Assessing Elders in a Digital Age

The calling of the elder is an honorable one, and the need for churches to identify and install worthy men to this role is as crucial as ever before. This need isn’t new, but the context into which elders are called to serve is. One seismic shift from previous generations is that we’re now considering men who are digital natives—they’ve grown up in the digital age.

How should this reality affect the ancient work of calling elders? It doesn’t change what we’re looking for, but it should affect how we go about testing today’s candidate. As we test men in this digital age, watching and considering their lives, we’re going to discover that some have “gone native”: they’ve run headlong into the jungles of the internet, mobile tech, games, apps, and more. Some may even resemble their lost friends in their relationship with technology.

When we read a passage like 1 Timothy 3:1-7, the contexts we often consider are the home, the church, and the workplace. Is this man quarrelsome at work? Is he self-controlled at home? Is he gentle around God’s people?

But in this digital age we must also ask: What sort of man is he online? Is he above reproach in his use of technology? To help us think about this, let’s consider Paul’s instructions using some sanctified imagination:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach online; the husband of one wife, so therefore never seeking out explicit or inappropriate images; sober-minded in online searches; self-controlled when scrolling social media; respectable in the comment section; hospitable to all his online neighbors; able to teach, that is, using technology to spread truth and never lies; not a drunkard, addicted to hits, likes, and retweets; not violent toward people who post ideas with which he disagrees, but gentle; not quarrelsome, saying whatever comes into his head; not a lover of money, whose Amazon basket is never empty.

He must manage his own household well, able to unplug as is right and good, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, teaching them righteous online behavior, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, unconcerned by his son’s porn addiction or daughter’s inability to separate Instagram from reality, how will he care for God’s church?

He must not be a recent convert, his uninformed zeal oblivious to the fact that he doesn’t have to comment on every controversy, or he may become puffed up with conceit, taking shots at men far wiser and humbler because of hearsay, and fall into the condemnation of the devil, who prowls around like a deadly computer virus, seeking saints to crash.

Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, that is, Facebook friends, LinkedIn contacts, Twitter followers, and any comment-maker with whom he has interacted, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil, the one who has been spreading false news since the very beginning.

War Is Never Funny

Perhaps the above additions sound humorous, but for the elder candidate they are quite serious. This isn’t only about finding elders, but about discipleship. Many young men are investing the most precious hours, days, and years of their lives in things that aren’t eternal. What will churches do?

Who can help God’s people burn altars of social-media addiction and pull down pillars of excessive media consumption? It won’t be the man who’s merely been able to put his own homepage in order. He’s not ready to walk others through the technological detox process. He’s not able to say, “Follow me as I follow Jesus,” as well as “Stop following meaningless entertainment gossip over at TMZ.”

So let us pray for awakening, for men to lay down their lives, take up their crosses, and follow Jesus. Let’s summon them to such a life. Let’s hold up for them the glorious gospel that they might behold Jesus, detox from digital addiction, and follow him. Pray they’d become consumed with Christ.

More than the glow of a screen reflecting off their faces, we would like to see the glory of God radiating from them as they behold Jesus’s face in the pages of their Bible—transformed from glory to glory. Let us pray that the Lord would gift men to the church, elders who can shepherd his people in this digital age.

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