We landed at the Yakima church of Christ, for much the same reason we had landed at the Bremerton congregation — to spend time with and say “Goodbye, for a while” to very close friends. We’d met the Clarks years ago at the Sunnyside congregation in Sunnyside, Washington where my husband was holding a gospel meeting. Patrick Clark was exiting the back door to get something out of his dark red FJ Cruiser at the same time I was entering the building having retrieved something out of my silver FJ Cruiser. Pretending to be one of those overzealous, self-appointed hall monitor types, I mumbled in jest “I hope you’re not out here smoking” as we passed, He chuckled. After evening worship, we hauled our teenagers with us to a local Mexican restaurant to get to know each other and that was the beginning of a friendship we eventually called “Team FJ” or simply “The Team”. For eight years, preceding our Nomad Quest, we’d drive the three hours that separated us to laugh together, cry together, pray together, and over time, the Clarks became like family to us. We rode motorcycles together, went to concerts, explored restaurants, hiked mountains and beaches, enjoyed many fireside chats and consulted each other during times of crisis and generally looked for local adventures.
It was a warm, sunny day in Yakima when we worshiped with the congregation on the first Sunday of August. Because of the pandemic, they were making their worship services available to the public by streaming it live online, and I was encouraged to hear that in addition to members watching it, many strangers had also begun listening and learning from their online sermons.
About halfway through the Bible class that preceded the worship, a middle-aged woman I had not met before, sitting on the opposite side of the church building from me, did something I had never witnessed before in the context of a public Bible class— something that struck me as both beautiful and brave. She openly and thoroughly expressed her deep gratitude to the elders publicly for helping her overcome her challenges and for gently asking her "Why do you worry?"
Her attitude demonstrated the very attitude that God wants among the flock when we are told that “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17-19). If every member obeyed the above command to give elders that rule well double honor, we would certainly have more men seeking the office and would enjoy that immeasurable ripple effect of fulfilling God’s divine ideal for this form of church structure.
Obviously, not all elders rule well. Men who shepherd the flock are, of course, prone to imperfection and are warned, among other things, not to be in this work to gain a feeling of power, or as the scriptures put it, “Lord it over” the flock. But all that being said, here’s the thing I have to confess: I feel bad for these guys. I mean, for underdeveloped Christians who have not yet learned submission (a quality one must learn to prepare for heaven), it seems any decision an elder makes that is not the non-submissive one’s own first choice can get erroneously categorized into “Lording it over”. Let’s not be like that.
You and I don’t know the whole backstory. I, for one, am deeply, deeply thankful to have been spared that back story. Backstories can be ugly and heartbreaking. Think about it. Here is a brother-in-Christ who has volunteered to lose sleep, to continually have really awkward conversations on a regular basis that can range anywhere from “a little uncomfortable” all the way to “deeply disturbing” or even “quite painful” in dealing with the problems of struggling sinners (like you and I). An elder is rarely paid monetarily, yet still, to the very best of his ability, this servant takes his best guess on multitudes of various decisions, many of which contain unknowns that could cause results to go unexpectedly sideways, and all the while in between that volunteer work often must take on the chin all the harsh, naive criticisms of the flock he is shepherding. Let’s have a little mercy on these guys. We are called instead to happily and gratefully “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
Elders determine which, among the obedient, biblical options, most effectively and efficiently accomplishes the most good in any given decision. It is “unprofitable” to get mad because an eldership makes a decision that’s a judgment call —for those are the very decisions for which they’ve been appointed. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s give them double honor. In fact, let’s prepare to give an answer to their critics by considering for a moment what might be the best answer when someone starts mumbling an unfounded accusation against an elder. Perhaps a soft, smiling “I believe he’s doing the very best he can” or a gentle whisper of “I don’t really consider that any of my business” or a quiet “That seems to me quite out of character, given his history”.
Let’s be nice to our elders.
Let’s treat them the way we would like to be treated if we were in their position.
Let’s do our part to make this labor of love a little less “thankless”.
Eastside Church of Christ
910 La Salle Street
Yakima, WA 98901