The big day has arrived. Your wife is in labour with your first child. As she grimaces under the stress of contraction pain you burst through the doors of the hospital racing through your memory for instructions about where to go and who to talk to. After settling your wife down, in a cold clinical room you are informed that your family doctor is unavailable (on holidays). What now?
In walks a freckle faced youth, radiating with nervous adrenaline. He seems as frantic as you are. Maybe he is a student nurse who has never witnessed a live birth before. He opens his mouth to let out a squeak. “Hello Mr. and Mrs. McGrath… I’m Dr. Short and I’ll be standing in for your regular doctor today…” Unsure whether to laugh or cringe at the irony of his name, you wonder if he’s joking, or if you’re looking at a medical child-prodigy. He looks young enough to be charged with high-school truancy. How could he possibly be qualified to care for your wife and safely deliver your baby?
It’s frightening to consider the potential danger unqualified practitioners can impose to those who are trusting them with a high level of responsibility. And what higher level of responsibility exists than that which is given, by God, to those who shepherd, teach, oversee and lead his blood bought people, the church?
Of all the instruction given to the saints about how a church ought to be structured, there is no subject more carefully defined and exhorted than the matters pertaining to church leadership. Those who aspire to lead the church and are called by God to do so are given both high standards to live by, and stern warnings about deviating from those standards.
The apostle Paul outlines the proper care of a local church for the apprentices who stood in his place after he had moved on. He reserves large sections outlining qualifying criteria for the selection and conduct of other christian elders. Simply put, elders are to live responsible to the calling of a redeemed life in such a way that it would inspire others to imitate their example as they guide the church along in it while teaching the gospel, it’s implication, protecting it’s purity, and calling others to live responsible to it as well. (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:1-3)
If it weren’t weighty enough to consider the high standard of life to which the elder is called, the warning issued to those who would take it lightly is terrifying. In his epistle, James writes that those who become teachers will be judged with greater strictness. Jesus himself adds a visceral word-picture in his warning to those who would lead his children astray by saying that it would be better for them to take a swim, with a mill-stone tied around their neck in (James 3:1, Hebrews 13:17, Matthew 18).
My time spent studying the sobriety of the calling of an elder has been largely daunting, but not without great joy and privilege. Because above the challenges of the calling is “THE ONE” who calls. Jesus, our saviour and king who conquered death and rose to life, calling each of us to follow him saying “My grace is sufficient for you and my power is made perfect in weakness… Peace be with you! Just as my father has sent me, so I send you… And behold I am with you to the end of the age.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, John 20:21, Mathew 28:20)