Where Do You Stand? The Six Feet of a Novice Elder (Mar – Apr 1996)

By Matt Dabbs

by Dan G. Blazer
March – April, 1996

“Where do you stand?” I anticipated, and was not disappointed, that once my name was placed before our congregation as a candidate to be an elder I would be asked where I stand on any number of issues. Psychiatrists are not accustomed to answering such questions. It’s not that we have no opinions or beliefs, it’s that we respond to questions with questions. For example, if a patient asks me where I stand regarding a certain approach in psychotherapy, I usually respond, “Why do you ask?”

As a novice elder, I can no longer turn questions asked of me back upon the persons who asked the question. I must be willing to “take a stand.” Where do I stand? After some reflection, I realized that I have at least six feet, two feet in my study of Scripture, two in my congregation, and two somewhere in relation to “the brotherhood.”

The Scriptures

I have my first foot firmly planted in the Bible. This timeless revelation of God’s mighty works, especially sending his son to us in order that we might be saved, is truly a remarkable book. It breathes the very being of the otherwise incomprehensible God. Unlike any other book I know, the Bible speaks directly to my daily struggles as well as providing meaning to an otherwise meaningless existence.

On the other hand, I have a second foot planted outside of Scripture to assist me in understanding Scripture. This second stance may appear strange coming from a novice elder in a church of Christ. Surely the Scriptures should be totally comprehensible to me if I but sit and absorb them. No! I need all the help I can get.

Many years ago, when I first entered medicine, a wise professor told me that the perfect textbook is the patient. That is, everything I need to learn about diabetes can be learned by a thorough study of a patient with diabetes. I can listen to the patient’s symptoms, perform a physical examination, explore blood and view x-rays, trust the patient with the medication insulin, then observe the patient over time. No textbook can teach me about diabetes so perfectly as the study of a diabetic patient.

On the other hand, I would be a foolish doctor if I only spent time talking with and examining my patients. I read textbooks, I talk to my colleagues, I attend conferences, I gather every available piece of information related to my patient. None of this information completely explains what is happening with my diabetic patient, yet these bits and pieces of information keep me honest. I am, and always will be, a novice physician. That is why physicians “practice.” I never get it absolutely right, I have never read the perfect textbook. My practice improves, however, when I take advantage of the experiences of other persons, persons who have engaged in the practice of medicine for thousands of years.

Should I approach the Scriptures any differently? I think not. I am a novice Christian, not to mention a novice elder. I have practiced and will continue to practice at being the best Christian that I can be. Now I will practice at being the best elder I can be. I need all the help I can get.

Therefore, I will keep one foot planted in commentaries, historical works, and devotional writings, virtually whatever I can place my hands on which will assist me to become a better elder. I don’t apologize for seeking these study aids. My need for assistance from books and from colleagues in performing my work as an elder is the inevitable consequence of being a fallible individual encountering the perfect and transcendent God through Scripture. It’s all there (or at least all I need) in Scripture, but I can’t get it out by myself.

Congregation

My third foot is planted among those persons in my congregation who are my closest friends. My closest friends have always been members of the Lord’s church wherever I have worshipped. I need these friends. I enjoy these friends. I cannot imagine that, as an elder, my relationship with these friends will change. We will pray together, laugh together, study together, and play together. Naturally, my closest friends are persons who are most like me, persons who understand me and share my culture.

My fourth foot, however, is planted among those persons who are most different from me. I have been fortunate for many years to attend congregations that are diverse, “racially and ethnically mixed” to use the politically correct term. We have had among us the educated and less educated, persons brought up in the church and persons who are new Christians, persons with liberal and persons with conservative political views. I believe God wants me to keep this fourth foot firmly planted among those persons within our congregation who are most different from me. I must learn to appreciate and accept them so that I do not impose my own cultural, political, and economic standards upon them. I will show them we love across boundaries and they will return that love and acceptance. I often don’t understand them, but I cannot justify changing them because they are different than me.

