“Uncle Bert wants to talk with you.” The two men to whom the message was directed walked, deep in thought, toward the car in which the aged Christian sat. For some time they had known of a definite deterioration in his physical condition. That he had sent for them rather than had come to them seemed ominous. In the short distance to the car, silently both made a quick mental review and appraisal of his years of Christian service, years during which he as an elder had helped build and guide the assembly.
“Brethren,” he began; his voice was firm and his aspect one of peaceful resignation; “the doctor has given me only about six more weeks to live. I shall probably return to the hospital a little later.”
The information was not unexpected, but they were pleased that he had given it to them himself. There was little that needed to be said. Uncle Bert, as he was affectionately called, had been active in his duties, diligent in his stewardship, and generous in his hospitality, but this was not the occasion for eulogy. They knew that he would be missed for he had endeared himself to many. The years since his retirement from secular work had been devoted to the service of God and His beloved people; consequently, the two men could only pray that some one might readily assume the responsibilities their esteemed elder now laid down.
The days passed quietly. They kept in touch with his family, and followed his condition from occasional reports. Toward the end of the second week another message called them to the bedside of their dying brother. He was pale and very weak, but he reached out and took each by a hand; then addressed himself to the younger.
“My day of service is over, but the work of the Lord must go on. Will you take my place? Will you care for the people of God?”
“Yes,” replied the more inexperienced brother, “I shall certainly try.”
Still holding their hands in his, he prayed for the assembly, for its testimony and its spiritual progress, but more especially, he prayed for the man whom he believed the Lord had fitted to continue those duties which had been his throughout the years.
A similar scene from ancient times fills the imagination. Peter, conscious of imminent martyrdom, from a room away in Babylon wrote to younger men: “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight of it, not by constraint but willingly; not for filthy lucre but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Pet. 5:2-4-N.S.B.).
Throughout the annals of history spiritual men have served their own generations as elders, have fallen asleep in Jesus, and have left others to perpetuate a pastoral ministry in the Church. Replacements are immediately necessary. Do you have the qualifications and ability? Are you able to teach the Word of God privately or publicly? Is your character strong and irreproachable? Is your domestic life exemplary? Has Christian maturity developed in you a spiritual and sympathetic understanding of the adversities encountered by the sheep of Christ’s pasture? If your replies are in the affirmative, please answer in the presence of God Uncle Bert’s two questions; “Will you take my place?” “Will you care for the people of God?”