Counsel for Christians in Crisis: Relationship with Elders

Is this really a problem? Does it even matter? Let me relate my story growing up in a home where Dad was the ultimate authority (what a Biblical concept!), and I was chafing under his authority because I thought I was the captain of my own ship and didn’t need anyone to guide me. I thought I knew the goal and I knew how to get there. Does this sound like a typical teenage mind?

I didn’t come to grips with my problem until I was 26 years old. I was married, we had a child on the way, I had just started a business relationship with my father, and I seriously needed an attitude adjustment. This is exactly what Scripture mandates in Ephesians 6:2: “Honor your father and mother.” Attitude is everything in the relationship between children and parents, and attitude is everything in my relationship with elders as well.  Romans 13:7 tells us to render honor to whom honor is due, and this includes elders.

Most of the Scriptures dealing with our relationship with elders discuss our attitude. There are five words which sum up how God wants me to view my elders: esteem, remember, obey, love, and, of course, honor, which we have just considered.

Like a lot of things in life, attitude is a two-way street. It is always much easier to show esteem, remembrance, obedience, love, and honor to someone who has first reached out to us in a similar way. Those expecting esteem must first esteem those from whom it is expected. The same goes for the other four responsibilities.

First Thessalonians 5:12-13 reminds us to know those who are over us in the Lord and “to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake” (KJV). Esteem is a word which has different shades of meaning, but for our purposes, it carries the idea of placing value upon something. So, in my struggle to seek a better relationship with my father, is it any surprise I did not come to esteem him until I set a value upon him as my father and not as my authority figure? Do I set a high value on my elders? Their labor of love on my behalf is a vital part of the work God has given them to do. The God-given responsibility of elders is like the responsibility given to my parents to guard my life from danger and disaster. If I recognize them as real friends with my best interests in view, then it will be easy to esteem them, and not merely highly, but very highly.

Remembering them comes from Hebrews 13:7, and the idea is to be mindful, rehearse, or recollect. Only when I matured as a twenty-something young man did I recollect the many sacrifices and cares my dad showed to me as a boy growing up. Perhaps a few minutes of reflection will also help me to be mindful of the sacrifices my elders have made on my behalf; of the messages they labored over in ministry to be sure that I was being properly fed spiritually; of the many hours they toiled in prayer as they saw my struggles with temptation, my lack of interest in the assembly, or my lackadaisical attitude in participating in worship and developing gifts God had given me.

Sometimes we chafe at obedience. “Me, submit? What about my feelings? How could they possibly know what is best for me? After all, they don’t walk in my shoes nor face the challenges I have to face!” One of the hardest things for me to realize about my father was that he was once a teenager and maybe, just maybe, he had earned his wisdom through some of the same struggles I then faced. It would be gross blindness to think that, just because my parents did not have technology’s temptations to lead them astray, they didn’t have similarly challenging temptations. So it is with elders. Their experience on life’s rough road might well benefit me. What they once faced in the crucible of life might just prevent me from a catastrophic accident resulting in regret and remorse. In verse 17, we see that elders watch for my soul, and must give an account to God for me. I also must give an account for how I submitted to them and for my own life’s choices. There is the potential for great profit in my life, and this should motivate me to listen to those who desire to guide me, “considering the end of their conversation [way of life]” (Heb 13:7, KJV)

Last of all we come back to 1 Thessalonians 5. Verse 13 admonishes me to esteem them very highly in love. This is the agape love of John 3:16 which tells of God’s love, the love that was willing to sacrifice, to give with nothing expected in return, to love the unlovable. This should be enough to entirely obliterate the attitude which questions, “Why should I love them when they show little interest in me?”

Attitude goes a long way. Please accept advice from this elder who realizes his many shortcomings and his own limited ability. What helps beyond measure is praying for your elders. What better way to build a sound, healthy relationship than to pray for them? It is difficult to be hard on people when you are praying for them.

The challenge we all face in life is how we run the course and how we finish the race. Perhaps in this one area of enjoying a better relationship with our elders we can pray for them, esteem them highly for their work’s sake, and love them in the Lord for the sacrifices they make for us.