I once worked with an eldership that would go out on Monday nights as a group and make visits. Talk about making an impression - 5 or 6 elders and the preacher showing up at your place - unannounced. Most of the time it was a lot of fun, we’d go by and just encourage people, pray with them, let them know they were appreciated. People were shocked, scared, then grateful and joyful. But not all the visits were fun.
I remember one night visiting a brother who had fallen into a sin of a public nature. Two or three people from the community had asked if the actions he was involved with were smiled upon by members of the church. The elders went in hesitantly. “We’ve been told that you have been _____. Is that true and is that something that you think the church should participate in?” I thought the elders handled it well, they did not accuse, they did not condemn, they just wanted the brother to think about his actions.
The next Sunday when the invitation song was sung this brother came down the aisle. He asked to make his own statement (which the elders there had allowed) and state he did! He got up and accused the elders of judging him and of condemning him and of calling him names. And then he said he was leaving and invited others to as well. He walked out - alone with two others.
And, then. Well, then it was my time. I had the honor of getting up and responding to what happened next. What do you say at a time like that? I waited, hoping at least one of the elders would head to the podium. None did. I was hoping for a rebuttal. A “that’s not what happened at all.” Or maybe one of them saying plainly “this brother has lied today and we need to pray for him.” It wasn't true what he had said they said nor how he had characterized them - they knew it, he knew it, I knew it and God knew it. But I got nothing. So, I went to the microphone and we prayed and a sang a song and went home. All that week I thought we’d get something. But the elders held their dignity and they let the brother hold his. God knows.
There have been many times in the years that have followed that I have heard elders accused of all sorts of thing that were not correct. I’ve heard their motives inpuned and their judgement second guessed by people who don’t have half the facts. And I’ve seen elders take abuse and responsibility for issued that they neither created or invited.
No, elders are not perfect, you know that I don’t imply that if you’ve read much of what I’ve written. I've seen them make many mistakes along the way. And I've not met one yet who claimed to have it all right. And I know many who have been hurt by an elderships decision or mistake and that it is hard to rebuild trust for any eldership when you've been thus hurt. But may I encourage you, the next time you hear about “how they handled, treated, talked to, judged...” check it out a little first.
I still wish they’d told the rest of the story on that Sunday - but they were bigger men than that.
"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).