‘Remember Those Taking the Lead Among You’
“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.”—HEBREWS 13:7.
1. What changes took place regarding true worship in the late 19th century, but how were Christian elders chosen?
IN THE last quarter of the 19th century true worship began to be restored by means of a small group of dedicated Bible students associated with Charles Taze Russell in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They first sought a restoration of true Bible doctrine, clean from the contamination of Babylonish tradition and philosophy. However, the initial process of restoration was slower in the field of congregation organization. Although the Bible Students had elders and deacons (ministerial servants), false religious ideas still prevailed in some respects. Thus right into the 20th century elders were chosen by the congregations through a democratic voting process, indicated by a show of hands.
2. Nevertheless, what high standard was set for elders among Jehovah’s people?
2 Even so, a high standard was demanded, for The Watch Tower of November 1, 1909, said on page 325: “In the selection of Elders the consecrated should remember that the responsibility rests upon them; and no vote should be cast without studious consideration of the Divine will, and prayer for Divine guidance.” The article went on to emphasize three characteristics of a good elder: (1) He was to be adept at teaching; (2) he should teach truth and not error; and (3) humility and piety were “paramount and primary qualifications for eldership.”
Theocratic Order Restored
3, 4. What historic changes took place regarding appointments to congregational responsibility in (a) 1919? (b) 1932? (c) 1938? and (d) 1971?
3 In 1919 a first step was taken to restore theocratic control of appointments. The congregations were invited to recommend a zealous brother as service “director,” to take the lead in preaching. He would not be subject to local yearly election but would be appointed directly by the Watch Tower Society, the legal representative of the congregation of the anointed. Then in 1932 the elective elders who were to have cooperated with the service “director” were replaced by a service committee of mature brothers filling various service positions in the congregation but still elected by the congregation. The term “elder” was dropped in favor of “company servant,” “Bible study servant,” and so forth.
4 The complete break with elections did not take place until 1938, when it was shown that the power of appointment rested with the Governing Body of the worldwide Christian congregation. From that time onward, qualified men were appointed directly by the Society as “servants” to care for various duties in the congregation. However, in the Watchtower issues of November 15 and December 15, 1971, a further clearer understanding of the roles of the elder and overseer was presented. Valid reasons were given for a return to the Bible terminology of older man, or elder (presbýteros), and overseer (epískopos).
5. (a) Why must special care be taken in the recommending of elders? (b) What factors should be taken into account?
5 Once again the high standards set by holy spirit and stated in God’s Word were emphasized. And why is that? Because to be worthy of respect the elder has to be “taking the lead” in Christian conduct and in the ministry before his recommendation and appointment. (Hebrews 13:7, 17) Therefore, the bodies of elders should not act hastily in making recommendations of new elders. (1 Timothy 3:6; 5:22) Remember, often much more time and discussion are involved in removing an unqualified elder than in recommending his appointment. In fact, an additional guideline to follow is whether the congregation already before his appointment treats the brother as if he were an elder. Has he so gained their respect by fulfilling Bible requirements that there is no doubt about the recommendation?
‘Presiding Over His Household in a Fine Manner’
6. What are some of the qualifications for an elder in relation to his family?
6 Let us briefly review some of the qualifications for an elder as the apostle Paul states them and see what they mean in practical terms today. Paul wrote:
“If there is any man free from accusation, a husband of one wife, having believing children that were not under a charge of debauchery nor unruly.”—Titus 1:6.
“The overseer should therefore be . . . a man presiding over his own household in a fine manner, having children in subjection with all seriousness; (if indeed any man does not know how to preside over his own household, how will he take care of God’s congregation?).”—1 Timothy 3:2, 4, 5.
