Overseers of the Flock?
by Marvin L. Weir
A faithful child of God realizes that he must do battle with those within the kingdom as well as with those outside the kingdom. It is sad that one's energies and efforts must be expended on exposing those who "will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables" (II Timothy 4:3-4). A faithful soldier of the cross must always be willing to "speak...the things which befit the sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1). So many today who consider themselves to be faithful to the Lord speak the truth only when it is convenient. They do not want to "makes waves," "cause a squabble," or"run anyone off."
The thinking that has permeated many congregations of the Lord's people is that to experience growth and "fill the building" they must become more "tolerant" and less "legalistic" in their views. This translates to allowing everyone to believe what they want to believe and refusing to stand upon a "thus saith the Lord."
Many churches of Christ today have elders who no longer shepherd the flock but are instead mere pawns of the congregation. Brethren, either the tail will wag the dog or the dog will wag the tail. Which is it? Does the Bible teach that godly elders are to submit to the members or the members are to submit to godly elders? Instead of polling the congregation to see what it believes about the matter, let us consult the Word of God.
First, elders are commanded to "tend the flock of God" (I Peter 5:2). This one verse proves that not only are elders to be examples, but they are also to act with authority. They are to "exercise the oversight" of the congregation. Robert R. Taylor, Jr., in his excellent book entitled The Elder And His Work has rightly said regarding those who resist Bible authority: "Persistently, they contend that elders have no more authority than do others and should never make decisions except as authorized by the congregation. This flagrant falsehood places the congregation into the driver's seat and the elders become the OVERSEEN and not the OVERSEERS! This popular, but poisonous contention makes of them a rubber stamp of congregational desires. Such CANNOT be right" (103).
Second, elders are to "feed the church of the Lord" (Acts 20:28). In many congregations today the members tell the elders what they are willing to graze upon. They also make it clear that only certain studies will be engaged in, and only certain teachers will be tolerated. The threat is clear—either the elders will acquiesce to their demands or mutiny will be set into motion. How can elders with a conscience live with themselves knowing that the flock that they are commanded to oversee is telling them what they will eat. Such a perversion of His Word must make the Lord sick to His stomach!
Third, the Lord's people are warned: "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them: for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief: for this were unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17). A faithful member of the Lord's church will always obey godly elders and submit to them in matters of judgment and expediency. Godly elders do not make laws, but they do stand foursquare behind the law of Christ! Not only do they stand behind the Lord's commandments, but they also insist that His laws be believed and obeyed.
Elders who stand in awe of God "watch in behalf of ... [members] souls, as they that shall give account" (Hebrews 13:17). Evidently, many so-called elders have forgotten that the Bible teaches there will be a day of reckoning. All Christians are accountable, but especially will elders give an account for failure to feed and shepherd the flock in the way God would have the flock to be fed and shepherded.
Brethren, a preacher's selection committee who routinely blackballs and culls capable, godly preachers and instead rubber stamps three spineless candidates to the elders for them to choose from is wrong! Some seeking to pacify the ladies are including a woman on the preacher selection committee. It is no wonder that some elders moan about the congregation not listening to them. Elders must do the job the Holy Spirit has given them to do.
Some elders lament the fact that they cannot do their God-given work for soothing ruffled feathers and putting out brush fires. How do you think such an excuse will sound to the Lord? Here is what some elders would find to be a novel idea: "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent" (Romans 16:17-18).