A Treatise on the Eldership
J. W. McGarvey  (1870)


      There is no class of men who more universaly and freely acknowledge a serious neglect of duty, than the Elders of churches. When we remember their position as leaders and exemplars of the disciples, we feel that this is a sad acknowledgment, and we can but mourn over its truthfulness. Who would not gladly furnish a remedy, if it were in his power?

      The most common excuse for this neglect of duty is want of time. The Elder has not time to study the Scriptures, and prepare himself to speak to edification on the Lord's day; and he feels sure that he cannot take time to look promptly after persons needing his counsel or reproof. Under this conviction, he gives almost no time to his duties, until the church get into so miserable a condition as to alarm him into some activity, or until some very grievous and scandalous offence excites the whole community, and public clamor forces attention to the case of a man or woman who might have been saved from disgrace by timely admonition. Sometimes, indeed, this neglect of duty goes on until the Elder becomes perfectly disheartened and disgusted, throws up his office, indulges in bitter complaints, and finally loses all interest in the welfare of the church. The end of that man is the end of the unfaithful steward.

      It will be found, upon careful calculation, that [77] the excuse of a want of time is more imaginary than real. For example, the average number of members in country and village churches is about one hundred and the average number of Elders about three. Suppose, now, that each of these three Elders should take sufficient time to see and converse with one person needing admonition or counsel, each week: we would have one hundred and fifty-six conversations in one year, more, perhaps, than the necessities of any ordinary congregation would require in order to a most effective state of discipline. And what Elder is there who can not, if he will, find time, by taking all advantage of incidental meetings, to hold at least one such conversation, on the average, for each week in the year? Surely it is no great sacrifice of time for even the most industrious business man among us. It requires nothing but the will to make it practicable and easy.

      In the larger congregations, it is desirable to have one Elder wholly given to the work of overseeing, teaching and preaching: and we can easily imagine congregations, if we do not already have them among us, that need the labors of a plurality of such Elders. But even with the labors of one such man, to perform those parts of the duties of the office which require the larger amount of time, the difficulty in reference to time is largely obviated. In no instance, then, is this excuse a sufficient one to justify a tithe of the inefficiency which now so generally characterizes the disciplinary labors of the Eldership.

      As regards preparation for public teaching, if our Elders would aim less at showy harangues upon the Lord's day, and more at plain and simple [78] instruction on practical duties, and exhortations to the same, they would find that good preparation for the task would require no more Bible study than ought to characterize every good man, with the addition of such reflection upon Bible themes as would not more than prevent idle moments from running to waste. An economy of time, and a wisely directed use of it is what we need, rather than a greater amount of it.

      Finally, the Elders of churches should constantly remember that they are divinely constituted exemplars to the flock, in all the virtues and activities of Christian life: and that one of the methods, and not the least of them, by which they should make their example felt, is to sacrifice some of their time to the service of the Lord. In so doing, they will obey the words of Paul, when he says to the Ephesian Elders, "I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have shewed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." Acts xx: 35.

      I now bring this brief treatise to a close, and send it out among my brethren in the Elders office, as a token of my heartfelt interest in an office which has cost my own heart more anxiety than all other duties which I have been called upon to perform in life. If it shall be of service to any of my fellow-laborers and companions, in tribulation, it will accomplish, to that extent, its mission.

[ATOTE 77-79]

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