It is easy to criticize the current elderhood in the assembly of which you are a part. It is easy to focus on their limitations and imperfections. Let’s look at a possible long-term cure. Look ahead thirty years. If the Lord has not come for His Church, then many present-day overseers will have fallen asleep in Christ and a number of men who are presently in their late teens or in their twenties will hopefully have been raised up by the Holy Spirit and have been sovereignly set as shepherds among the little flocks. Will you have been prepared for this sphere, which the Bible calls “a good work”? Let’s consider this preparation under the headings, the Will, the Work, the Walk, and the Word. Incidentally, in the Bible there are deacons and deaconesses; there are elders but no “elderesses.” While there are male and female spheres of service, leadership is always a masculine function. Is your Bible open?
“The word [is] faithful: if any one aspires to exercise oversight, he desires a good work” (1Ti 3:1 JND). Most translate the Greek word oregomai (Strong’s #3713) as “aspires to.” It is a word that means to stretch oneself out so as to reach. It implies a strong and burning desire. It is used of a negative desire in 1 Timothy 6:10 and of a positive desire in Hebrews 11:16. It is not a fleshly desire for leadership and the building up of one’s ego. Spiritual desire is exemplified for us in 2 Corinthians 8:16 (ESV): “But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you.” Fleshly desire is seen in Mark 9:33-37 where the disciples showed how unlike their Lord they were when they disputed among themselves as to who would be greater. See the lesson from the Lowly Lord: “And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all’” (Mar 9:35 ESV). Incidentally, the word “office” (1Ti 3:1) used in many translations is unfortunate. It does not appear in the original text. Overseership is a work; it is not a position!
The question “how shall he take care of the assembly of God?” (1Ti 3:5 JND) is a cogent summary of the good work of overseership. The word translated “take care of” is epimeleomai (#1959), and is found elsewhere in the NT only in Luke 10:34-35 where the Saving Samaritan who had rescued the wounded traveler from death brought him to the inn and commanded the innkeeper to “take care of him.” The host was given a present reward and the promise of a future reward commensurate with the effort expended!
Consider that in the original the expression is “church of God” (1Ti 3:5) without the definite article, giving us the right to read it as “church of God,” indicating its essential character, or as “a church of God.” The latter shows us that the sphere of service is limited to one local church. New Testament churches are autonomous. There are no “mother churches,” and there is no central oversight over a number of assemblies.
Note also that the work is a spiritual work. There may be many things that elders do. However, if the activities are not impacting the lives of believers, then they are not part of the good work of 1 Timothy 3:1. There has developed a major problem in many assemblies. Overseers have busied themselves doing the work of deacons and have left the true work of overseeing and feeding the flock to visiting preachers.
The walk of the overseer as described in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4 does not begin when one is officially recognized as an elder. The apostles emphasized the character of the person who is to be recognized – personally, parentally, professionally and pastorally. These are not characteristics to be displayed later in life but is character to be exemplified in the preparatory years.
The one who will do this “good work” must become a feeder of sheep. He must be a man of the Book. He is not just a decision maker; he must be a dispenser of spiritual food. Consider some of the shepherds of the Bible. Abel was a feeder of sheep (Gen 4:2). Jacob spent twenty years caring for the flocks of Laban and learned that “the children are frail, and that the nursing flocks and herds are a care to me. If they are driven hard for one day, all the flocks will die … I will lead on slowly, at the pace of the livestock that are ahead of me and at the pace of the children” (Gen 33:13-14 ESV). Moses was to become a leader of Israel, so God arranged for him to spend about forty preparatory years caring for and guiding the flock of Jethro his father-in-law (Exo 3:1). David was often identified as being “with the sheep” (1Sa 16:19). Consider what Asaph wrote: “He also chose David His servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from the care of the ewes with suckling lambs He brought him to shepherd Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance. So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands” (Psa 78:70-72 NASB).
How can one become a feeder/shepherd of the sheep? Are there any shortcuts? Are there university courses that will prepare one? Can one fill his mind with motivational, self-help books? Will para-psychology feed the flock? One needs a personal, disciplined study plan that is an outgrowth of a love for the Scriptures. He will need a library of helps from men who have labored in the Scriptures and who were well taught by their previous generations.
Do not say that you wish to be a shepherd of the “non-feeding variety”!