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Letters to a Younger Ruling Elder, No. 3: The Importance of the Devotional Life

An Older Elder

Dear James,

So good to hear from you again. I know how busy you are. It sounds as though work at the hospital has suddenly picked up as well. Do not let that discourage you. Our enemy is frequently trying to distract or dishearten us with little things like that. A full workload is actually one of the ways you bless the church, not just financially, but by example. Keep in mind, most of the folks at church have jobs, too. Therefore, keep up your work with holy diligence, as unto the Lord (Col. 3:23). Pray for grace to do your job well. Your earthly job is as much a calling as your ordination. Do not forget that. Calvin said, “Every individual’s line of life, therefore, is, as it were, a post assigned him by the Lord.”[1]

You see, when the pastor is there at the Bible study, Sunday school, men’s meetings, and both worship services on a Sunday, church members (whether they admit it or not) are tempted to think, “Yeah, but that’s his job. That’s what he is paid to do.” But when you, the ruling elder, are there, they cannot hide behind that excuse very well. So, do not let a demanding job discourage you. The Lord knew about your career when he called you to this work. This was a part of his perfect plan.

Sorry. That was a rabbit trail I suppose. Let me get back to your question. You asked specifically in your letter about a model for elder ministry. I can tell you that one thing I have learned is the importance of walking close with the Lord yourself. Serving the church can quickly drain your spiritual tank. You need to keep filling it. A well-protected devotional life is so important. Paul’s words to the Colossians in general are doubly true for the elder, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). Our old friend Spurgeon once put it this way, “Even the consecrated lamps could not give light without oil.”[2] Remember that. Develop a habit to ensure God’s Word is getting into you (Ps. 1:2). Interact with it. Read Scripture as the owner’s manual for life that it is. Ask the Lord each day to show you something in his Word by which to help you live for Him (Ps. 119:18). By the way, if you do this, you will rarely find yourself without something to share with the flock should you need it. The most effective way to serve the church as an elder is to mature as a Christian yourself.

Let me tell you something. I have seen the eldership ruined more times by men, not because they were poor elders, but, sadly, because they were poor Christians. Maybe they were ordained because they loved the doctrines of the church, or the history of the church. Some, I fear, were ordained because of a well-meaning, but over-zealous pastor that wanted to see their own work bear fruit. This rarely goes well. There are women who will marry a man in hopes of changing him. Pastors sometimes ordain elders with the same hope. Both are usually wrong. The most important thing you can do right now is to keep growing. That takes time in His Word.

I have found for myself that a little daily reading of some spiritually rich material alongside Scripture helps too. Maybe a little Spurgeon or something by J.C. Ryle. The Puritans have always ministered to my soul. A good Christian biography can help. But pick something because it speaks to your heart. No one human author suits every taste. You will want to build a little library of spiritual resources. Even Paul himself reminded Timothy to “bring the books” (2 Tim. 4:13).

And then there is prayer. Nothing will enhance your usefulness as an elder as your closet prayer life. Prayer makes the elder. Ask the Lord for his help with all that you do. James, this truth about the importance of prayer is something which you can only take by faith at this point in your life. You know what God’s Word says about the importance of prayer. You know the facts. But it is only after many years, and looking back, that the truth about prayer really sinks in. As I look back upon my own prayer life as an elder, I can say that the times of weakest prayer have been the times of weakest ministry. But when that prayer life is on fire, and the closet becomes a place of tears, cries, pleadings, longing, and closeness to the Lord, the entire rest of the work takes on new meaning, new opportunities, new joy.

I think I have said enough for this letter. I do so enjoy hearing from you.

Your soul’s well-wisher,

An older elder

Endnotes

[1] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 1, 3.10.6, ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 724

[2] C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, August 28 AM (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980).

Ordained Servant Online, March, 2023.

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Ordained Servant: March 2023

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