I recently read a very interesting book that provided an intriguing look at growing up, maturing (wait for it…wait for it… yes, here it is, an associate link: The Life Model: Living from the heart Jesus gave you). In the past few Mondays, as we looked at God’s way for our individual lives, I’ve been sharing some of what I learned from this book. I’ve already looked at the infant stage, the child stage, the adult stage and the parent stage of maturity. Today, let’s look at the elder stage (beginning when the youngest child has become an adult).
The Elder Stage
While we always continue to mature, this is the highest level of maturity shared by the authors of The Life Model. We need to remember that just because someone’s children have become adults, doesn’t mean they automatically enter this elder stage of maturity. Sadly, some may have biologically raised children to adulthood but still be children themselves. This is simply the authors’ marker for when this stage can begin.
True elders are comfortable in their own skin. They act like themselves in the midst of difficulty. They don’t check the winds of change, putting their finger to the air, to see how they need to act and react. They have become comfortable with who God has made them to be, with their actions, their reactions, their responses. They are also comfortable helping their community grow based on its God-given identity, not trying to force on the community what the elder wants it to be. They see the value and potential in all others, helping them accomplish their reach their potential and goals. Elders are able to look past the flaws and facades of others to see what God has designed them to be.
Elders do not simply parent their own children, they work to parent the community. “They can handle criticism and rejection, speak the truth even when it is not easy or popular, serve without being appreciated, encourage needed growth and change, delight in younger people’s skill and power, and place what is best for the community over personal fairness and preference” (p. 23).
Finally, true elders recognize that those with struggling biological families need a spiritual family. They need a spiritual family to help them heal, grow, and thrive. These elders are willing to give the nurture and care needed in these situations treating these “spiritual adoptees” with the same care they would their own biological children.
Maturity Tasks of the Elder
According to the authors, there are four tasks for the elders to accomplish as they continue to grow within the community.
- Elders establish an accurate community identity and act like themselves in the midst of difficulty.
- Elders prize each community member, and enjoy the true self in each individual.
- Elders parent and mature the community.
- Elders give life to those without a family through spiritual adoption (p. 33).
The elders accomplish these tasks as the community responds in the following ways, respectively.
- The community recognizes elders within the community.
- The community provides opportunities for elders to be involved with those in all of the other maturity stages.
- The community creates a structure to help the elders do their job, which allows people at every stage of maturity to interact properly with those in other stages, and listen to the wisdom of maturity.
- The community places a high value on being a spiritual family to those with no family (p. 33).
When Elders Fail
If elders fail to accomplish these maturity tasks, the community suffers. There is disorder. There is meaninglessness. There is lack of direction for the community. The community will begin to disintegrate at every level. When elders fail to prize and value each member of the community, life-giving interactions diminish. At-risk, hurting, and struggling people fail to heal and survive. Interdependence within the community is stunted, and thus, the community’s growth is stunted. When true elders don’t lead, parenting the community properly, unqualified people do, resulting in immaturity across the community. When true elders do not parent and adopt those whose biological families are not sufficient, poverty, violence, crisis, crime, and mental disorders increase. Obviously, when those whose biological parents aren’t bringing them to maturity have no one who mentors them, they simply won’t mature.
Seeing the sad prospect of a community without qualified and true elders helps us understand the sad statement made by the authors: “Sadly, most in our culture never make it to this level of maturity. This is unfortunate because the success of any country, community, school or church body will have a direct correlation to the presence of true elders who are guiding and advising” (p. 23). In other words, when elders fail to fulfill their tasks, the community fails to grow to maturity as a whole.
The Spiritual Application
I think the spiritual application at this level is abundantly clear. Churches need elders. Without true and qualified elders, churches cannot mature and grow. Without men who will parent and grow the brethren within the congregation, the congregation will be stunted. Look at churches across the nation. What is the real problem going on within so many? Do they not have elders because they are small? Or are they small because they don’t have true elders?
I can’t help but think of Ezekiel 34:2-10. God was bringing judgment upon Judah because her shepherds weren’t shepherding. The flock had disintegrated and was scattered across the mountains. This was written within the context of the Babylonian captivity. Babylon was destroying Judah and it was because there weren’t true elders guiding that nation. I find Ezekiel 34:10 very interesting. God was delivering Judah up to captivity, but He called it a deliverance from these awful shepherds who had dealt so poorly with Judah.
God has given qualifications for elders within His communities (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Without getting in depth with these qualifications, I think we can all see that the essence of these lists says God wants mature Christians to be elders within His churches. If we want more true shepherds in our congregations, then more of us have to work on spiritual maturity. We have to start by first being disciples, surrendering our lives to God. We have to begin with personal growth. If no one matures, then there will be no elders and eventually there will be no churches. Oh, sure there will be groups that call themselves churches, but they will not be what God wants. Eventually, as He did with the seven churches of Asia, He will judge the churches and remove their lampstand.
Concluding the Series
I spoke with one friend who said he was reading this series, but then got depressed and had to quit. I can completely understand that. As I read The Life Model, I became quite discouraged. As I’ve thought more about maturing, I see more clearly how far I have to grow. That can seem overwhelming. However, I’ve begun to emotionally grasp another concept that is helping me. Time is not my enemy. Time is my friend. I don’t have to be at the elder level of maturity by the weekend. I just need to grow some more between now and then. I can grow a little today. Then tomorrow, I’ll grow a little more. And the next day. And the next. In God’s good time, if I continue to grow in Him, He’ll mature me.
Let’s keep growing together.