Serving well as part of church eldership necessarily involves dealing with delicate, complex, and confusing issues. Those issues are important to the health and vitality of the church. The collective wisdom of those whom the Lord has called to serve together in the eldership is required to navigate such issues with grace and biblical fidelity.
A quarrelsome elder can short-circuit the process of cultivating that wisdom. To pursue wisdom with others, there must be the freedom to speak candidly, to make suggestions, and to entertain points of view that may not be familiar. Humble, considerate, respectful men who love and trust each other will welcome this type of interaction in an elders’ meeting because they have a common goal, and they will not ignite controversy by thinking out loud. Add a quarrelsome man to the mix, however, and an eldership can find itself hamstrung and its ability to work through difficult cases stifled.
If an elder is confident that a suggestion or idea is going to provoke the ire of a fellow elder, he may be tempted to leave it unspoken or, at best, to voice it with such caution and so many qualifiers that its meaning is clouded or significance blunted. The result is that the eldership—and thus, the church—is robbed of potentially helpful insight.
If nothing else, a quarrelsome elder can cause what often are already long meetings to drag on unnecessarily without benefit. Weariness and a sense that one’s time is being wasted combine to inhibit the kind of joyful service that a church needs from those who watch over their souls.
This does not mean that an elder must simply be a yes-man or be hesitant to contend for what is right and true. Rather, not to be quarrelsome means that a man is committed to contending for right causes without being contentious.
The best elders are like Valiant-for-truth, a hero in The Pilgrim’s Progress. But like Bunyan’s character, elders must also learn to contend to the death with those three enemies who represent the greatest threat to all who love and stand for truth: Wild-Head, Inconsiderate, and Pragmatic (which in Bunyan’s day meant “meddlesome”).
When we first meet Valiant-for-truth, his face is all bloody and his sword is drawn. He has just finished an intense, three-hour battle with those foes. What Bunyan wants us to see is that those enemies reside not out there somewhere, but within the very soul of the one who is valiant for truth.
An elder must love and contend for truth without being quarrelsome. The way he does that is the same way that every Christian must do it—by seriously applying the Word of God to himself before he applies it to others. In this way, the Word operates as the Holy Spirit’s sword in his own life, and he will be empowered to put to death the pride that makes a man always ready to argue. It is also through the Word that the Spirit cultivates His fruit in an elder (as in every believer): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Where these prevail, a quarrelsome spirit cannot survive.