By Dyke McCord
Let me tell you about how my elders and I function together.
While there will always be differences of opinion, the elders and ministry staff at my church demonstrate unity (Ephesians 4:11-13). Our support for one another privately and corporately leads to high levels of trust within the body. These are not yes-men, but rather men with strength of character and a level of support that demonstrates, “No matter what, we’re going to get through this together.” We all work to be genuine and transparent. Leadership credibility is the result.
Our elders don’t protect just the ministry staff. They protect the policy and direction of the church by providing clear doctrinal boundaries. They aren’t the polity police (usually), but they are the ones responsible for keeping us, and the congregation, on track with God’s Word.
Within those boundaries, creativity is encouraged and supported. There are times when ministry can feel very lonely and discouraging. Even though I am strong, stubborn, and independent, regular doses of encouragement feed my leadership soul and prevent me from longing for props from other places. I’m encouraged to attend conferences and seminars that broaden my perspective and sharpen my skills. I’m encouraged to participate in local service agency boards, mission boards, and church plant management teams to keep me fresh and prevent stagnation.
Part of the culture of our congregation is to be family-sensitive. From the day we began ministry more than 11 years ago, we’ve known we were loved. The elders help set that tone. Paul tells Timothy, “For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:18). Consideration is given to our family, our stage in life, and the cost of living to ensure all our needs are met.
Our elders set the example for my family and those of the church by caring for their families as outlined in Scripture, managing family and household (1 Timothy 3:4, 5; Titus 1:6).
I am not a manager, but I do a lot of management. I am not a CEO, but I make a lot of prominent leadership decisions. I am not a salesman, though I invite people to “buy in” to the vision and “sell out” to Christ. I am not a therapist, but I do offer quite a bit of counsel. I’m not a custodian, but (oh, never mind . . . I AM a custodian).
You get the idea. I could easily be evaluated against any of these job descriptions, and while I should be effectively leading in all of these areas AND preaching biblically sound, life-transforming sermons, my elders don’t evaluate me against the world’s “measuring stick.” Agreement on expectations leads to good evaluations. In my circumstances, I’m grateful to have the latitude to drive this process, setting and presenting upcoming goals based on our agreed-upon strategic plan.
In addition to keeping watch over the flock, the elders keep watch over the direction of the church. Trustworthiness and integrity are obvious expectations for a senior minister, but trust and credibility must be earned over time. I like the phrase “staff-led, elder-protected.” As the senior minister, I am the up-front, visible leader of the church. In elder meetings, I am ex officio, or a nonvoting elder. So while I am an equal in our meetings, and my voice carries weight, I follow the directives of the leaders, the elders of our church.
We work to protect our integrity when we leave those meetings—all saying the same thing (or not repeating unnecessary things), even when we don’t all agree 100 percent. They protect my integrity when we do what we say we’re going to do, especially when we’ve printed, posted, or announced mission, goals, and ministry objectives.
Consistent integrity increases a congregation’s trust in its leaders; it’s why I believe Paul wrote, “The overseer is to be above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2), and why Peter demands we demonstrate leadership by example (1 Peter 5:3). We take Acts 20:28 seriously, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.”
My new member class always begins by pointing to God’s Word as the guide for our church, but I quickly explain, “No church is perfect, but to the best of our ability, we’re following his Word.” That statement sums up a lot for us, especially with regard to our leadership DNA, my relationship with the elders, and how we lead the Church of Christ at Manor Woods.
We are not perfect. His plan is. That’s our plan!
Dyke McCord serves as senior minister with the Church of Christ at Manor Woods in Rockville, Maryland.