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Thursday, April 18, 2019

"The New Elder's Handbook" (Greg R Scharf and Arthur Kok)

TITLE: The New Elder's Handbook: A Biblical Guide to Developing Faithful Leaders
AUTHOR: Greg R Scharf and Arthur Kok
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018, (186 pages).

Leaders are hard to find. There is no such thing as a ready leader. Some would claim inadequacy. Others would shun leadership because it seems too daunting. Those who might be willing might not be ready as well for various reasons. The truth is, leaders are more easily farmed than found. It is more practical to prepare a leader and equip that person from the ground up instead of waiting for the perfect leader to appear from somewhere. I suspect that is one reason why we are exhorted to equip and prepare mature and godly leaders instead. One of the most prominent positions in any Church is the elder. This is not merely a title but a position of responsibility and maturity. They are the go-to persons for spiritual wisdom and guidance. While not every Church has an official office or name of "elder," the role is pretty clear: Elders are mature individuals who could be depended upon for Church leadership and spiritual guidance. This underlines the convictions of the authors in this book, that leaders can be raised up among us, and if called, we can be trained up to be an elder too. After all, Paul's exhortation to Timothy in 1 Tim 3:1 says "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task." "Anyone" means any one of us. Whether we are trained or not, we all have the potential to become an elder. God could call anyone. At the same time, this book is written to enable readers to support and to encourage their own church's elders.
Scharf gives us the following benefits for reading this book.
  • It provides a "concrete, tailored, training path"
  • It helps one to discern the biblical qualifications
  • It equips us with the qualities, regardless of whether we eventually become an elder or not
  • It keeps us humble
  • It "fosters intentional fellowship" among leaders
  • It slows us down and protects us from hasty decisions
My Thoughts
First, the title is less important than the role. You don't have to be an elder in order to appreciate the importance of elders in the Church. Sometimes, church members can become stuck in labels and titles. Just because a Church does not have an official title of "elder" does not mean they don't need elders, or they cannot have people to exercise the responsibilities of elders. I see it as mere semantics. Some churches call it as leaders while others call it as council members or representatives. In some cases, the chairperson of the board takes on the role of elder as well. The point is that, just because the title don't exist does not mean there is no need. So, do not fret if your church does not have any official title of elder. Change the word around and call it "leader" or "chief." That should do the trick.

Second, elders are there to lead through exemplary service, and not to lord over others. Our culture has become infatuated with super-heroes and mavericks with exceptional skills. Christians too have become influenced by the war where leaders are expected to be brave, brawn, and bold. Those who are more vocal, visible, and vibrant would be seen as natural examples for leadership. I would caution against that because the Bible does not say that. The authors remind us that the book is more descriptive rather than prescriptive, meaning we have to tailor our own approaches according to our respective contexts. More importantly, it takes an "elder" inside to serve well as elders outside. That is why the section on vision is critical. I appreciate the inclusiveness of the authors to include those who are gearing up to be elders as well. That is helpful as there are those who might feel embarrassed to even run for office. In many circles, it seems to be the anti-thesis of our understanding of what humility is. Sometimes, we miss the gist of Paul's exhortation to Timothy that those who "aspire" to be an overseer is pursuing a noble task. If it is something good, should we not pursue it? If we see it as an opportunity to serve others, should we not pounce on such an opportunity? I am glad Scharf and Kok not only clear the decks of any false sense of modesty but urges us on like cheerleaders to do the right thing when we have the heart of service. Having said that, even if we don't eventually get to be an elder or receive any such title, we ought to give thanks for the character building and the training. After all, the character is more important than the title.

Finally, the 75 questions are quite energy sapping but rewarding in terms of character building. Designed like a modern set of catechism for elders, these short questions and answers form the backbone of the training process. Instead of going into details about the answers to the questions, Scharf and Kok put together a topical index of Bible verses as well as literature resources for the serious elder or elder-to-be to get into. Apart from seeing these as reference material, I would venture to say that the aspiration to be an elder need to be matched by a desire to know the heart of God. These 75 questions are aimed at building up core theological beliefs in the Bible, in Jesus, prayer, spirituality, conduct, character, the Church, and so on.

This book is a great resource for the Church library. For elders in training or elders, this would be a nice gift to distribute. For the rest of us, there are gems we could glean from with regard to character building. Plus, we would know how to pray for our elders too!

George Scharf is professor emeritus of homiletics and pastoral theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has written books such as "Prepared to Preach, "Relational Preaching," and "Let the Earth Hear His Voice." He is also past president of the Evangelical Homiletics Society.

Arthur Kok is director of training for the Orchard Network, where he trains lay ministry leaders and equips future pastors, church planters, and missionaries. He has served previously in China and Singapore.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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