When I first became an elder, the board did what most boards do and reviewed my biblical qualifications. Member in good standing? Check. Able to teach? Check. Life beyond reproach? Well . . . let's say "check." It was humbling and joyful.
However, as my term comes to an end and I prepare to hand the reigns off, I am considering sneaking in some addenda. An upgrade. A kind of “Qualifications for Elders, 2.0.” Because if you’re an aspiring elder who doesn’t expect to need these characteristics, you might be in for a surprise or two:
1. You must be able to pray, with sincere concern, for things you are not concerned about. Kids playing Dungeons and Dragons. Neighbors who (calamity of calamities!) “are Democrats.” A family dog with a weird growth on its toe. A PTA mother who throws shade with “weird looks” during service. Your congregation has concerns, and you are going to feel uncomfortable praying for some of them. Like, really uncomfortable.
2. You must address bad Sunday school teaching—without undermining the sincere saint leading the class. Okay, so the story of Samson isn’t about the importance of keeping secrets, and Jeremiah 29:11 doesn’t teach that God is going to give us luxury yachts lined with sacks of money. As an elder, you need to say something. But if you come right out and urge good Brother Francis to use better resources than Wikipedia and Oprah’s Book Club to formulate his theology—well, you’re going to be short one faithful teacher. Tread softly.
3. You must be sly as a fox and as quick as a hummingbird when passing the bread and the cup. Don’t forget the worship team. Don’t forget the children’s church leaders. Watch out for shaking hands, inattentive minds, and eyes that are falling shut. Don’t trip. Don’t rush. Use two hands as often as possible. Don’t make newcomers uncomfortable. And whatever you do, don’t sneeze—this saying is trustworthy.
4. You must create church growth through sheer force of personality. You’re an introvert? Brace yourself—the visitors are coming. And when they show up late, refuse the welcome package, sit in the back row, sprint for the doors while the final song is still playing, fail to fill out the attendance sheet, and then don’t come back the next week, someone’s going to say it’s on you. Always. Even (especially) when it's not.
5. You must spend at least 60% of your waking hours recruiting for church committees. Donald Trump has never seen negotiation quite like this. You have gaps to fill, and you’ll do whatever it takes. That charismatic young man who’s been visiting for six weeks? Welcome committee! That elderly saint who heads to Florida for seven months out of the year? Missions committee! Nobody wants to run the nursery? Give the role to your spouse, and then commit to serving 25 times per year. Oh, and that book you were about to start this Saturday night? Well, seven leaders just called in sick for tomorrow’s service, so . . .
6. Above all, you must be willing to see God work. Being an elder is full of hilarious frustrations, but there's good reason to be encouraged. When you become an elder, you will see the kingdom of God. You will feel the hand of Jesus. You will experience the merciful love of the Father in life of your congregation, often in new and unexpected ways.
And when you do, praying for Fido's toe fungus won’t seem so bad after all.