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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever
November-December 2012 | Subscribe Free!

Lay Elders: A User's Guide (Part 1)

Do you want to hear, like, the coolest thing?

I live in a city where there are lots of powerful people. Big timers, you know. When these people show up at an embassy reception or a private party on Capitol Hill, you can see the turning heads and hear the whispers—“Hey, isn’t that…?” They get the best seats and the special introductions—“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re grateful we could have with us tonight…”

But that is not what’s cool. What’s cool is that at when you show up at my church, things are different. Sometimes the big timers show up, and, sure, maybe a few heads turn. But do you know who I have watched receive special honor in the congregation, even double honor (1 Tim. 5:17)? The elders.

Honestly, it’s kind of weird. It is like there is a different social economy at play. A person gains a certain social status in the life of the body not because he is a two-star general, or works for the White House, or holds office, for as much honor such individuals may deserve for other reasons. Instead, it is the men who have been congregationally recognized as “above reproach” and “able to teach” who receive something like reverence. It genuinely feels unworldly, especially in this town. Do Americans even know what true reverence is?

Not all men are called to elder. And people can do Christ’s work through their careers in a number of ways. But I have to admit, I love watching this! Young people enter the church, spend several years here, and, somehow, begin to love the Lord and his Bride in new and profound ways, such that they become willing, if called, to make sacrifices to careers. Somewhere along the way they become ambitious about tending to hurting sheep, sharing the gospel, showing hospitality, teaching God’s Word, and praying name-by-name for the congregation.

I am not talking about the men who leave their careers to enter vocational ministry. I am talking about the men who remain in their careers, but who begin to shepherd anyway. These are the men I admire so much. They move from the prestigious firm to the peripheral firm; they take the pay cut; they let themselves get passed over for promotion. Why? Because they love the sheep, and they cannot help but spend the time it takes to shepherd sheep. No, not everyone has this call, but every individual who does provides one more piece of evidence for something counter-cultural going on, and I rejoice. I could name dozens of men like this: Chris, Bill, Scott, Eric, Michael, David, Dave, Randy, Steve, Papu, Sebastian, Klon, Greg...want me to keep going?

This issue of the 9Marks Journal and the next are devoted to these men: lay elders, or the pastors that a church doesn’t pay, because they do all their work in the evenings and weekends. In this issue, Jeramie Rinne and Sebastian Traeger lay out the basic expectations for the job. Garrett Kell and Michael McKinley offer counsel on raising up such men within the flock. And Garrett, Steve Boyer, and I offer a few thoughts on equipping them once the work has begun.

In January, we will come back to address the relationship between staff and lay elders, building unity and friendship among the elders, and other practical matters. Stay tuned! 

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