Nevius on Appointing Elders Prematurely

Written by Karl Dahlfred on .

It is always good to know that someone is speaking from experience and not just theory.  Therefore, following on from my previous post about Nevius’ thoughts on finding local leaders, I wanted to share Nevius’ account of how he and his missionary colleagues made the mistake of appointing elders too hastily:

“Twenty years ago our mission in considering this subject reasoned on this wise: We are Presbyterians, and our churches should be organized from the first on Presbyterian principles.  If we cannot get men for elders as well qualified as we should like, we must take the best men we can find, men who seem sincere and earnest Christians, and who may develop in character and ability to fulfill the duties of elders by having the duties and responsibilities of this office laid upon them.  With these views and expectations several churches were formally and constitutionally organized.  It was found, however, in not a small proportion of cases that the elders did not, or could not, perform their official duties, and were an obstruction to any one else attempting to do so.  They were placed in a false position, injurious to themselves and the churches of which they had the nominal charge.  Some were hardly able to sustain the character of an ordinary church member and others were in a course of few years excommunicated.  We then took action as a Presbytery, determining that

elders should not be appointed unless their qualifications conformed in some good degree to those required in Scripture.” (John Nevius, The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches, Monadnock Press, Hancock New Hampshire, 2003, p.72-3)

Nevius and his colleagues got burned by this experience.  Their compromise of Biblical standards for elders hurt the churches and hurt the men that they put into leadership. They knew that Biblical churches should have elders and in an effort to plant Biblical churches, they compromised on the Biblical standards for elders.  It seems that pragmatism pushed them on in their decision rather than faith.  It truly takes faith to believe that God will provide for his church the quality leaders that are needed when there don’t seem to be any qualified candidates on the horizon.  But rather than relying upon our own wisdom, compromising on Biblical standards, missionary church planters need to wait upon God to provide in His time the quality of leaders that God has required, and is even now preparing for His church.  Will we trust in God’s provision of all things needful at his appointed time or will we take matters into our own hands as Sarah did in giving Hagar to Abraham, thinking that God needs some help in keeping his promise?



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