By Dr. Barry Thornton
Many of us have known men in churches we have attended who exemplified the positive qualities of an elder. These men were not only qualified biblically, but took their calling seriously enough to model positive leadership qualities for others to emulate.
I could call several leaders I have worked with “five star elders.” I could easily point out men like Ken Helm, an elder who taught me at my home church in Mason, Ohio as a junior high student, or Jeff Crothers, an elder in Chesterton, Indiana who never complained, knew the core values of the eldership, and lived them. I could easily point out elders at the Jerome Christian Church in Greentown, Indiana, or the elders I worked with at the Paseo Verde Christian Church in Peoria, Arizona. Truly, to give tribute to all of them in written form would result in a book, not an article! I admire and salute each of them.
Here I wish to honor three men who were shining examples to the congregations they served. It was my privilege to work with each of them in various leadership capacities.
In 1995 Marc Shockley was ordained as an elder, having looked to his father, Guy, and grandfather, Fay, as examples of elders before him. Marc relates that both his father and grandfather were quiet but determined leaders.
Marc’s greatest passion and joy as an elder is seeing lost people baptized into Christ. He admits that he still sheds tears of joy when witnessing a baptism. Marc’s passion for the lost does not stop at the baptistery. He sees the greatest challenge of being an elder as teaching new believers the responsibilities of discipleship. Marc’s formula for aspiring elders is summarized in three suggestions: pray, be a shepherd and servant, and continue your personal development as a learner.
Marc sees pitfalls in some of the modern day seeker-friendly models of church growth and is concerned over the lack of teaching about New Testament Christianity. This is often coupled with a lack of proactivity among churches in regard to the moral decline of our culture.
When asked what he would share with aspiring young preachers, Marc challenged them to preach the Word without reservation and to work shoulder to shoulder with the elders for and with the church. As Marc says, “This is a team effort. We’re not individual medalists.” Marc also challenges preachers to delegate wisely while concentrating on their preaching duties. I can attest to the fact that Marc sees leadership as a partnership, not partisanship. His service with the Paseo Verde Christian Church has been purposeful and faithful through the years.
Dick Moser became an elder with the Jerome Christian Church in Greentown, Indiana at age 27, having been a Christian for seven years. Dick recalls a number of godly men who encouraged him in his formative years as an elder: Fred Passwater, Bob Ellis, Don Graf, Bob Hill, Jim Gritton, Frank Conway, Francis Echelbarger, Lucius Hensler, Jean Mallott, Ferris Petty, Basil Teter, and C.P. Steward.
He continued to learn from great preachers and authors like Cecil Todd, Don DeWelt, Jack Cottrell, Ed Bousman, George Faull, R.C. Foster, and Carl Ketcherside. Having known Dick for several years, I can attest that the influence of these men made him a great elder.
After 42 years, Dick recently stepped down as an elder. He says some of his greatest joys as an elder were times when he was able to witness the transforming power of God’s Word and prayer in others’ lives. One of the things I’ve appreciated about Dick is his transparency. One pitfall he relates was his desire to be well liked, which often created conflict in his personal service. Taking comments personally was also a joy killer for Dick.
Dick relates that just as elders have responsibilities to the congregation, the congregation has responsibilities to the elders as well. Congregations should recognize and appreciate the elders they have. Elders have a special calling in the church, but they are not supermen. They need encouragement, too.
Congregations are to esteem their elders highly in love (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13). Congregations are to entreat elders as fathers (1 Timothy 5:1). Respect and humility in approaching them is a congregational responsibility. Congregations are to receive no accusations against elders without proof. Elders can come under fire by naysayers. Disagreements should be handled according to the principles laid out in Matthew 18.
Congregations are to be at peace. Stirring controversy always hurts a church and makes an elder’s calling burdensome. Congregations are to call on their elders when they are in need. Elders can’t be aware of every problem and should be called when needs arise.
Dick’s advice to aspiring elders is summarized in a few sentences. Be capable teachers. Shepherd the church. Practice good stewardship. Be examples to the flock. Dick laments what he sees as a recession of evangelism from the core values of the local church. In their headlong rush to become relevant, some churches have forgotten the benevolent work they are called to.
Dick doesn’t mince words when asked, “What three thoughts would you share with future and current preachers?” Simply stated, “Don’t do the work of the elders, deacons, or members. Be an equipper.” Dick also states that preachers should understand that everyone is called to be a minister. Finally, Dick relates that being an elder is ultimately a matter of the heart and a matter of qualification, spelled out in the letters to Timothy and Titus.
Mike Smith became an elder in 1986, having been mentored by his father, Joe Carson Smith, a dynamic preacher. Joe started several churches in the state of Arizona and stands as a stalwart advocate for the faith.
Mike relates that his greatest joys through the years have come in fellowship with believers and sharing significant moments with those he worked alongside. In Mike’s own words, “Often the Lord imbeds joy within hardship and grief, sometimes during times of stress, duress, and hard work. Without the hardship and grief, the toils and troubles, we would miss the joy the Lord has hidden for us along the way.”
Mike relates that his greatest challenge as an elder has been to “grow a thick skin” and learn to receive criticism without taking offense. Mike suggests that elders should listen to others, share counsel with fellow elders, and ultimately seek God’s favor, not men’s favor.
Mike believes the church is headed toward revival. He suggests that preachers follow P.H. Welshimer’s advice: Stay put. Be an encourager. Lead but don’t ‘drive’ the flock. Mike’s philosophy for the eldership is simple. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Leave room in your heart for your wife and family, too! Without their partnership, you will not be effective in your ministry. If you are not serving your family, you have no business being an elder.” Mike served his years as an elder with the Camelback Christian Church in Scottsdale, Arizona.
These three men come from different backgrounds, but they share the same passion and challenges as elders. I am thankful to have worked with each of them. Dick Moser used to take me to lunch almost every week, always paying the tab and saying, “That’s my job, son!” It was just one of many ways he encouraged me through my tenure as senior minister of the Greentown church. A generous spirit from a generous man!
Marc Shockley was a great influence in leading the Paseo Verde church through a major building program while I served there. His steady, consistent hand helped the church grow.
While working with Mike Smith to organize a regional family camp, I saw him as a man with a shepherd’s heart, an encourager, and a friend. These three men are worthy of honor for their faithful service to the Lord’s church.
Dr. Barry Thornton is a minister and freelance writer in Moberly, Missouri.
Resources for the Whole Church
40 Questions About Elders and Deacons
by Benjamin L. Merkle
(Kregel Academic & Professional, 2008)
Elders and Leaders: God’s Plan for Leading the Church
by Gene A. Getz
(Moody Publishers, 2003)
They Smell Like Sheep: Spiritual Leadership for the 21st Century
by Lynn Anderson
(Howard Books, 1997)
“How Congregations with Authority Submit to Elders” by Bobby Jamieson
“Dealing with Elders in the Church” by Ray Fowler