7. What kind of delicate balance is required between the elder’s responsibility to his family and to the congregation?
7 The requirement of properly caring for one’s household presents a challenge for many elders. How can an elder take the lead in the congregation and yet not neglect the spiritual and emotional needs of his wife and children? It is not easy. Certainly, spiritual maturity is required to keep a fine balance between these responsibilities. Sometimes members of the congregation demand time and attention that the elder rightfully should give to his family. Why is his concern for his family so vital? Because if he neglects his family relationships or the minor dependent children turn spiritually delinquent, then, regardless of all his abilities and zeal, he will no longer qualify to be an elder. Therefore, we should remember that shepherding begins at home! Yes, a careful balance has to be manifested, by both the elder and his family, and also the congregation in its demands.—Ephesians 5:28-33; 6:4; 1 Timothy 5:8; 1 Peter 3:7.
‘Not Self-Willed But Reasonable’
8, 9. What qualities should an elder manifest in his relations with others?
8 Another series of requirements has a great bearing on how the elder treats his fellow elders and the congregation in general. As Paul puts it in his letters to Titus and Timothy:
“For an overseer must be free from accusation as God’s steward, not self-willed, not prone to wrath, . . . not a smiter, . . . self-controlled.”—Titus 1:7, 8.
“Not a smiter, but reasonable, not belligerent.”—1 Timothy 3:3.
9 These requirements indicate that an elder must be Christlike in personality. That surely is a high standard. But the standard is the same for every Christian! We all have to be imitators of Christ, and that means we must be peaceable. (1 Corinthians 11:1) As the Bible writer James expressed it: “The wisdom from above is first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey, full of mercy and good fruits . . . Moreover, the fruit of righteousness has its seed sown under peaceful conditions for those who are making peace.”—James 3:17, 18.
10, 11. (a) How could an elder’s attitude affect a congregation? (b) Even when there are differences of opinion, what attitudes should prevail?
10 As elders, do we ‘make peace’? No elder would want to be a cause of strife and contention. A body of elders should set a good example in this respect. Thus, the congregation will not be upset because of disputes among the elders. Let all of us remember the words of Paul: “I desire that in every place the men carry on prayer, lifting up loyal hands, apart from wrath and debates.”—1 Timothy 2:8.
11 Occasionally, there will be differences of opinion. The reasonable man, although perhaps having a strong personality, will not be self-willed and obstinate. He will be willing to yield when Scriptural principles are not involved. And when they are involved he will see the wisdom of maintaining self-control. He will call to mind the principle expressed at 1 Corinthians 13:4, 5 that love “does not become provoked.”—Colossians 3:12-14.
‘Holding to the Faithful Word’
12. What further vital requirement does Paul highlight?
12 What will help an elder to develop further the essential qualifications? In fact, in some cases, what can he do to retain them? We have the answer in Paul’s words:
“Holding firmly to the faithful word as respects his art of teaching, that he may be able both to exhort by the teaching that is healthful and to reprove those who contradict.”—Titus 1:9.
“Qualified to teach.”—1 Timothy 3:2.
13. How should an elder pay special attention to his spiritual health?
13 What can an elder do in order to ‘hold firmly to the faithful word’ and be “qualified to teach”? First, he must regularly set aside time for personal Bible study. This includes his preparation for Christian meetings and speaking assignments. For the sake of his own spiritual health, this preparation should not be superficial. For example, he may be able to underline the answers for a Watchtower study article in a short time, but does that mean that the material has been studied? Does he thoroughly understand the development of the theme? Have the cited Bible texts been checked to determine their application? Obviously, that is impossible in a brief session of underlining. Personal study and family study require time.—Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2; 77:6, 12.
14. What can an elder do in order to pay attention to his art of teaching?
14 Secondly, since a busy schedule does not allow time for everything, an elder must pay special attention to Christian publications and articles that have a direct bearing on his ‘art of teaching, exhortation and giving reproof.’ A simple help in that respect is to keep a neat and tidy personal library. An elder especially needs to have quick access to accurate Scriptural information, and that means making regular use of Watch Tower publication indexes. Why is all of this so important? The apostle Paul wrote: “Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching. Stay by these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.”—1 Timothy 4:16.
