They belong to the ranks of business persons, farmers, doctors, teachers, engineers, homemakers, and many other occupations. They have also been elected to the office of elder in their local church. The majority take their responsibilities seriously, yet often find themselves "hamstrung" in performing their duties. Causes for this frustration include a lack of communication, a lack of understanding as to what their real responsibilities are, and in some cases a lack of delegated work assigned to them.
In our division, local elders come from the Third World country of Pakistan to Eastern European Poland; from Sweden's sophistication to the war-stricken areas of Yugoslavia; from Iceland to Israel; from the British Isles to Finland; from the Netherlands to Hungary; and from Denmark to Greece. Everywhere local elders are needed, yet they must often work under severe strictures. Each country has its own diversity of challenges, resources needed, and services to be rendered by these lay servants of the church.
With an increasing shortage of salaried ministers, the Adventist Church to day welcomes the strengths and talents of its elders as never before. This may be an indictment on previously held positions, but there is always room for improvement. The questions are: How we can do better with what we already have in place? How can our division ministerial associations and church ministries departments equip local church elders to more effectively serve their congregations?
One immediate challenge is to bring together elders from a conference or union at least once a year to discuss ideas. The church in Poland took a big step forward by planning such a nationwide retreat. Elders will spend the weekend discussing the needs of local churches and what they can do about them. The program will be conducted by the Polish Union, assisted by the division church ministries director, James Huzzey, along with David Currie, division ministerial secretary.
Our presentations will include:
- format and styles of liturgy, such as singing, prayer, and Scripture reading, and their effect on worship.
- the preaching plan for the year.
- types of sermons that feed the membership.
- the places to get sermon resources.
- ways to visit members.
- ways to plan for church growth.
- the function of local church committees.
- drawing up an agenda for board of elders meetings.
In division-wide ministers' meetings, we are also discussing, at length, the role that local elders should have in assisting the pastor, and also as leaders in their own right.
Often elders see the need for constructive change but are not sure exactly what should be done to remedy the situation. Further, even with ideas in hand, the challenge remains of how to implement them.
Among the most serious problems everywhere is the disappearance of members. This includes youth in particular, but also older persons who do not find their church spiritually vibrant and sufficiently friendly. The church cannot imagine that "everything is all right and the problem is with those who no longer worship with us." As society is constantly updating its methods (though not always for the best), so the church must look for ways to improve performance.
Remember that you, as a local church elder, are a key person in achieving the goals of your church. Although a crowded schedule may hamper you from doing much of what you want to do to help, keep looking for opportunities to share your creative ideas and practical talents. When local elders and pastors are equipped with adequate training and resources, the church benefits greatly. A more informed leadership can wisely implement changes. The monthly Elders' Page in Ministry will help in this.'