The Worth of Waiting: A Word to Aspiring Elders
Waiting is a challenging lesson. The better we perceive something to be, the stronger the desire. And the stronger the desire, the harder the wait tends to be.
I'm keenly aware of this because I'm prayerfully waiting for the Lord to open the door for me to serve as an elder in my local church.
Scriptures tell us this office is a good gift. Paul writes "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task" (1 Tim. 3:1).
Do you desire to be an elder? Be encouraged. You aspire to a noble task.
But just a couple chapters later, we see there's something of a waitlist, as Paul tells Timothy, "Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands…" (1 Tim. 5:22)
I'll be honest, that's been a hard verse to read in the past. Why would Paul give those instructions to Timothy? Here are a few answers I'm learning during my time of waiting.
1. Waiting is revealing.
Have you ever tried to find something at the bottom of a pond, only to realize after you reach in that you've kicked up all sorts of filth from the bottom? It's a familiar experience when it comes to searching for bad golf shots, but it's also an instructive picture for aspiring elders.
At first, it appears our hearts are clean and clear. But often in the reaching process the muck in our heart is stirred up. What first appeared as clean and clear water is all of the sudden downright filthy.
I know this time of waiting has revealed a lot of junk that was at first undetected in my heart. I've logged a pretty nasty list: fear of man, jealousy, discontentment, self-righteousness, impatience, laziness, mixed motives, just to name a few.
This awareness must be part of what Paul was getting at when he wrote, "The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden" (1 Tim. 5:24-25).
Much can be learned about yourself and others from serving in your local church for a short period of time. But Paul tells us that the clearest vision, the least impaired sight, comes from long lengths of time serving one another.
Brothers, do you want to navigate the path of ministry clearly? Do you want to ensure that your ministry isn't clouded with filth? Then serve your local church. Serve your local church now—faithfully, patiently, lastingly.
When you serve the body with your gifts, the Scriptures tell us you're putting into action the gift of God's manifold grace (1 Peter 4:10) and you are paving the way to greater obedience to Christ and love to others (1 Peter 1:22).
Therefore, in this time of waiting, take initiative. Look for ways to pour yourself out and share your gifts for the good of the body. Host Bible studies or small groups. Ask to teach a Sunday school class. Look for young men to disciple. Do yard work for the elderly in your church. Spend and be spent for the flock. May your good works be those that last in the long run.
2. Waiting is life-saving.
Perhaps a more important reason aspiring elders are called to wait is that God, in his perfect wisdom, is keeping us from self-destruction.
The Scriptures tell us an elder "…must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil." (1 Tim. 3:6)
Paul is clear here: entering the office of elder too early is dangerous—eternally dangerous. Those who take the office too early are most vulnerable to being puffed up with conceit. Much more, this is the very charge the Devil is guilty of. And the Scriptures are clear—he is beyond any salvation plan.
I used to feel like Paul was out to get us young guys, reserving church offices for the more experienced. You know, the gray-bearded sages with the biggest libraries. But I'm thankful that God has used this verse to shape my thinking. An ungodly, cynical suppression is not the reason young, aspiring elders aren't elders. God's grace is the reason.
Could it be that God's call for us to wait is his grace guarding us from falling into the trap of Satanic pride? If you desire to be an elder, and you're not one right now, are you able to say you're truly thankful to God for him not giving it to you yet?
Let us remember, brothers: Jesus knows what he's doing with his church, and he knows what he's doing with each of us. He knows the proper time for exaltation (1 Peter 5:5-8). Our responsibility is to humble ourselves under his hand where we are now, trusting that he knows what is best for his church yesterday, today, and forever.
3. Waiting prepares us.
In waiting, the Lord not only shows us our sin, and saves us from the sentence of Satan, but he also prepares us.
In one of John Newton's letters, he writes to a young believer sharing encouragement, and reflects on his own call to ministry and the way he was equipped through waiting.
It is very difficult to restrain ourselves within the bounds of prudence here, when our zeal is warm… but he that believeth shall not make haste. I was about five years under this constraint: sometimes I thought I must preach, though it was in the streets. I listened to everything that seemed plausible, and to many things that were not so. But the Lord graciously, and as it were insensibly, hedged up my way with thorns; otherwise, if I had been left to my own spirit, I should have put it quite out of my power to have been brought into such a sphere of usefulness, as he in his good time has been pleased to lead me to… [Therefore] be content with being a learner in the school of Christ for some years. The delay will not be lost time; you will be so much the more acquainted with the Gospel, with your own heart, and with human nature: the last is a necessary branch of a minister's knowledge, and can only be acquired by comparing what passes within us, and around us, with what we read in the word of God.
4. Waiting reminds us who we wait for.
Lastly, in waiting for noble things in this life, we should be reminded that we wait for One whose nobility far exceeds everything on earth in every respect.
As we wait, we should certainly be excited about the thought of serving Jesus and his church as an elder one day. But how sad would it be if this excited us more than the thought of being with and like our Lord?
Peter encourages the flock, "Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:13).
Christian brothers, I pray we do not miss this. Where does your hope rest today? What are you most eager for at this moment? Is it to be with Jesus and to be like him?
Don't set your hope fully on being an elder. Set your hope fully on Jesus—he's definitely coming back, and he's definitely better.
And in these waiting days, let us think often of Jesus' return. May this living hope animate our service now and purify us for Jesus' return that we might not shrink back in shame at his coming (1 John 2:28, 3:3).
It is through eagerly waiting upon Christ that we are most effectively instructed in what it means to be a shepherd of God's people, precisely because we learn best with eyes fixed on our Shepherd King.