One day Vic came into my office to discuss a construction project at our church. Vic is a retired executive from a large machinery manufacturer, gentleman farmer, elder, and willing volunteer. Me? I’m a semiretired accountant, writer, woodworker, elder, and part-time business manager.
I said, “Vic, you’re my friend and a willing volunteer. I need some surgery and I think you can do it. Do you have a pocketknife?”
Vic knew my off-the-wall manner, so he played along. He pulled out his knife, held it to the light, and said, “It may need some sharpening.”
I was asking for help with an important task about which I knew little to nothing, from someone with no surgical skills, who possessed an utterly inappropriate tool.
Does this sound familiar?
Improving Our Effectiveness
Our eldership has been studying and working toward improving the effectiveness of our leadership. Our vision is to have our elders more involved with shepherding, mentoring, and teaching, and less involved with administration and ministry management, areas that are better handled by ministry leaders or deacons (see Acts 6).
We had been shortchanging others of opportunities for service while diminishing our own effectiveness.
In our case, each elder had responsibility over an area of church operation, while also shepherding 50 or more people. We needed to involve others as mandated in Ephesians 4:12, “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
We also needed to prepare others to transition into leadership when our terms expired.
Church tasks have become more complex with governmental requirements, cultural changes, and growth. All of these prompt changes in leadership dynamics. Those in leadership for some time may not realize that changes have crept up on us. The processes we may have known well at one time are now different, and we are not as well qualified as we once were. We are obligated to know as much as we can about a task before we ask others to become engaged, since a part of the “ask” will be the training that goes with it. Most of the time circumstances will not be as obvious as in our parable! Ask yourself three questions. Are you are up-to-date with the latest technology? Have you consulted current resources? Have you had lots of experiences or just the same experience repeated many times? It is helpful to learn how other, similar churches do things.
Many of us came from small churches where a few people did most of the work. It was common for elders to perform many tasks that were not necessarily elder’s tasks. Some thought chores were an elder’s responsibility because they had seen only an elder performing those functions. Yet many of those duties could be undertaken by almost anyone.
Sometimes we erroneously believed many of these jobs required the authority of an elder. Of course, some elders are reluctant to relinquish any perceived authority, so this inappropriate cycle continues. Many tasks, even those that are very important, do not need an elder’s attention.
As an elder, it’s helpful to know the talents, interests, training experience, and gifts of your prospective volunteers. Observe how they handle assignments, how they respond in a teaching situation (as a teacher or student), whether they are generally helpful, and whether they appear genuinely interested in people and the church.
We often expect or assume too much. A basic description and instructions for the task or position should be part of an offer to a prospective volunteer. If they accept, follow up with more instruction on policies and procedures already in place, and encourage them to make improvements as they learn. Don’t paint their picture; instead, give them the canvas and the paint.
In the parable, the person being asked to help is also asked to provide the tool. This isn’t always a good idea. It is helpful to suggest resources, such as Christian Standard, other leadership magazines, the Internet, and books that can help the volunteer develop tools or improve effectiveness.
Tools need to match the needs, be modern, and be readily available. Evaluate whether the tools are suitable. In our parable, the knife wasn’t the most appropriate tool—and it wasn’t even sharp!
Bob Kitchen is a freelance writer living in Batavia, Ohio. He has been an elder in four churches in three states, and a part of several new church steering teams. This article was first printed in the November 2, 2008, issue of CHRISTIAN STANDARD.