The center piece of the gospel of Matthew is when Jesus turned to Peter and asked, “Who do you think I am?” Pete responded, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” How did Peter know this? Jesus did not have the credentials. He was born in a back water town on the edge of the universe. There were rumors that his mother was pregnant before marriage. Who knew who the father might have been? Jesus did not go to seminary and was not even ordained to be a preacher. According to the IRS his income for the past year was zero. Yet Peter looked at Jesus and knew Jesus was unique.
Who are Jerry Wrenn, Mary Gurr, and Mike Fisher? Other than being members of Rockfish Presbyterian, what do they have in common? What qualifies them to be ordained as elders? While having a conversation with Jerry about becoming an elder he asked, “Do I have to be an elder to become a member of the session?” The question caught me off guard. He continued. “Elders are highly respected, highly learned, and highly religious folks. I am not sure I qualify.”
Jerry’s question has caused me to reminisce about some of my favorite elders of the past. None had much in common. Their biblical knowledge varied. Their station in life and occupations were dissimilar. Perhaps the only thing they had in common was the each believed Jesus to be the son of the living God. So for the sake of Jerry, Mary, and Mike, allow me a moment to tell you about them.
Perhaps my favorite was Grady. She proudly stood 4 foot ten and barely weighed 90 pounds and had the strongest heart of any one I have ever known. I dare not guess her age. I served communion to shut-ins with Grady for five years. Half the folks on our list were not church members. They were just folks Grady looked in on every week. Few of them had a friend in the world except Grady. But she was always there. In her first term as elder I can hardly remember Grady speaking a word yet when our Clerk retired Grady was unanimously chosen to replace him.
George was born into money. His mother owned and then sold the Coca-Cola plants that served all of Eastern North Carolina. George worked but he really didn’t need to. Because of this many folks suspected George incapable of making any important decisions. His words were usually overlooked at session meetings. In 1985 I decided to take an extended leave to volunteer for Witness for Peace in Nicaragua. This caused great concern among session members. After a lengthy discussion George stood up in the middle of the meeting and said, “I have no idea why Louie wants to do this but when he speaks I hear the words of Jesus. We need to support him.” End of discussion.
Doug was a mess. When his grandmother brought him to church and we cringed. Doug was a bull in a china closet. And then he started to grow. When he reached the age of 16 he was the starting guard on the varsity football team and chief disrupter in our youth group. He stumbled and bumbled through everything and everyone. But Doug loved his church. If the doors were open Doug was there. His senior year in high school he was nominated to be a session member. He told me one of the reasons he went to the local college was so he could complete his term as a session member. Today Doug is a principal at a high school in Dallas, Texas. He is both an elder and leader of the youth program in his church.
Rebekah was born into the church. Her father was a minister. She was persuaded to attend a Presbyterian College. She earned her Master’s in Christian Education and worked in churches as a Christian Educator and specialized in working with Children and youth. She was great at what she did. She loved the church, she loved worship, but it was not until late in her career that she was even considered for the position of elder. Sometimes our blindness keeps us from nominating the most obvious choices.
We too often assume there is a cookie cutter approach to picking elders. It used to be assumed you had to be a male and at least 50 years of age. A person’s occupation often determined who was selected. Sometimes we make the mistake of picking folks because of their status in the community or a unique skill set they possess that might have nothing to do with being an elder. I have always found the best elders are those who see beyond themselves. The best elders are the ones who claim Jesus as Son of God and might not fully understand what that means. The best elders are often the folks we overlook. But when put in the position to serve Christ, they shine.
I am not sure what kind of elder Mary, or Jerry, or Mike will became. But someone in this congregation saw something and nominated them. In private conversations and prayer, they decided to serve. Then you as a congregation showed your confidence by voting for them. Who do we think Mary and Mike and Jerry are? They are elders, children of the living God.
Let’s pray for them, let’s listen to them, and let’s be patient with them as they work toward being as worthy as Grady, Doug, George, and Rebekah.