The Key Elements to Making Your Time Together More Effective
By David Roadcup
Effective elders’ meetings are an important part of a healthy leadership culture. Our meetings should be organized times of fellowship, powerful prayer, communication, and decision-making. The focus of elders’ meetings should be on the shepherding of staff and the business matters of the congregation.
Elders’ meetings can be extremely fruitful and enjoyable, or they can be hours of torment and wandering in the wilderness. It all depends on planning and on the leader of the meeting (the elder chairman) and lead minister working together for the best outcomes.
Christian minister Tim Woodroof makes this point about elders’ meetings (at TimWoodroof.com):
I love elders.
I love their charactered ways and pastoral hearts and concern for the Kingdom. . . .
It’s elders’ meetings I find difficult. . . .
I’ve endured meetings that would never end [ellipsis in original] . . . meetings squandered on matters that didn’t matter [ . . . ] meetings that meandered from one topic to another without any apparent method to the madness [ . . . ] meetings that were short on prayer and long on hand-wringing [ . . . ] meetings that suffered from the worst excesses of “group think” and poor assumptions and bad information [ . . . ] meetings that ended in the whimper of inconclusiveness [ . . . ] meetings that left everyone in the room frustrated, agitated, and irritated. . . .
“Why?” is the question that haunts me. You might expect that elders meetings would function like nuclear fission—pack enough high-spirit, high-energy disciples into the same room and something explosive should happen. Instead, sad experience teaches us that, when elders come together, they are more likely to sputter than reach critical mass.
We all have sat through meetings like Woodroof describes. How can we manage meetings in such a way that they become enjoyable and productive? Here are time-proven suggestions that will take meetings to a new level.
Good preparation for each meeting is critical. The lead minister and elder chairman should meet several days before the elders’ meeting to discuss the content and make a plan. After that meeting, the chairman should send out the agenda (by email, text, or tweet) plus any necessary materials to be viewed and studied prior to the meeting. Meeting participants must come prepared. Send materials necessary to help equip them for the best meeting possible.
FELLOWSHIP, SCRIPTURE, AND POWERFUL PRAYER
Gary Johnson said when he ministered at The Creek in Indianapolis, elders would enjoy a fellowship meal together before meetings. He called this “table fellowship.” During the meal, the men caught up on each other’s lives and journeys.
After the meal, they entered into a time of Scripture sharing and heartfelt prayer for each other, the staff, lost people, and the congregation.
Most elder teams have “an opening prayer.” A possible better approach would be to have a saturating season of prayer. As elders, we must know that when we pray, God answers our prayers in powerful ways. Remember, “When we work, we work. When we pray, God works!” We must never lose our confidence in the power of prayer. As the leadership team, we can take the first 30 to 45 minutes to worship the Lord together, share Scripture, and seek the Lord’s face. We want to ask his guidance and blessing on our church as we pray for each other and our staff and families and as we seek his wisdom and discernment. We want all of our decisions to be at the center of his will.
This was a priority for leaders of the early church. In the book of Acts, leaders repeatedly joined together in powerful times of prayer. (As examples, see Acts 1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:24-31; 6:4, 6; 8:15.)
In his excellent book Extreme Prayer, Greg Pruett said when we believe God can move in our congregations in a truly amazing way, we begin to understand that prayer is the work of leadership. Prayer is our work! Through prayer, we change our church and we touch the world. Pruett wrote, “I began to learn not to pray about my strategies but to make prayer the strategy.”
While discussion and decision-making are important parts of our meeting, the most important part of our meeting is prayer. Prayer is our highest priority as leaders in the body of Christ.
WORKING THROUGH THE AGENDA
The agenda is simply a list of topics and discussion points that need the attention and decisions of the leaders. Included in this list should be items about staff and their work and needs, the ministries of the church, future planning issues, opportunities, challenges, and any business items that need attention besides the general life and operation of the church.
Meeting minutes should always be taken and then kept on file for future reference. These minutes need not be lengthy. Good minutes should contain several bullet points with a brief paragraph of explanation after each one. The minutes should note (1) specific decisions made, (2) the person responsible for executing each decision, (3) the deadline for completion, and (4) the person who should be contacted about the decision and its outcome.
It must be noted, elder teams make a big mistake when they handle the business that deacons are supposed to handle. Acts 6:1-6 indicates elders are to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Scripture says deacons are important servants who are to be organized and effectively trained. At the elders’ direction and under their guidance, the deacons execute the daily work of the church through their servant ministry teams.
In the meeting, elders should not handle anything they can delegate to the deacon teams or to other volunteers in the church. We get into serious trouble—that is, meetings become disorganized and extremely long—when elders attempt to do the work of deacons.
If it is organized correctly, no elders’ meeting should ever last more than two hours (unless extenuating circumstances are involved). Four hour-plus meetings are led by brothers who need to be made aware of how good meetings should be organized and led.
TWO CONCLUDING KEY CONCEPTS
Two important things to consider for productive meetings:
- There must be a strong leader as chairman to assure elders’ meetings are effective. If the chairman does not know how to conduct a meeting, is haphazard, or allows discussions to go down “rabbit trails,” the meetings will be long and ineffective.
- The elder team must make decisions. Too often, a topic is discussed extensively and thoroughly but no decision is made. This is a leadership problem. The chair must lead the team to a decision. Occasionally there will be need for more discussion, and that is fine, but it should be the exception, not the rule. Hours of discussion that lead to an issue being tabled—sometimes for months!—is a sign of weak leadership. It is better to make the wrong decision than to make no decision. There are very few wrong decisions from which we cannot recover. Strive to make decisions in a timely, prayerful, and discerning manner.
Effective elders’ meetings are an important part of good leadership, shepherding, and church management. They must be conducted with effectiveness.
David Roadcup is cofounder and outreach director for e2: effective elders. He also serves as professor of discipleship and global outreach representative with TCM International Institute. He is also on the board of directors of Christian Arabic Services.