Paul encouraged me, I believe, to be “all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Even so, it is somewhat difficult to be all things at once, I believe that I will best approach Paul’s example by planting two feet at the extremities. If I can learn to be with those who appear most like me and among those who appear most unlike me, then filling in the gap should be less difficult.

What do I expect to learn? For one, I expect I will learn that I am unique, that no one is just like me, and I at times (perhaps frequently) will feel that I am an alien even among those who are my closest friends, my closest brothers and sisters in Christ. Elders do appear to be lonely persons at times. At the same time, I will learn that I have more in common than I first thought with those who appear so different. When I listen to those so different from me describe their aspirations, their fears, their beliefs and hopes, they do not seem that different from me, regardless of the color of their skin, the country from which they derived or the political party with which they affiliate. The church should be a melting pot and at times that melting pot may be becoming a boiling cauldron given the tensions which derive from the diversity of its members. Yet my congregation is my home, my family on this earth. It’s not a perfect family, not the family I would create if I could. Yet it is the family God has given me. It’s good enough for me.

Brotherhood

I grew up in the Church of Christ. I love this “brotherhood of believers” (1 Peter 2:17). I can walk into any Church of Christ in the United States and find someone who knows someone I know. As I strike up a conversation, I remember that I am planting my fifth foot firmly in the brotherhood. I read the brotherhood papers, I attend lectureships, I gather with my brothers and sisters in Christ throughout North Carolina, and I have even been so bold as to write for brotherhood publications.

The brotherhood of believers, a brotherhood even more diverse than my own congregation, has much to teach me as a novice elder. I must learn what works in other congregations so that I might help apply those techniques to our congregation in Raleigh. I must learn what is straining other congregations, for I hope we can avoid these strains in our congregation. I must be informed of the controversies within the brotherhood (even though I would prefer to ignore them). Why? Those controversies will necessarily visit in Raleigh, for we are a transient congregation and members of the Lord’s body are constantly moving to the Triangle from areas throughout the country. If I am ignorant of the concerns and tensions which they confront, then I can be of little value to them. I have much to learn from good friends throughout the brotherhood. For example, Carl Mitchell, Dean of the School of Religion at Harding University, has been a close friend for nearly 20 years. I never hesitate to call Carl if I have a question or concern, and Carl has not hesitated to call me when I could be of help to him. Relationships such as these are extremely important if I am to be an effective elder.

Even so, I must plant my sixth foot outside the brotherhood. Specifically, I cannot permit myself to be constantly looking over my shoulder at what is going on in the brotherhood. Frankly, the brotherhood can become most distracting. As the Brooks Avenue congregation in Raleigh is the largest congregation among the Churches of Christ in the Carolinas, there is no way we will not be talked about and written about. This is not a doctrinal but a sociological phenomena. “Big” attracts controversy. Yet my responsibility is primarily to the members of my congregation. If I listen too frequently to the brotherhood, I will not listen enough to the needs and motivations of the members of our congregation, not to mention the Scriptures.

How can I keep one foot out of the brotherhood? Paul provides me with an excellent example. I cannot read his letters without recognizing that he was constantly reflecting upon congregations, praising them at times, criticizing them at times, yet keeping his distance at all times even as he relied upon and loved the members of those congregations. This is no better illustrated than in Paul’s approach to the church in Corinth, a church which he loved yet a church that caused him much pain and hardship. If Paul had looked over his shoulder too frequently at Corinth, his ministry would have been crippled. Rather, Paul states that “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ [not the church at Corinth] I appeal to you” (1 Corinthians 10:1). Paul goes on to say that Corinth had to work out its own problems with Christ. “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:2-3).

As a novice elder, I have six feet. They will serve me well if I let my mind guide my feet. I strive to “have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). I learned in Anatomy 101 that the mind guides the feet. Where do I stand? I stand on these six feet, not always correctly, yet seeking Christ’s mind to guide these feet in paths of righteousness.Wineskins Magazine

Dan G. Blazer

categoria commentoNo Comments dataJanuary 13th, 2014
Read All

About...

Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

Share

FacebookTwitterEmailWindows LiveTechnoratiDeliciousDiggStumbleponMyspaceLikedin

Leave a comment