Use, don't stifle, elders

The writer is a former elder of the Worldwide Church of God who left the Worldwide Church of God in 1985.

By Dan L. White

HARTVILLE, Mo.--As I calculate it, one of the larger Churches of God has one elder for approximately every 40 people. This seems like a high minister-member ratio.

One could envision elders with too little to do secretively calling up members at night and anonymously giving them counseling. Weddings could be done in shifts, with one elder intoning, "And now I proclaim you man-" and a second elder then proclaiming joyously, "-and wife!" Anointing could be done en masse, and that would seem so much the better, although some members might be seen exiting the anointing room with greasy heads.

Seriously, though, as a group these elders have too little to do.

Remember Apple?

Apple computers seemed to have a superior, simpler operating system. These machines quickly won a rabid following and came to have the most outstanding name in personal computers. They were out front, and they knew it. They allowed no one else to use their proprietary technology. Apple stuff came only from Apple. They were the only channel through which Apple technology flowed.

Microsoft wrote an operating system for the IBM personal computer. This DOS approach, with myriads of complex commands, was awkward compared to the smooth, simple Apple system. Then Microsoft made this system easier, with Windows, which chewed up computer memory but executed those complicated DOS commands in the background.

Finally came Windows 95, getting close to where Apple was to begin with.

But an IBM-type personal computer-a clone-could be manufactured by anybody. These IBM look-alikes came to be inexpensive and widely used, almost all with Microsoft operating systems.

So now Apple is struggling to stay in business, while almost all personal computers in the world are of the IBM type using Microsoft operating systems. Why?

Apple was the only channel through which to get a superior Apple computer. But it turns out Apple wasn't a channel. It was a bottleneck. Anybody could make IBM-compatible PCs, and they sold by the millions. IBM-clone manufacturers sprang up in garages and basements. Software for them was written on dining tables in every corner of the world, while relatively little software was written for the relatively few PCs that Apple could crank out all by itself.

Apple was just one company with a professional, planned approach-trying to keep up with a whole world of innovative, eager computer hackers. Apple was left in the dust.

The United Church of God, for example, has a great pool of people, men who are talented and have shown by their actions in the past few years that they are dedicated to obeying God's commandments. When United first organized, these men were bustling around, full of energy and enthusiasm, trying this and trying that, eager to witness to the world about what they believed.

But United seems to have decided that all United technology-all evangelism and teaching-would come through the headquarters channel.

Are the Church of God organizations free-flowing channels or backed-up bottlenecks?

Little of the elders' time is spent on the front line warning or teaching the world, because headquarters is unable to funnel many new people to them. Much of the ministers' time is spent trying to put out fires behind their own lines. This has to be much less encouraging than if they were personally teaching new people about Christ.

Even their speaking seems uninspired and quite disconnected from the everyday spiritual crisis in which we live. Their sermons come across as homiletic assignments, relying heavily on gadgets and Reader's Digest­type material, devoid of gut-wrenching personal evangelism.

Since the members are hardly reaching outward to preach to their own areas, they spend much time lighting fires for the ministers to try to put out. If they were more closely involved in evangelism in their own areas, they would naturally put more importance on that outward giving.

In the old Radio Church of God, so many people were responding to Herbert Armstrong's powerful message that a corps of ministers was needed just to keep up with the flow of converts. Today that situation seems reversed.

Mr. Armstrong was an individual who was used by God in an obviously powerful way for a while. That individual does not exist now. But we do have many people who were trained by Herbert Armstrong. We have a quite different situation, and it would seem to call for quite a different approach.

These elders and members are never going to look at any other church the way they viewed Worldwide, and that is good. These people are now dedicated to serving no man, no corporation-only YHWH God Himself. So it will do United or any other group little good to spend a lot of energy trying to keep their members herded in a corral. These are not a church organization's people. These are God's people. Let God be in charge of His people.

Simply put-since United, to cite the biggest group, has a mass of manpower, an excess of elders-United needs to use them.

Let them have their heads. Let Paul go one way, Barnabas another. And who knows what Mark will do?

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