Yesterday I introduced the idea of elders of the city – perhaps you are one or, know one! Over the years I’ve had lots of questions about this concept, so below are some of those questions and my answers.
Q. What spiritual and natural gifts or experiences are needed to serve as an elder of the city?
A. Wisdom is supreme. You will know if you have this gift when people begin coming to you for advice on spiritual, personal and faith practice issues, especially if you are not a seminary trained, ordained pastor or a paid counselor. Generally, wise people will have these spiritual gifts:
The utterance of wisdom (I Cor. 12:8) – This gift enables a person to discern the motives and actions of others and to apply God’s truth to their lives in a practical way (Acts 6:3; Eph. 5:15-16).
Teaching (Rom. 12:7; I Cor. 12:28) – This gift enables a person to explain God’s truth clearly and effectively. The spiritual gift of teaching should be distinguished from the natural ability of teaching. The spiritual gift of teaching enables one to grasp and to convey to others the meaning of God’s Word, which is different from human ability.
Exhortation (Rom 12:8) – This gift enables a person to use the Scriptures to motivate people to respond to God’s will and to build them up in the faith. It’s encouraging and teaching believers how they might live to the glory of God.
Service (Rom. 12:7) – This gift enables believers to minister to the needs of others inside the church and out. With this gift also comes discernment – knowing how best to serve. A person with this gift almost always would prefer serving others than being served by them.
Note: Most elders of the city I’ve known also had the spiritual gift of encouragement.
Q. Are the high profile Christians in my city, elders of the city?
A. They could be of course, but elders of the city are usually not the high profile Christians who are leading big building projects, or growing para-church ministries. They are often working quietly to be peacemakers, counselors, mentors, teachers, evangelists and advocates for justice.
Q. How does one become an elder of the city?
A. Every elder of the city I’ve known, never set out to be an elder of the city. They simply began doing the kinds of things I’ve described that elders of the city do and they’ve grown into the role. In fact, if you ever called them an elder of the city, they’d be embarrassed and prefer you didn’t. Nevertheless, they are, and we ought to praise God for them.
Occasionally, a group of godly people will see the characteristics of an elder of the city in another man. After prayer and discussion, they will go to him and affirm him as an elder of the city, pray over him and bless him. Whether or not there is any spiritual significance of this laying on of hands, it is a powerful affirmation and great encouragement and may embolden them to be even more effective in their ministry.
Is there a man or woman, in your city that you and others recognize as having the spiritual gifts of and elder of the city who you ought to affirm? (It would be wise to first talk to his pastor and discuss what you are about to do and asking if there is any reason why this person would not qualify.)
Q. Is this a full time job?
A. Several elders of the city who I know are retired or took early retirement or are leaders of para church ministries. But, I also know of others who are still in their chosen profession, but have made sacrificial, personal and occupational decisions that allow them the time to be more available for God. (I recommend you read Half-Time and Game Plan by Bob Buford.)
Q. What if I’ve not been gifted to be an elder of the city?
A. Not everyone has the time, wisdom, spiritual gifts or calling to be an elder of the city. Still, I urge all believers to think of their influence in concentric circles beginning with themselves and moving out from there to other possible “elder” roles:
A family patriarch (which I’ll blog about next week).
An elder of your friends (these groups of people often need the intentional guidance and modeling of Christian virtue and practice in their midst.) Read my November 21, 2011 blog – Friends.
An elder of the workplace (whether you are the owner or an employee, God has given you influence over, or with others). Go to www.mchapusa.com, the website of Marketplace Chaplains USA.
The point is to begin somewhere with the idea that you will intentionally be a godly influence to the larger Christian community.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Gal. 6:9-10
Q. What about women elders of the city?
A. Since this isn’t a formal office in the church, I have no issue with women being elders of the city and would encourage it. Many of the tasks I’ve described can be done well by a female, and there are examples of courageous, godly women who have served the greater community well in scripture, such as Deborah, Lydia, Priscilla, Phoebe and others. As you can tell, I’d prefer not to open the “Pandora’s box” of women in leadership of a church, but this ministry is not an office of the local church where this should even be a problem regardless of your theological views.
My Questions for You: I’d like to get your thoughts on this concept of an elder of the city. Do you think the idea is biblical? Does it violate anything scripture teaches? Do you know Christians who qualify and will you begin praying about who you and others ought to affirm as elders of your city?