PETER wept bitterly after he denied knowing Jesus. Though the apostle would have to struggle to regain his spiritual balance, Jesus wanted to use him to help others. Hence, Jesus told him: “Once you have returned, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32, 54-62) Peter went on to become one of the pillars of the first-century Christian congregation. (Gal. 2:9) Similarly, a man who once served as an elder may be able to shoulder that responsibility again and find joy in strengthening fellow believers spiritually.
Some who at one time served as overseers have been removed, and that may have resulted in a feeling of failure. Julio,* who served as an elder in South America for over 20 years, said: “Preparing talks, visiting the brothers, and shepherding members of the congregation filled such a large part of my life! Suddenly it was gone, leaving a gaping hole in my life. All in all, this was a traumatic period.” Today, Julio again serves as an elder.
“CONSIDER IT ALL JOY”
The disciple James wrote: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet with various trials.” (Jas. 1:2) James was referring to trials that result from persecution and from our imperfection. He mentioned selfish desires, showing favoritism, and so forth. (Jas. 1:14; 2:1; 4:1, 2, 11) When Jehovah disciplines us, the experience may be painful. (Heb. 12:11) But such trials need not rob us of joy.
Even if we have been removed from a position of responsibility in the congregation, we still have an opportunity to examine the quality of our faith and demonstrate our love for Jehovah. We can also reflect on why we served. Was it for our own benefit, or were we moved to reach out for such a privilege because of our love for God and our conviction that the congregation belongs to him and deserves tender care? (Acts 20:28-30) Former elders who joyfully continue to render sacred service prove to all, including Satan, that their love for Jehovah is genuine.
When King David was disciplined for committing serious sins, he accepted the reproof and was forgiven. David sang: “Happy is the one whose transgression is pardoned, whose sin is covered. Happy is the man whom Jehovah does not charge with guilt, in whose spirit there is no deceit.” (Ps. 32:1, 2) Discipline refined David and undoubtedly made him a better shepherd of God’s people.
Often, brothers who return to serve as elders become finer shepherds than they were before. “Now I understand better how to care for those who make a mistake,” said one such elder. Another elder stated: “Now I place a higher value on my privilege of serving the brothers.”
CAN YOU RETURN?
“[Jehovah] will not always find fault,” wrote the psalmist. (Ps. 103:9) So we should not think that God would never again trust a person who made a serious error. “I was bitterly disappointed by my own failure,” says Ricardo, who lost his privileges as an elder after serving in that capacity for many years. “For a long time, my feelings of inadequacy prevented me from returning to serve the brothers as an overseer. I lacked confidence that I could again prove myself trustworthy. But since I enjoy helping others, I was able to conduct Bible studies, encourage the brothers at the Kingdom Hall, and work with them in the field ministry. That helped me regain my confidence, and now I am again serving as an elder.”
Harboring resentment can hinder a brother from serving as an elder. How much better it is to be like Jehovah’s servant David, who had to flee from jealous King Saul! David refused to take revenge on Saul, even when opportunities to do so arose. (1 Sam. 24:4-7; 26:8-12) When Saul died in battle, David mourned his death, referring to him and his son Jonathan as “beloved and cherished” individuals. (2 Sam. 1:21-23) David did not harbor resentment.
If you feel that you are the victim of a misunderstanding or an injustice, do not allow resentment to dominate your thoughts. For example, when William was relieved of his responsibilities as an elder after serving for some 30 years in that capacity in Britain, he felt resentment toward some of the elders. What helped William to regain his balance? “Reading the book of Job encouraged me,” he said. “If Jehovah helped Job to make peace with his three companions, how much more would He help me to make peace with the Christian elders!”
GOD BLESSES THOSE WHO AGAIN SERVE AS SHEPHERDS
If you chose to step aside from shepherding the flock of God, it would be good to consider why you did so. Were you overwhelmed by personal problems? Did other things become more important in your life? Were you discouraged by the imperfections of others? Whatever the case, remember that you were in a position to help others in more ways when you served as an elder. Your talks strengthened them, your example encouraged them, and your shepherding visits helped them to endure their trials. Your work as a faithful elder made Jehovah’s heart rejoice, even as it did yours.
Jehovah has helped men to recover their joy and their desire to take the lead in the congregation. If you stepped aside from serving as an elder or were removed, you can again ‘reach out to be an overseer.’ (1 Tim. 3:1) Paul “never stopped praying” that the Colossian Christians might be filled with the accurate knowledge of God’s will “so as to walk worthily of Jehovah in order to please him fully.” (Col. 1:9, 10) If you are again privileged to serve as an elder, look to Jehovah for strength, patience, and joy. In these last days, God’s people need the spiritual support of loving shepherds. Are you able and willing to strengthen your brothers?
Some names have been changed.