Hello Church Devotion Sept. 05, 2013
“E” is for Elder
Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. (James 5:11a ESV)
[NOTE: This devotion is written in honor of all those who steadfastly served as Elders in Bedford and Anderson (Indiana) and in Augusta (Georgia) during my 39 years of parish ministry. KJD]
His name was Elmer Masher, and he was Chair of the Board of Elders when I was in my first parish. Elmer was raised in a Lutheran congregation in Seymour, Indiana, [the same church that John (Cougar) Mellencamp claims taught him “to fear Jesus”]. There Elmer learned the love of Jesus - in German! When he graduated from high school and went to work, he wanted to talk to people about his faith - but he couldn’t, because he wasn’t able to take the German concepts and put them into English. So, what to do? Well, Elmer figured it out: as a 19 and 20-year-old, he sat with 7th and 8th Graders and went through Confirmation Instruction again - in English this time! And he never stopped talking about God’s love for him, for us, and for the world - in Jesus.
We had monthly meetings of the Board of Elders. Every now and again, Elmer would stay “late” and just hang around until all the other Elders were gone. Then he’d sit me down and very gently remind me of a thing or two that had to do with pastoral ministry and the care of souls. I learned more from Elder Elmer than I did from any class I ever took at the seminary.
I said “gently”. Well, most of the time. I still remember (vividly!) the night he stayed after a meeting and we sat down. He looked at me and very seriously asked me: “Who made you God?” You can imagine my reaction. But he led me to recite to him (I was the student now, for sure) Luther’s Meaning to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed (thankfully, in English). When I got to the words, “in the same way he [the Holy Spirit] calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth”, Elmer stopped me and asked: “Whose job is it to convert people?” Well, by now, I knew I had the answer - the Holy Spirit. He then asked me: “So, why do you feel responsible when people to whom you witness (and THAT is your job as a Christian) do not immediately come to faith? Your job is to proclaim the Word - the Holy Spirit’s job is to convert and bring people into the Church.”
I have thanked God so many times for Elmer’s words that night. It really takes the load off of a pastor’s shoulders and places it where it belongs - on the shoulders of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t take away our responsibility to speak the word - but it puts the responsibility for “results” (in a worldly sense) where it belongs. Paul writes to Timothy and to all pastors: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1-2 ESV) I should have remembered, because “preach the word” is the motto of my seminary.
In many and various ways, many other elders through the years have, by their encouragement and support, helped me navigate the sometimes stormy seas of life (personal and congregational) and have been there to rejoice when things were going well - reminding me that there, too, the credit goes to the Holy Spirit and his working in and through us.
BUT - elders aren’t there only for the pastor - they are also there for the members of, and visitors to, our congregation. Don’t wait for your elder to contact you - find out who he is and talk with him - at church, on the phone, or over a cup of coffee somewhere. He would appreciate a helpful and friendly word from you, just as you would appreciate one from him. And so we pray:
LORD JESUS - you are, indeed, Lord of the Church. We thank you for all the people who do such a variety of things for the good of the church. Today we thank you for our elders and their work under the umbrella of the pastoral office. Help them to help others in word, in deed, and in living as examples to the flock known as Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Augusta, Georgia. Amen.
PS - just so you don’t think Elmer was “all business” - there was a night when it snowed and we needed to cancel the Board of Elders meeting. A couple of hours later, he called me at home and said: “I know there’s snow on the ground, but why don’t you and LaVon pack the kids up and come over and Ola and LaVon can take us on in a few games of Euchre.” And we did!
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
When Paul writes to Philemon, he’s writing to a leader in the church at Colosse. Listen to what he says:
I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. (Philemon 1:4-6 ESV)
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrew Christians urges them:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17 ESV)
How can you show your support to those who have to “give an account” for you?
What things might you add to your prayers when you think of your pastor and the elders of the congregation?
Have you ever walked up to your pastor or an elder (any elder!) and simply said “Thank you!”? If not, maybe this Sunday would be a good time to do it.
Karl J. Dunker, Pastor Emeritus