The hardest thing about this job of being an elder is caring.
Changing how we do things (what we nerds in the corporate world Ike to call “process improvement”), networking and building partnerships, the early morning breakfasts or afternoon coffees or evening beers to spend time with people, counseling friends with difficult problems, looking for new opportunities, even the meetings: I really do live for this stuff. A mentor of mine back in college used to challenge me to not just lead Bible studies, but actually learn to lay my life down for other people. I haven’t been more challenged to live by this principle anywhere else but here.
I used to joke with my friends about how my pastor during college (different church would preach about a moralistic faith of reading your Bible and praying more. I look back on my prideful twenty-something self with a twinge of sorrow about that attitude, but I do think we were onto something with that John 15:13 idea.
I started blogging again so I could show that my schedule isn’t all that bad and try to make up for (and repent of) spreading misinformation about the demands on my time. They’re really not all that bad. But, when they sometimes are, it’s so, so worth it: there really is little else that I get a charge out of more than being an elder at the Village Church. Where else could I possibly employ what I believe my gifts of administration in more capably than right here? Certainly not my (important, but not quite so) job as a tiny cog in a financial services company.
I mentioned before that the hardest part, though, is caring. Friends from our Jersey fellowship group congratulated me for becoming an elder with a bottle of Dewar’s 12-year scotch. I drained it in, oh, my first year or so as an elder (I’ll be halfway through my three-year term in October). And not because it was a crazy amount of work, or because I was up late writing meeting minutes, or the occasional (and they were occasional) marathon meetings.
It was because we had to make some difficult decisions about things that were close to my heart. Because I worried that the real matters that we had to focus on as a session sometimes had a lasting impact in people’s lives. Because I often felt sympathetic to all sides of an argument, but still had to choose between them.
I don’t think that anything could have prepared me for this, apart from being a father. It’s one thing to care about people a lot. It’s another when it’s your own family. And it’s still another when it involves family where it’s your job to be responsible for other peoples’ lives.
We caught my daughter in a lie today. Not earth-shattering, but one where we all knew what the score was and that my wife and I had to call her on it. It involved a punishment (a three-minute timeout), and then a process of reconciliation: asking her why she got the timeout, explaining it to her, forgiving her, and asking her to apologize to my wife so she could offer forgiveness, too.
None of that was fun: not the fact that she had lied, nor the question in the back of my mind whether she really knew what she had done, nor the hurtful look in her tear-streamed eyes, nor the awkwardness of reliving the moment to get my point across, nor the sense of unease watching her cross the room to see if she really was going to ask my wife for forgiveness (she did), nor, finally, my concern that she might have held a grudge against me for the whole experience (she didn’t).
But, the lesson was important. It had to be clear to my daughter that lying was hurtful. And that required my taking the risk to be decisive even if she might have been confused (because, regardless, her word is important). And she needed to ask forgiveness because that’s how healthy relationships work. And all of this because, as a father, I’m provided a short window to influence the trajectory of this little life 5, 10, and 20 years into the future.
Even though the analogy to fatherhood breaks down quickly, I have found that being an elder informs my life as a father and vice-versa. The difficulty remains the same: it’s hard to put your heart on the line about stuff you know—and know from the Scriptures—really matters, and realize that oftentimes (not every time, God be praised), that will mean rejection.
That’s the real hard part. And, if it weren’t a constant reminder of how I have been so completely forgiven for my own rejection of Christ, I might have given up. But that’s when I realize that so much of this work is about the change inside of me, and the reminder that our friends and our neighbors need that just as deeply as I do.