Serving as an elder at Citylight Omaha has been a humbling experience for Russ Oatman and he’s thankful for it. From trusting in Jesus as his Savior at the age of 6 at a Good News Club, to recommitting his faith to Jesus in college, to now as a husband, father, and grandfather, Russ desires to pursue Jesus and serve Him.

Russ and his wife Patty met at a local church, married in that same church and recognize the importance of the spiritual body of Christ; the gathering together of the church for worship, preaching the Gospel, discipleship, and heartfelt care. Patty also put her trust in Jesus at an early age, and her utmost desire is to follow Christ and serve Him all her days. Russ and Patty have three married children and four grandchildren. Investing in their family spiritually, being intentional about spending time together, and making lifelong memories are priorities.

At Citylight, the board of elders represents the spiritual leadership of the church. It is made up of five staff elders from our pastoral team and five lay elders chosen by members. It is the responsibility of the elder board to be servant leaders that set the overall missional direction of the church under the authority of Holy Scripture and Jesus Christ. This authority and direction is described in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:6-9.

Russ has embraced this responsibility and the overall perspective of this calling. Russ describes the role of an elder as,

“An elder is being a shepherd and humble servant to the flock. There are four essential components of shepherding. An important part of shepherding is leading the flock; providing leadership, direction, and vision to the flock based on listening to our Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ and His Word that He has given to us. Secondly, caring for the flock by meeting the spiritual and physical needs of the flock with ministries for marriages, benevolence, and food pantry. There’s an accountability and responsibility to teach the Word of God in our City Groups, individuals we are discipling, and in the home; making sure as elders we are grounded in the Word of God. Lastly, everything we do is covered in prayer, praying for the flock, praying for wisdom, and that everything that happens is centered on Jesus.”

For Patty, as a wife of an elder, God has revealed to her humility as a servant of Christ as well. Her feeling of adequacy and worthiness in serving only comes from Christ, because of who He is and what He has done for her. (2 Cor. 3:4-5) She has learned much and is so thankful for this opportunity to serve.

“Russ and I want to be obedient in following and serving Christ,” Patty described. “One of the things I am passionate about is hospitality towards my family, to the church, to our City Group, and to others who don’t know Christ. Also, growing up with a mom who was my greatest encourager has made me want to be an encourager to my husband, to my kids, and to others that God places in my life. I desire to be an encouragement and help provide comfort to others in need, as I have been encouraged and comforted, and be faithful in praying for others. God has given me a burden to be salt and light and a servant to others.”

Each elder comes to the table with different and unique strengths and capabilities. One of the strengths Russ brings to the board and is based on being led by the Holy Spirit, is wisdom and discernment. Russ focuses on answering the question ‘where is God leading us?’

“It’s easy to get stuck in the details,” Russ said. “Details are important, but we need to also think big and determine where God is leading us and to plan accordingly. We serve a big God with endless resources. I don’t want to be limiting in my own thinking, but as stated in Proverbs 3:5-6, ‘Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart and lean not unto your own understanding.’ I want Jesus to ‘direct our paths.’ We have an incredible elder team with a singular focus to seek Jesus, with a mission of making disciples and planting churches. I am so excited to have a front row seat on the story that Jesus is writing at Citylight Church! Hold on, we serve a big God!!”

Elders meet once a month, but sometimes, more often if needed. The elders have also recognized the need to be together with their wives for dinner, fellowship, and for prayer. Russ and Patty have found it very rewarding to pray with the group for the church, but then also to pray for one another, their marriages, and for protection over both.

“We just met last month one Friday night and there is a strong sense of unity,” Russ explained. “We reminded one another that we just want to get out of the way and let Jesus lead. This has been a single-minded purpose for all of us and it’s been just a wonderful time together.”

Patty also shared that

“this time with one another has been a tremendous blessing. I didn’t know any of these couples prior and we are learning from each other. I feel encouraged by each of us holding one another up and praying for protection. My prayer, as stated in Psalm 19:14, is to ‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.’”

When asked how the church can pray for them and for the other elders, Russ mentioned the following:

“One is for protection from Satan’s attack on the church and protection against Satan’s attack on the family unit and marriages. We want to humbly rely on Jesus and the Holy Spirit for wisdom and not ourselves. It’s not our natural tendency, but we must put that aside. Pray that as elders we would not be distracted from our focus on Jesus, making disciples, and planting churches. Finally, as elders, that we would be good shepherds to the flock. We don’t take that responsibility lightly!”

Patty added,

“I would like prayers as a wife to be a support for Russ, to be a helpmate by being an encourager to Russ.”

Russ and Patty understand with all their heart the blessing it is to serve the church. They each serve not out of compulsion, but only relying on Jesus. Russ and Patty desire to serve with all their heart and love Jesus with all their heart. They are both here for the church to fight the good fight.

“Russ and I had the privilege to be with my dad in the ER a few years ago towards the end of his life,” Patty said with a quiet tone. “My dad shared that ‘to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ Russ and I also want to live our lives for Christ!”

They both acknowledge their tremendous need to rely on the Lord for wisdom and guidance in all aspects of life and to depend on His enablement to serve. (1 Peter 4:10-11) Russ and Patty walk with God and are faithful stewards with what He has entrusted to them in this season of life.

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