Someone recently asked me two question: How did I know it is God’s will for me to be an elder? And what is it like to be an elder right now, during the exciting days of our building expansion? The answers are intertwined with my story as an elder and the story of Hillside.
It has been my privilege and honor to serve on the Hillside Council several times over the past 40 some years. As charter members, my wife Linda and I were there in the heady days of birth, when Hillside was first born as Cutlerville Hills Christian Reformed Church. We’ve gone from meeting in a small gym at Pine Rest, to the tiny Pine Rest Chapel, to South Christian’s auditorium, to our present location. I served as deacon or elder in each place. The job was different every time.
Elders, and I’m sure most in the congregation, frequently ask the question, “What’s the best way to spend the money of the people of God?” In the beginning, we didn’t want to own a building. We believed that since a church was only used once or twice a week, and in hours opposite those of the school, we could use the same building as the school and spend more on missions and the needy. Several times, the possibility of building was presented. For some years, we even owned a piece of land in the “Cutlerville Hills” neighborhood which is how our church got its name. We later sold this property, and eventually bought different property and built our current facility. As we grew, there were several times that we discussed and explored expanding our building. But each time, after much prayer, much asking God for wisdom, after discussions into the night, it seemed very clear that the time was not right to expand. Each of those times, I agreed — the time was not right. Until it was! And now it is just as clear that it is time to build.
About the question, “How do I know when it’s God’s will to be an elder?” Well, sometimes it is God’s will, and sometimes it is not. The method we use for selecting church office-bearers is reassuring. It ensures that those elected have not won a popularity contest or have won simply because their names are familiar. This is how it works:
When it’s time for “elections” (which is really a selection process) people from the congregation nominate those they think would make a good elder, shepherd leader, deacon or service leader. When someone is nominated, they are asked by leadership if they are willing to do the job. There are a few weeks between nominations and selections.
This is the point at which it becomes personal. I take time to think about the position. (There are different types of elders: some for worship, some for church education, some for outreach, and some for shepherd leaders, etc.) I ask myself if I am right for the job for which I have been nominated. I ask myself if it’s a good time for my family that I be involved in something so consuming. I bring my nomination before God in prayer. There was a time, several years ago, when I was sure it wasn’t the right time for me. Yes, I was qualified for the position, but I thought I was too busy to add this service to my life. I went to Council to tell them I could not accept the nomination. They convinced me they were just as sure that I should. In the end, I did allow myself to be nominated. I would allow God to decide.
After being nominated, our names are put into a hat, and on the night of that year’s selection, I was chosen to be elder. I was skeptical about how this was all going to work. But it did work. And I can tell you that those three years of service turned out to be a great blessing, not just to the church, but to me personally.
Being an elder is not always easy. There have been challenging times. Like the apostles and elders in Acts 15, we’ve often had “much discussion.” But most of the time, it is an honor and a privilege to serve God in this leadership role. Elders may help determine the direction of the church, even what kind of church we will be.
Two years ago, I was nominated to be Executive Elder or President of Council. After prayer and the period of waiting, I said yes. I really thought this position was God’s will. But on selection night, my name was not chosen from the hat. Not being chosen required a lot of prayer but after a few weeks I got to the place where I could accept it. I continued in church to do what I have always done and serve as a lay member.
Lo and behold, after a few months of serving, the man who was chosen for this elder position was transferred by his company to another state, and then I became the Executive Elder of Council. It has been during this term as elder that we as a church were led to the decision that it is indeed time to expand our facilities. During our expansion — during the most exciting time I’ve ever served — God chose me to be the leader! And it has been a privilege to do my job in leading us forward.
I know from every life lesson that the young families, the children of our body of Christ, are the future of our church, and right now we are bursting with young families and children. Every month, often, more than once in a month, a baby is born. Many new members are young families. They are our future, the future of our church, and the future of God’s people. They are one of the most important reasons we need to build.
The church leaders asked through the years, “Should we build?” The answer each time was a resounding, “No.” But this time we heard a resounding, “Yes.” This time, God said “Yes,” to me to be executive elder, and to lead our church in its most exciting expansion to date.
“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven” Ecclesiastes 3:2.
“For I know the plans for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 11-13).