I’ve been thinking lately about the many thankless jobs in the world in which we live. I remember reading about the sanitation workers’ strike in New York City several decades ago (full disclosure, it was 1975). Almost overnight, as the piles of garbage began to grow on the city sidewalks, these people who were usually looked down upon and joked about were suddenly seen as a vital cog in the working of a city. I once thought that the people that drilled and serviced our water well were a pretty rough looking bunch of guys; that is, until the pump quit working, and they suddenly turned into some of the most important people in my life. Years ago, Lydia’s father served (it is appropriate that it is the same word used to describe a prison sentence) on the school board, and I remember the late night phone calls and the constant complaints from people sniping about every decision that was made. But, after being a Presbyterian pastor for the past decade I would like to nominate a new group that would belong on the list of those who serve in an often thankless job: the ruling elder.
I know, I know, I have sometimes joked that teaching elders are paid to be good, but ruling elders are good for… (Well, you know how this sentence ends) But, I must admit, I admire these men greatly because I have seen the long hours they have spent praying, dealing with difficult issues dropped in their laps by others, respecting the privacy of those whose lives they are trying to shepherd, sitting through long and arduous meetings striving to make decisions that will result in the long term health of the church, spending a great amount of time caring for the flock of God, and working to accomplish countless tasks of which the church at large is not even aware, and the list of their duties could go on and on.
And, to make their responsibilities even more demanding, they have “real jobs,” too. As a teaching elder, I was always compensated financially for the many hours I spent caring for the flock of God, but they do it out of a love for God’s people, and a love for God’s church. I came across a blog post from January of 2015 (five months before I retired) which describes my respect and love for those who have been elected by God’s people for this great responsibility. I meant these words when I penned them, and I still feel the same way, one year into my retirement:
When one comes to the end of Paul’s Letter to the Church in Rome we find this interesting collection of greetings that Paul desires to pass along to those in the Imperial city:
3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert1 to Christ in Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia,1 my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles,2 and they were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers1 who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. (Romans 16:3-15)
As I left our session meeting last night (if you are not Presbyterian, a church session is the body of elders in a local church) I thought of this passage. The men I had left had spent the last five hours praying, discussing, sharing, and debating issues involved in the shepherding of Reformed Presbyterian Church in Beaumont, Texas. These are men from different walks of life who have been chosen by the people of RPC to “shepherd the flock of God,” and I saw again what wise choices the congregation has made. These are not perfect men, but they are men who have been touched by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and desire as much as possible, to nourish, protect, and care for God’s sheep.
I have ministered with good men before during my 35+ years of ministry, but I must admit that these men are the cream of the crop. Thank you, Lord, for the “gifts” that you have given to our local congregation. These men are like the ones Paul wrote about in Romans: they have “worked hard in the Lord” for His people, and are “beloved.”