It seems that the topic of leadership has been much discussed over the last few years among churches in the brotherhood. I am glad to see that there have been more books and articles produced that underscore the nature and importance of the Biblical concept of leadership.
I was both surprised and dismayed when I heard recently that less than a dozen churches in New England have elderships. Iím not sure about the rest of New England, but I know that the churches in Vermont have been here for nearly five decades! As far as I know, only two Vermont churches (Bennington and Quechee) currently have Elders. This situation is not uncommon among churches of Christ. There are so many churches that have been in existence for decades and yet do not have elders.
I submit that this is an unacceptable situation. I grew up in a church without elders. The sad part is that this is what was seen as normal. It was "just the way things were" In my studies over the last few years, it has come to my attention that a church which has been around for awhile without having appointed elders is seriously deficient.
Hebrews 5:11-6:8 is an indictment against a group of people who never matured! There should have been teachers among them. However, they were in danger of "drifting away" (Heb 2:1); in danger of falling away (Heb. 2:12); and in danger of being lost irretrievably (Heb 6:5-8). Instead of producing mature Christians, they had both lost their confidence and assurance (Heb. 6:11). Even worse, they had forgotten the elementary teachings from which they should have progressed from. (Heb. 5:12-14)
It is an unacceptable situation for a church not to produce elders when it is nearly 50 years old. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every city on their first missionary journey (Acts 14:23). Titus was sent to put in order "what was lacking" (Titus 1:5) in the church at Crete, which involved appointing elders. Jesus himself was saddened when he saw the people being downcast like sheep without a shepherd! A church should never be content with being shepherdless. It would be unthinkable to have a flock roaming the countryside without a shepherd! Paul on his journey to Jerusalem met with the Ephesian Elders and gave them both a goodbye and a warning to be alert and to gaurd the flock because wolves would be coming, some from their very own number!
Paul told Timothy that it was a trustworthy saying that if "anyone aspires to an overseership, it is an honorable work he desires" (my translation). This shows that this saying deserves to be repeated, that men who desire this honorable work need to be encouraged not discouraged! Yet this saying is hardly repeated as a trustworthy saying in many of our churches.
What to do? I suggest in depth study on the Biblical doctrine of elders. Saying "we should have elders, but no one is qualified" does not solve the problem. I have personally heard this said in some churches with the attitude that "that is just the way it is", and hardly another thought is given to it. It will not happen unless a congregation take decisive and intentional steps toward it. A congregation cannot remain shepherdless and hope to grow spiritually and be what God intended it to be. Godís plan was for the flock to have shepherds.