exhortation at Romans 12:8 affect an elder’s attitude toward presiding?
5 What is the attitude that each elder should cultivate so as to fulfill properly his responsibility? At Romans 12:8 Paul exhorts: “He that presides, let him do it in real earnest,” so as to instruct, enlighten, encourage or help his brothers. He shows concern about the way in which he carries out such duties and does well to ask himself: ‘What can I do to preside earnestly and in a fine way?’
6. (a) To show that he presides “in real earnest,” what must the Theocratic School overseer do? (b) What benefits do the individual students receive?
6 To be “earnest” means not only to be sincere but to be intent about what one is doing. For example, one caring for the Theocratic School knows that he cannot go about his assignment in a perfunctory way. He must take an interest in each student, giving attention to his particular needs. Why? Because he wants the student to progress. Many new ones now share in the School and they need personal help. Some are slow or timid; others lack education or good reading ability, or they have other problems. By doing his work “in real earnest” the Theocratic School overseer will see advancement in the students as they respond to counsel and direction. This will be reflected in their comments at meetings and in more effective service in the field.
7. (a) When one conducts the Watchtower study or congregation book study, what does presiding involve? (b) Understanding what Psalm 25:4, 5 and Proverbs 16:9 say helps an elder toward what objectives when teaching?
7 Those who preside as Watchtower study and congregation book study conductors should have these same principles in mind. They are not merely conductors in the sense that they just ask questions and call on those in the audience for answers. Their presiding in a meaningful way calls for keeping the study interesting and alive, emphasizing key scriptures, seeing that proper application of such texts is made and aiding everyone to see the practical value of important points covered. If some are hesitant about participating, a personal word of encouragement may be sufficient to start them commenting at meetings. Those who preside should strive to become more effective teachers, aiming to reach hearts, thus motivating the brothers to walk in Jehovah’s ways and providing Scriptural direction to that end.—Ps. 25:4, 5; Prov. 16:9.
PRESIDING WITH HUMILITY
8. (a) What do all of us need to work on in cultivating humility? (b) How do humility and “confidential talk” help elders?
8 Right after counseling older men to shepherd the flock, the apostle Peter touched on something that we all need to work on. “All of you gird yourselves with lowliness of mind toward one another. . . . Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” (1 Pet. 5:5, 6) Humility helps elders especially in their communication and dealings with one another. Each elder should determine whether he presents truly vital information when matters come up for attention. Men who consult with one another are respected by their fellows and the whole congregation. Frequent communication and “confidential talk” regarding the interests of the flock bring practical results. Otherwise, what might be initially planned may not work out so well if elders do not ‘keep in touch to see how matters are progressing toward accomplishment. This is emphasized at Proverbs 15:22: “There is a frustrating of plans where there is no confidential talk, but in the multitude of counselors there is accomplishment.” Humility paves the way for closer ties among elders and smoother relationships with all in the congregation.
9. (a) How does the presiding overseer’s handling of correspondence affect communication with the elders? With the congregation? (b) What results when the presiding overseer properly fulfills his role in this regard?
9 The presiding overseer who serves as chairman particularly must keep a balanced view. He should see that what is decided upon by the body of elders is followed through on. It is not just at elders’ meetings that communication should be encouraged. There should be a natural desire to keep one another up-to-date on vital matters affecting the brothers and the work as a whole. This requires the presiding overseer to handle all correspondence with the branch office, convention committees, traveling overseers or elders in other congregations. After reading such, he will see that matters directed to the entire body of elders are conveyed as soon as possible. Information addressed to the congregation should be passed on in full. In this he cannot afford to be careless or negligent. It is impossible for him to do everything himself, and so he enlists the aid of others so that the necessary things get done. Each elder has his assigned work, but all cooperate together. Where major matters are concerned the presiding overseer does not act unilaterally but he consults with other elders either formally or informally. (Prov. 18:1) This makes for good order, resulting in proper attention’s being given to the spirituality of the brothers and the Kingdom work generally.
10. (a) How could the congregation’s unity be sacrificed, even as Paul warned at Galatians 5:15, 25, 26? (b) As shown in Romans chapter 12, Philippians chapter 2 and Ephesians chapter 4, what qualities should elders be careful to cultivate?
10 Occasionally, there may be someone in the body of elders who wants to project himself above others. If a competitive spirit develops or exists it indicates a lack of humility. One elder may feel strongly about personal ideas that lack merit according to the judgment of the body of elders. If he seeks support for such ideas by stirring up sympathy among others, the congregation’s unity is likely to be sacrificed. (Gal. 5:15, 25, 26) In order to avoid any such tendencies each elder should constantly examine himself, being careful “not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think.” (Rom. 12:3, 10) To preside in a fine way all elders want to “work hard,” but they should take care to do so with a right motive, an earnest desire to help the flock in all humility.—Phil. 2:5-8, 14-18; Eph. 4:1-3.
HUMILITY HELPS TO RESOLVE DIFFERENCES
11. (a) Explain how varying opinions can be helpful at times. (b) At their meetings, how should elders feel about expressing themselves, but what do they avoid?
11 There are times when matters come up on which there are divided opinions. People have varying backgrounds and experiences and so naturally will draw different conclusions. Different opinions can provide a stimulating basis for examining one’s own viewpoints to test their soundness. A person may feel that his personal presentation of a matter sounds plausible and right, and yet, as Proverbs 18:17 reminds us, “his fellow comes in and certainly searches him through,” by means of a more objective approach and Scriptural argument. This would certainly apply to a discussion among elders where such process is required to resolve some question or problem affecting the spiritual welfare of our brothers. So it is expected that elders can have honest differences of opinion where there is no clear principle or guideline provided. At their meetings they should freely express themselves, but apart from wrangling, “wrath and debates.”—1 Tim. 2:8.
