FERNANDO* was nervous. Two elders had asked to speak with him in private. After a number of recent visits of the circuit overseer, the elders had explained to him what he needed to do in order to qualify for additional privileges in the congregation. As time went on, Fernando began wondering if he would ever be appointed an elder. Now the circuit overseer had recently visited the congregation again. What would the elders say this time?
Fernando listened as one of the elders spoke to him. The brother alluded to 1 Timothy 3:1 and said that the congregation elders had received word that he had been appointed an elder. Fernando sat up straight and asked, “What did you say?” The brother repeated what he had said, and a smile appeared on Fernando’s face. Thereafter, when his appointment was announced to the congregation, there were smiles on the faces of all.
Is it wrong to desire privileges in the congregation? Not at all. According to 1 Timothy 3:1, “if a man is reaching out to be an overseer, he is desirous of a fine work.” Many Christian men apply that encouragement and make spiritual progress to qualify for privileges in the congregation. The result is that God’s people are blessed with tens of thousands of capable elders and ministerial servants. But because of the increase seen in the congregations, there is a need for more brothers to reach out. What is the proper way to do so? And should those aspiring to be an overseer worry about the matter, as Fernando did?
WHAT DOES “REACHING OUT” MEAN?
The Bible phrase “reaching out” translates a Greek verb that has the sense of desiring earnestly, stretching out. That may make you think of a person straining to grasp an attractive piece of fruit hanging from a tree. But reaching out does not mean grasping greedily at the privilege “to be an overseer.” Why not? Because the goal of those sincerely interested in serving as elders should be to do “a fine work” rather than to attain a position.
Many of the requirements related to this fine work are listed at 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Regarding those high standards, a longtime elder named Raymond explains: “To me, what matters most is what we are. Speaking and teaching are important, but those abilities do not override the need to be irreprehensible, moderate in habits, sound in mind, orderly, hospitable, and reasonable.”
A brother who is truly reaching out shows himself to be irreprehensible by avoiding every sort of dishonesty and uncleanness. He is moderate in habits, sound in mind, orderly, and reasonable; hence, his fellow worshippers trust him to take the lead and help them with their problems. In being hospitable, he is a source of encouragement to young ones and those new in the truth. He brings comfort and assistance to the sick and the elderly because he is a lover of goodness. He develops these qualities to benefit others, not to advance his prospects of being appointed.*
The body of elders is happy to give counsel and encouragement, but satisfying the Scriptural requirements falls primarily on the individual who is reaching out. Henry, an experienced overseer, says: “If you are reaching out, work hard to prove that you are qualified.” Referring to Ecclesiastes 9:10, he explains: “‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do with all your might.’ Whatever assignment the elders give you, do your best. Love all the work you are given to do in the congregation, including sweeping the floor. In time, your work and efforts will be recognized.” If you wish to serve as an elder some day, be hardworking and trustworthy in all aspects of sacred service. Humility, not prideful ambition, should characterize your life.—Matt. 23:8-12.
REJECT INCORRECT THINKING AND ACTIONS
Some who are desirous of privileges in the congregation may be tempted to drop hints or may try to influence the body of elders. Others show displeasure when the elders offer them counsel. Such ones should ask themselves, ‘Do I want to further my own interests, or do I want humbly to care for Jehovah’s sheep?’
Those reaching out should not forget another requirement for elders, that of “becoming examples to the flock.” (1 Pet. 5:1-3) He who is an example to the congregation avoids devious thinking and actions. He cultivates patient endurance whether he is presently appointed or not. Becoming an elder does not miraculously free a man of human defects. (Num. 12:3; Ps. 106:32, 33) Also, a brother may not be ‘conscious of anything against himself,’ but others may have some reason to hold a less than favorable opinion of him. (1 Cor. 4:4) Hence, if the elders offer you sincere, Bible-based counsel, strive to listen without irritation. Then work at putting their counsel into practice.
WHAT IF THE WAIT IS LONG?
A number of brothers wait what seems to them to be a long time before they are appointed. If you have been “reaching out to be an overseer” for a number of years, do you sometimes get anxious? If so, note these inspired words: “Expectation postponed makes the heart sick, but a desire realized is a tree of life.”—Prov. 13:12.
A person may feel heartsick when a cherished goal seems to be unattainable. Abraham felt that way. Jehovah promised him a son, but years passed during which he and Sarah had no children. (Gen. 12:1-3, 7) In his advancing age, Abraham cried out: “Sovereign Lord Jehovah, what will you give me, seeing that I continue childless . . . You have given me no offspring.” Jehovah reassured him that His promise regarding a son would come true. But at least 14 more years passed before God carried out his word.—Gen. 15:2-4; 16:16; 21:5.
While he was waiting, did Abraham lose his joy in serving Jehovah? No. He never doubted God’s promise. He continued to look forward to a good outcome. The apostle Paul wrote: “After Abraham had shown patience, he obtained this promise.” (Heb. 6:15) In the end, Almighty God blessed that faithful man far beyond his expectations. What can you learn from Abraham?
If you would like to serve as an elder but that has not happened despite the passing of years, continue to trust in Jehovah. Do not lose your joy in his service. Warren, who has helped many brothers to make spiritual progress, explains why: “The process of qualifying for an appointment follows a progression. Over time, a brother’s abilities and his attitude are revealed little by little in the way he handles himself and takes care of his assignments. Some believe that they are successful only if they get this privilege or that appointment. Such thinking is erroneous and can turn into an obsession. If you serve Jehovah faithfully wherever you are and whatever you do, you are a success.”
One brother had waited for over a decade when he was appointed an elder. Referring to a well-known description in the book of Ezekiel, chapter 1, he relates the lesson he learned: “Jehovah drives his chariot, his organization, at the speed he chooses. What is important is not our time but Jehovah’s time. In the matter of wanting to serve as an elder, it’s not about me—what I want or what I wish I could be. What I want may not be what Jehovah knows I need.”
If you hope to do the fine work of a Christian overseer some day, reach out by contributing to the happiness of the congregation. If time seems to pass slowly, fight anxiety and impatience. Raymond, mentioned earlier, states: “Ambition is an enemy of contentment. Those who are always anxious miss the rich joy that comes from serving Jehovah.” Cultivate more fully the fruitage of God’s spirit, especially patience. Strive to improve your spirituality through your study of the Scriptures. Expand your share in preaching the good news and studying the Bible with interested ones. Lead your family in spiritual activities and in family worship. Enjoy each opportunity you have to be with your brothers and sisters. As you move forward toward your goal, you will enjoy the journey.
Working to qualify for privileges in the congregation is a blessed opportunity from Jehovah; neither he nor his organization desires that those reaching out become frustrated and unhappy in his service. God supports and blesses all who serve him with pure motives. As is true of all his blessings, “he adds no pain with it.”—Prov. 10:22.
Even if you have been reaching out for quite some time, you can still make excellent spiritual progress. As you strive to develop the needed qualities and work hard in the congregation while not neglecting your family, you will establish a record of service that will not be forgotten. May serving Jehovah always be a delight for you, whatever assignments you receive.
Names in this article have been changed.