Lynn Anderson has written a wonderful book on elderships entitled They Smell Like Sheep. I wish I could claim credit for all the information in this blog, but I have to give him all the credit. As best I can, I'll put his material into my own words.
When you are struggling with a sin of some kind, one that you really need to talk to someone and confess and repent, to whom do you turn? Sometime after my father died, my mother told me a story of a preacher and his wife who came to my parents to talk of some indiscretions the man in the marriage had done. He had cheated on his wife and they knew that the information would destroy his career. They came to my parents and told them they were confessing their sins, but if it ever got out, they would know where the information had come. Of course, they had repented and confessed to God. But I thought it was interesting. I asked my Mom who it was. She declined to tell me. The fact that they would come to my parents to talk about such a sensitive issue says a lot about my mother and father. Now, if you had such a sin, where would you go.
What about a major decision in your life? Perhaps a job opportunity that would affect your entire family. What if it involved a move or even a challenge to your spiritual life. Who would be your sounding board?
We all need someone like that. Someone with whom we have a relationship, a history. Someone who could give wise counsel. Someone who was approachable, available, and scriptural in their thinking. Someone who had proven through the years their reliability. This is the kind of person that you look to to be an elder, a mentor, a guide in the church.
Lynn Anderson said, "The process of appointing elders is simply the process of acknowledging those who have been shepherding for a long time."
An elder is a shepherd. He has a flock. There are people who look to him for their spiritual guidance. Whether or not he has the title is immaterial. He is leading 24/7. He smells like sheep. When I was in college, I worked at a Mexican restaurant called the Taco House. After work, I would go visit my friends who were in college and who lived in the residence halls. I would walk into the room and they would say, "Did you just come from work, Whitey?" I reeked of tacos. Such is an elder. He smells like sheep.
An elder is a mentor. They have walked down the path before and they show us how to live. They spend more of their time showing us how to live than telling us how to live.
An elder is an equipper. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of the flock. He knows where someone can best use their talents, skills, and abilities. He plugs them into where they can be most effective in the kingdom.
Generally three words are used in the discussion of elders: Elders, Overseers, and Shepherds. Read I Peter 5:1-4, Peter uses each of those words. Basically, one who is older, one who pastors or shepherds, and one who leads, or guides, or watch on behalf of. I won't go into the Greek right now, but these are the three terms used.
"Why haven't you used the passages from I Timothy or Titus?" you might ask. These are good traits, but my fear is we use them as a checklist. Aren't these qualities that all Christians should have? So really, what we're looking for is the person who best exemplifies Christlikeness.
A relevant leader is one who makes a difference. One we are willing to follow. Paul said, "Follow me, as I follow Christ." Such is the same for a shepherd.