12. (a) In considering the account at Acts chapter 15, what are some things to look for and learn? (b) What was the nature and magnitude of the problem described at Acts 15:1, 2?
12 We can learn much about the value of humility and the factors that serve to resolve disputes by considering what happened at a meeting of apostles and older men in the first century. The record is found in Acts chapter 15. It was at Antioch in Syria that Paul and Barnabas “had been entrusted to the undeserved kindness of God for the work they had fully performed.” (Acts 14:26) But on returning there from that first missionary journey, they encountered a problem: “Certain men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: ‘Unless you get circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ But when there had occurred no little dissension and disputing by Paul and Barnabas with them, they arranged for Paul and Barnabas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and older men in Jerusalem regarding this dispute.” (Acts 15:1, 2) Here was a major doctrinal matter causing considerable disturbance to the brothers. It had to be resolved.
13. At Acts 15:7, how are we to understand the use of the expression “much disputing”?
13 Appropriately, the problem was brought to the attention of the responsible elders at Jerusalem. The Bible record tells us what took place. Though there were differences of viewpoint initially, they finally reached “unanimous accord.” (Acts 15:25) But in view of what Acts 15:7 says, was there not “much disputing” at the meeting? The Greek term for “disputing” is related to the verb meaning “to seek” (Kingdom Interlinear Translation); it thus indicates that to find the truth, or the best manner of doing something, diligent effort is required in searching out a matter—questioning, discussing things and thus arriving at a right conclusion. With this thought in mind we can read the account with interest, noting how developments were guided by holy spirit.
14, 15. (a) What did Peter, then Paul and Barnabas and finally James contribute to that historic council’s discussion? (b) What factors led to the “unanimous accord” reached on that occasion?
14 After “much disputing,” Peter related his experience in being used by Jehovah to open the way for Gentiles to hear the good news. He raised a question as to whether it was reasonable to impose burdens on such Gentile believers since it is God’s undeserved kindness through Jesus Christ that makes salvation possible. Next, note the respectful silence mentioned in verse twelve as Paul and Barnabas added their testimony. These traveling apostles (“sent forth ones” from the Antioch congregation) had received evidence of God’s blessing by “many signs and portents” as they preached among the nations. This supported Peter’s recommendation of what should be done.—Acts 15:7-12.
15 Then James requested to be heard. He drew on the words of the prophets, such as at Amos 9:11, 12, which agreed with what Peter had related and confirmed what God’s spirit had accomplished through Paul and Barnabas. James thus had the support of the Scriptures and backing of God’s spirit for his decision. From that strong position he proposed that they write to those believers from the nations who were turning to God, telling them what God’s requirements really were for them. The apostles and older men had come to a unanimous accord. A controversial matter had been resolved in all humility.—Acts 15:13-29.
16. Even though one may hold a different view on some point, what spirit should prevail among elders and in the congregation?
16 If “unanimous accord” is not possible in a body of elders, one with a different view should not take exception to what has been decided by showing a spirit of animosity. He will want to continue to “work hard” with the whole body. The congregation will thus retain confidence in them, knowing that all are working in unity. Walking with “complete lowliness of mind” elders will be strengthening the bond of peace.—Eph. 4:2, 3.
17. What sound counsel should younger men and those older in years have in mind when there is a meeting of elders, and why?
17 When elders meet together younger men especially should listen carefully to those older in years and more experienced in Christian living, realizing what Proverbs 16:31 says: “Gray-headedness is a crown of beauty when it is found in the way of righteousness.” On the other hand, older men should recognize that a younger man may have the correct viewpoint about a certain matter. So the merit is to be found in the sound wisdom expressed, not necessarily in the age of the speaker. In expressing themselves, however, younger ones should be respectful of age, even as Timothy no doubt showed respect for Paul and his counsel, and as Elihu exercised restraint, biding his time to speak, out of regard for age.—1 Tim. 5:1, 19; Job 32:6-9.
18. Though the apostles gave attention to “necessary business,” as indicated at Acts 6:1-6, what received greater emphasis?
18 While elders may spend much time at some meetings with problems connected with the Kingdom Hall or other “necessary business,” they should keep these matters incidental to the more important things that affect the spirituality of the flock. (Acts 6:1-6; Phil. 1:9, 10) In this way they will preside in a fine way.
19. (a) In contrast with the way worldly rulers deal with people, what is the arrangement among us, in line with the counsel of Jesus and of Paul? (b) What are the benefits of having elders who preside in a fine way?
19 Looking at the deplorable confusion in this world, how thankful we are for elders in Jehovah’s congregation earth wide who preside in a fine way! Mankind gropes for a way out of its problems, its rulers ‘lording it over them’ rather than leading in a loving, helpful, refreshing way. (Matt. 20:25-27) Among us we have spiritually mature men who are examples to the flock, and we have regard for them as they preside over us. (1 Thess. 5:12, 13) Not any one man in the congregation, city, country or section of the world does this, but all elders, within their assigned sphere, have the responsibility to preside. With the loving help and direction provided by this multitude of counselors, the work of Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making moves forward to a successful completion. The congregation is unified in its efforts under elders who preside in a fine way. We are thus brought into closer alignment with Jesus Christ’s headship, all to the glory of Jehovah.