By Mark A. Taylor
You may jump to the wrong conclusion from hearing only the snippet of a conversation. And then again, sometimes a sentence or two summarizes the whole truth. What truth would you gather from these disconnected quotes?
“¢ From the elder of a church who went with his preacher to a minister”s meeting: “Do all ministers feel as bad and talk as negatively about their elders as this group does?”
“¢ From a young minister speaking with some of his church”s elders: “All the years I was growing up at home, my dad served as an elder and as chairman of the elders. And often I wondered, Why would anyone want to put himself through that?”Â
“¢ From the friend of a minister who”s thinking about leaving for another church: “The elders planned a meeting to decide details of the upcoming year”s calendar. Only at the last minute did it occur to one of them that maybe they should include the minister in their meeting too.”
“¢ From a man who has just retired from the ministry. “Oh, I”m really enjoying this time of my life. No more elders meetings!”
We”d like to think these are unusual situations. We”d like to believe the stress and conflict indicated by these examples aren”t present most places. We”d like to say that men of good will everywhere are applying the Bible”s teachings about elders and then happily leading healthy congregations.
But neither happy nor healthy describes the way too many elders and ministers relate with each other.
In too many places elders treat their minister like a hired hand with the impossible task to meet the changing expectations of every member, every visitor, and (most of all) every elder. Some of these elders want the church to grow. But they don”t understand that any enterprise needs leadership from more than a committee of untrained volunteers if it expects to get beyond small.
In some places the minister views the eldership as little more than a necessary evil. Getting decisions made is a political process, not unlike what we see in Washington: Recruit “your men” to the eldership. Behind the scenes and before the next meeting, cajole and convince a majority to agree with the idea you”ll present. Most of these ministers want the church to grow, and they believe it can happen if their elders will just get out of the way!
And then there are places where elders and ministers have a mutual respect. Ministers lead but seek counsel. Elders consult, set boundaries, confront problem people, and support their ministers. Ministers and elders expect to see weakness as well as strength in each other, and with prayer and shared accountability all of them grow stronger.
We”d like to believe these situations are the majority. But then we hear another offhand conversation that makes us worry and wonder about ministers and elders in too many of our churches.