The Office Bearer Is Only Human
The mailman brought me an important letter today. He was not aware of this. After all, there are so many other letters in his bag. At best, he may assume sometimes that a letter is important. Without knowing its contents, he delivers the letter to someone he does not need to know. As long as he keeps his appointed rounds, it is relatively unimportant who he is. An office bearer is a kind of carrier as well. He is a carrier for God. Does it really matter who he is? The opinions about this differ. In any case, you cannot equate him with a letter carrier on two counts. He must not only know the message, but also the people to whom he delivers it. This makes who-one-is essential for his work.
It's not about me (in the first place)
Is that really true? Is who-you-are essential for your work as office bearer? There are a lot of people who do not agree with this. We are soon inclined to say: "It is not about me." This 'slogan' you often encounter in the church. (Take note, however, of the person who says it and see whether it is indeed correct!!)
Indeed, in the church it is not about the minister, the elder or the deacon; at least not in the first place. In the first place, it is about God. In the second place, it has to do with the Church. (There it is about God; therefore it may have to do with us!) In the third place, we also have to look at the person of the office bearer. For everyone senses that this move makes a decisive difference.
It really makes a difference what kind of elder you get on a home visit. It is also very important what kind of minister leads the worship service. A minister, who dutifully rattles off his story, does little to motivate the congregation. An elder, who has been truly seized by the Gospel, radiates some of this as well. Sometimes these impressions speak louder about God than a thousand words.
The method of the Holy Spirit
It is important that we do not only see a person in action, but also that God Himself makes us aware that the person in question forms part of the Spirit's method. What is typical about His method is that He brings in people. Notice that we encounter this theme throughout the Bible. When the Gospel is proclaimed, God always brings this about by engaging people as human beings.
This method of the Spirit, we see, for example, very clearly when the Gospel spreads across the world in the New Testament. Then it always involves people who are carefully appointed to spread the Gospel. And it is remarkable that even now we still know the names and personalities of those people. No, it is not those people, nor whoever plants or waters that really matters (1 Cor 3:7). Yet, God considered them to be important enough to describe their personality. In the letters of the New Testament we notice that personal relationships are important. They contain many greetings. And they always deal with more than private friendships. Precisely when Paul passes on greetings, we notice that it has to do with the service of the Gospel. This is not without good reason. That personal bond, as it were, is the "carrier" of the message. We can learn much from it in our situation. When we pass on the Gospel, we may make use of personal bonds that have been formed. Everyone senses that in that connection the person is not unimportant. This is already very clear when it concerns mission and evangelization work. We cannot do missionary work by parachuting a load of Bibles somewhere and then leave it up to God how the message is received. We cannot do home mission by only dropping a pamphlet into someone's mail box and hope that God will use it. We cannot organize a real worship service with a cassette recorder placed in the middle of the table.
In all those situations we sense that the passing along of the message would become impersonal. Stronger yet, it is questionable whether the message has been carried along properly. This "carrying" is to be taken literally. There is always a person involved in the carrying of a message from one to another. It is in our personal action that God wants to use as a means to meet others.
An office bearer always starts off with his Bible. We see this when a minister goes up to the pulpit. Though he expresses his own opinion, he administers the Word. We notice this also when an elder arrives for a home visit. He comes on behalf of his Sender. Here the Bible is opened as well. In reality, however, the office bearer carries something else besides. He has, so to speak, also received his own personality from His Sender, as a means to do his work as an office bearer. Perhaps, we pay too little attention to that given. After all, we are easily inclined to say: "It is not about me." In our Reformed tradition, we have learned to disregard ourselves with respect to the offices. There is a Sender who sends us on our way. This, of course, is completely correct. We do not go to work in the congregation on our own initiative. It is important to be sent. This is why we must indeed disregard ourselves but in the meantime, as we have discovered, there is still something else that is needed, if we are to be effective. We also need something that creates a personal bond. Paul shows that often in the letters he sends to the various congregations. We notice that this personal bond is also important for passing on the message. He once wrote this beautifully to the Thessalonians: "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us." (1 Thess 2:8). There he indicates how those two things — the Gospel and his personal life — are linked together. God gave him two means to do his work in the congregation. No, the office bearer is not just a letter carrier who impersonally delivers the messages entrusted to him. He is a servant who has a heart for the people he speaks to, and so is personally involved in the congregation for the Gospel's sake.
God involves people
We could summarize the foregoing with the words: God involves people. This issue is then in the first place about what God does. He approaches someone else, for He lives by His Spirit in the person who passes on the Gospel. Try to imagine this literally: A missionary brings the Gospel. In him God approaches the heathens. A minister speaks. In him God comes towards the congregation. An elder goes on a home visit. In him God comes to that house. God can come close to us, precisely because another person can come close to us. This requires a meeting. God can get close to us by involving persons.
At the same time involvement is an act of people. God does not cancel out our personality when He uses us. He involves us. This means that we ourselves are busy, and that we are also responsible for the way in which we act. We all know that this makes demands upon our disposition. When the Gospel is brought, something of it may be seen and noticed in our attitude. A minister, who likes to put himself in the centre, can hinder God's honour. An elder who has no bond with his district, risks showing too little of the love of the Gospel.
Fire is lit by fire
The last examples make it clear that our disposition and the message we bring are related. This is precisely what the Holy Spirit wants. C. Trimp once expressed this fact with the help of the proverb: "You light a fire with fire." In the Bible, fire indicates the work of the Holy Spirit. He warms our life with the fire of God. A fire also has the ability to light fires in other places. And that is exactly the Spirit's method. One could say: "The Spirit works by kindling a fire." When a human being has been set on fire by God, he can pass on the Gospel to other people and in his action transfer the fire to others.
