The Elder-Businessman Model
We know the Bible is clear about appointing elders to shepherd the flock (Acts 14:23). We know Paul left Titus in Crete with the charge to "appoint elders in every city" (Titus 1:7). This is a clear indication of God's plan for the church and its well-being.
We see qualifications given as to the elder's life of godliness, his knowledge of the Word, his example before the world, and the character of his family. But one qualification is missing that seems to be required in many churches: that an elder, in order to be successful, must be successful as a businessman.
Nowhere do I find such a qualification even hinted at in the Scriptures. By this standard, Peter would not be selected as an elder, as he was but a simple fisherman. Yet we know he was an elder (I Peter 5:1).
Business Success Doesn't Qualify or Disqualify
What lies behind this thinking? Obviously, success in any right realm does not disqualify one from being a good elder, but neither does it necessarily qualify. There are some who seem to think the local church ought to be run like a business, and therefore we need good businessmen to "run the church."
For example, I know of a good-sized church with some who wanted to start a new work in an "unchurched" area of town. They talked to the elders about it, but were summarily shot down. The elders said that if a new work were to start, they would have to have at least 50 members, so much money in the bank, etc. They wanted the new work to be "successful" right from the start. It is obvious that they were looking at it from a businessman's viewpoint. Thus, in order for a business to have a good start, you needed to have a certain amount of capital, and all sorts of mechanisms in place.
Don't get me wrong ... It's wise to have a good plan. But if such a criteria were the rule, hundreds of congregations would have never started. For example, the church where I labor in Roswell, Georgia, began with 12 members. We had the blessing of the congregation where I formerly labored (Embry Hills), but that was about all. We had no money in the bank, and no "five year business plan." We were, however, committed to spread the gospel in an area where, so far as we knew, the gospel had never been proclaimed. I had it in my head to, sometime in my life, fulfill Paul's desire: "And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man's foundation" (Romans 15:20). Since beginning in 1974, we struggled through rented space, buying a small house in which to meet, and then building our own place. In the ensuing years, with God's help, as we have filled our building, we have sent people out to establish two other congregations, and have our sights on still another area some 20 miles away.
When we began, we had no successful businessman prepare a prospectus for us. We just wanted to spread the kingdom. Certainly, careful thought must be given to the work that is to be done, and how best to accomplish it, but the church is not a business.
But back to the idea of elders having to be successful businessmen. One of the men I baptized many years ago was M. G. Duvall. M. G. had been raised as a Jehovah's Witness. His occupation? He was an auto mechanic. He worked for a GM dealership and came home with grease under his fingernails. And why have I mentioned him? In time, M. G. "grew in grace and knowledge" and when he and Jimmie Nell moved to work with the Jonesboro congregation south of Atlanta, he was eventually appointed an elder. I respected the church there for their recognition of his qualifications, in spite of his lack of being a business leader.
Some years ago, our family had a young woman living with us who was from a good-sized church in Louisiana. During one of our Bible studies, this matter of elders and their qualifications was discussed. When I mentioned the story about M. G., she expressed surprise. She had never heard of a man of his "qualifications" serving as an elder.
Brethren, it is difficult enough to find good men to serve as shepherds. Let us not put burdens that God has not seen fit to include. Let us recognize men for their character, regardless of their social or business status. Don't turn the church into a business enterprise. And don't put a stumbling block in
the path of good, godly people who want to enlarge the kingdom.