15. Why is unscriptural counsel dangerous?
15 Yes, life and salvation can be involved in an elder’s counsel. For example, in matters affecting abortion, blood transfusions and Christian neutrality an elder can have a profound effect for good or for bad on his own conscience and that of others, as well as on people’s relationship with Jehovah. Therefore, we can see it is not wise to try to answer questions when we are not absolutely sure of the Bible principles involved. Counsel lacking a sound Scriptural basis could cause irreparable damage.—Philippians 1:9, 10.
16. Why have some elders fallen into gross sin, and is this a light matter?
16 Another reason for paying attention to yourself as an elder is the need to cultivate and maintain an intimate relationship with Jehovah. Sadly some elders have neglected this relationship to the point of falling into such sins as adultery. How could this be possible? Simply because they have allowed Jehovah and his promises to recede into the background. Their spiritual vision has become blurred, and selfish fleshly desires have taken over. Indifferent to reproach on Jehovah’s holy name and the suffering caused to their loved ones, a few elders have been disloyal to their marriage vows. Certainly, such men have been causes for stumbling. Their sin cannot be lightly excused or dismissed, just because we live in an age of sexual permissiveness.—Matthew 13:41; 18:7-9; Hebrews 13:4.
Faithful Elders and Their Wives
17. What fine example are the majority of the elders setting?
17 On the other hand, it must also be stated that, with few exceptions, the elders worldwide have stood firm for integrity and truth. Their fine example in more than 45,000 congregations is a source of encouragement to God’s people. During these “critical times hard to deal with,” diligent overseers have been busy day and night, like the apostle Paul. (2 Timothy 3:1; Acts 20:31) These elders are willing to visit the spiritually sick person in his home, regardless of such things as distance or weather conditions. And how fine it is to see these ‘older men’ taking the lead in field service on a regular basis!
18. What fine role do elders’ wives play in the congregation?
18 We also greatly appreciate the sacrifices the elders’ wives sometimes have to make! At times, such women are left at home while their husbands attend special meetings or are making shepherding calls. Sometimes carefully made personal plans have been set aside because of some urgent problem in the congregation. Yes, we commend these fine sisters, too, who circumspectly avoid trying to draw out their husbands on confidential matters. They show respect for the elders and are an asset to the congregation.—Compare Romans 16:12; Titus 2:3-5.
19. (a) What does being an elder mean? (b) What question might dedicated men who are not elders ask themselves?
19 When we review the role of the elders in the Christian congregation today and see how the great majority are self-sacrificing and are taking the lead in a fine way, our hearts go out in gratitude to Jehovah for his having instituted this loving arrangement. Capable men, who appreciate spiritual values, making themselves available for service in the congregation! That is why Paul could say to Timothy: “If any man is reaching out for an office of overseer, he is desirous of a fine work.” That “fine work” does not imply position, power and prestige, as in Christendom. It calls for selflessness, sacrifice and service. If you are a dedicated and baptized man who is not yet an elder, are you willing to reach out for that responsibility with a pure motive?—1 Timothy 3:1; Luke 17:10.
20, 21. (a) How should we view the faithful elders in the congregation? (b) By doing this, what else do we manifest?
20 Those who are faithfully taking the lead are respected in the congregation. Loyal ones in the congregation willingly respond to their loving example and follow Paul’s counsel: “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.”—Hebrews 13:7, 17.
21 Let all of us show submissiveness to the theocratic arrangement and respect for the elders who are genuinely taking the lead, that they may do so with joy and not with sighing. By doing this, we show that we also respect the Supreme Overseer, Jehovah, and his Deputy Overseer, Jesus Christ.—1 Peter 2:25; Revelation 1:1; 2:1–3:22.
Do You Recall?
□ What high standard was required for the “elective elders”?
□ From 1919 to 1938, what steps were taken to restore theocratic order in the Christian organization?
□ To fulfill his responsibilities to his family and the congregation, what balance must an elder maintain?
□ In their relationships with others, what outstanding qualities should the elders manifest?
□ Why is it vital that an elder ‘hold firmly to the faithful word’?
□ Why should we be grateful for the elder arrangement in the congregation?
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An elder wisely spends time with his family in the field ministry
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He also schedules time to enjoy wholesome recreation with his loved ones