Do-able or miraculous
It is important to see that the way of the Spirit runs straight through our heart and life. Too often we think of His work as something incomprehensible, as though one cannot say anything about it. Yet, in the Bible we see clearly that He works in the way of creation. The Spirit after all is the One who puts life in that creation and so makes it work. This means that we can speak very concretely about His work. For this reason, for example, the Bible contains concrete requirements which office bearers must meet. These are things that can be clearly ascertained.
This also holds true for our personal actions. It is, therefore, important that we look into the way we deal with other people. From everyday reality we already know something about communication and personal relationships.
Yet, it remains important to continue seeing this in the light of God's work. As a matter of course we cannot give someone faith through our actions. We cannot ourselves make the congregation grow towards God. God gives the growth (1 Cor 3:7). It is our responsibility however, to create room for that growth by our personal actions. We cannot do the work of the Holy Spirit by our own efforts. That He wants to use us remains a miracle. We are called God's co-workers, but, knowing ourselves, it is miraculous that we have been given that name.
The word 'meeting' has already been mentioned a few times. It is a key word in connection with the work of office bearers. The worship service can be seen as an opportunity to teach the congregation something about the Bible. And that is, indeed, an important aspect. Yet, it can also receive a one-sided accent. In this case we are then only satisfied when everything has been thoroughly explained and understood. In the meantime, however, the Bible (or the part of it in question) can begin to resemble a "thing" which we have mastered together. Then it can become something like a difficult mathematical problem that has been satisfactorily explained to the class. It is important that something of the voice of God continues to reverberate. The office bearer is the designated person to bring this about. In our actions the radiance of the Gospel may become visible. At the same time it should be our intention to take the (members of) the congregation seriously. For we will never reach someone, if we do not respect his or her own independence. This is what is properly called "meeting." One gives oneself and seeks the other. When the worship service becomes such a meeting, the congregation will go home in the knowledge that they have been addressed. When the home visit becomes such a meeting, people will look forward to it. In the meantime there remains a secret that we can hardly fathom: God has spoken to us.
What arises is the question: How do you do that? How do we engage our own persona in the work of office bearers in a responsible way? "I was prepared to share my own life with you," the apostle Paul writes, but he does not give us any direction how we can do that. Of course, we can go on about it at length. To make a long story short, however, it seems to me that it is most important that we identify and recognize the main elements that really count. I would mention three of them: our relationship with God, our relationship with ourselves and our relationship with others.
First, our relationship with God: This is the source of our life. Yet, many office bearers experience that this source can run dry at times. No doubt, this can be noticed. When an elder still speaks about God, while his own relationship with God has withered, one can notice this in his personal actions. And for this very reason, it is crucial that this relationship is kept alive and constantly renewed. God's grace needs to fill our life. Then it also shows how we ourselves are seized by the Gospel. And from this source we have much to pass on to others.
Next our relationship with ourselves. Perhaps it sounds strange, that we must have a relationship with ourselves. But it is important. What I mean is that we must have contact with ourselves. God knows who we are, where our strengths lie but especially what our weaknesses are. It is necessary to test ourselves and to look critically at our own actions on a regular basis. It is a well-established rule that those who have no contact with themselves often find it difficult to make and establish contact with others. This is why a relationship with ourselves is a must for relationships with others.
Finally our relationship with others. If there is something that clearly defines the task of office bearers, it would be this. Communication is a keyword within the body of Christ. Communication points to an exchange of giving and receiving, of submission and receptiveness. Listening is the greatest part of communication. When our relationship with others is marked by it, a true relationship develops.
Together, these three elements form the personal aspect of the action of the office bearer. Perhaps, one could call this the personal ability that one may expect from an office bearer. With this "personal ability" I mean, that we as office bearers should have a relationship with God, ourselves and others, so that the work of the Holy Spirit will shine through. When it becomes visible and tangible in us that we live by the Spirit, it reveals the way in which He will and, at the same time, is able to reach others.
An office bearer is only human
This is a comment we hear quite often when the subject is broached what one may expect from an office bearer. But in this connection it is by no means implied criticism. The intention is that the office bearer remains truly recognizable as a human being. Imagine that the minister on the pulpit can no longer be truly recognized as a human being. His sermon would then just float in the air. The same holds true for the district elder. Given better circumstances, we see the importance of his person. He is a human being of flesh and blood. In other words, he is close by. God comes near because He involves ordinary human beings.
Of course, there has to be more than just the human side. He must also remain recognizable as a believing human being. Perhaps an illustration can make that clear: A member of the congregation comes to the minister and says: "Pastor, there is so little in your sermons which reveals that you yourself are happy with the Gospel." The pastor answered: "But that is not important at all. It is about the Gospel not me." This pastor may have the best intentions, but the congregation member is right. After all, the Gospel does not just fall out of the sky. Think here especially of the proverb: "You light a fire with fire."
At the same time, the office bearer continues to be a sinful man. Of that I will give an illustration as well: An elder speaks about prayer to a person living alone. He warns against getting into a dull tedious routine. And in the middle of the conversation he says candidly: "I have trouble with this too. Soon it becomes just a formality. Sometimes I catch myself praying almost absentmindedly." "All right," the host thinks, "I am not the only one." This elder also needs the grace of Christ. What is important here is that this aspect should become clear at all times. And let us be frank, nothing is more unbelievable than the office bearer who thinks he is perfect.
We are, therefore, completely correct in saying that the office bearer is only human. Let him be continually recognizable as such, but then also as a believing and sinful human being. In this way it becomes clear that God uses us as persons to do His work in this world. In a very real sense, this endears the Gospel to us. And what more could an office bearer wish for?