Praying Elders

by Rory Christensen

This week, I thought I might start with a riddle.  Here it goes.  What flows from the desperate, is practiced by the persistent, entrusted to the believing, and central to divine communication?  (Hint: It is difficult but essential, learned but never mastered, innate but needs explanation, seems insignificant but interrupts heaven.)  What is it? …drumroll please… prayer, of course!  (If you guessed it, you get two gold stars and a brownie.)

Prayer is that well-worn word we use to talk about communicating with God through talking or listening.  It’s also a subject we’re well-versed in.  We all know, for instance, that it’s one of the central ways we connect with God and through which are changed by God (John 15:5).  We know it’s our primary means of “doing life” with God, motivated and empowered by Him.  We know that Jesus taught his disciples to do it (Luke 11), and the early church was faithful in it.  We know more biblical teaching about it as well: that prayer rises from the believing (Romans 11:36; 1 Timothy 6:15-16), is motivated by salvation (1 Timothy 1;13-14; Ephesians 5:20), essential to service (Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:3-4), and pivotal to perseverance (Ephesians 6:18; 2 Corinthians 13:5, 7).

But my reason for bringing it up today is to encourage us to continue to be faithful in it, not just because it’s on every elder’s job description (Acts 6:1-7; James 5:13-18), but because prayer makes a real difference.  As Corrie ten Boom said, “Prayer is powerful.  The devil smiles when we make plans.  He laughs when we get busy.  But he trembles when we pray – especially when we pray together.”

I love our Acts 12 reminder of that.  You know the context: the early church is being persecuted – James has been executed by Herod Agrippa I; Peter has been thrown in prison and is awaiting his own execution.  It’s a dark situation.  But verse 5 gives a ray of hope: “Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”  Mark Moore tells us that this verse has an “on the one hand … but on the other hand” sort of vibe to it.  Our summary: “On the one hand, Peter is in prison and the mission of God looks to be in jeopardy.  But on the other hand, the church is praying to God.”  In other words, the verse provokes us to expect, to anticipate, the difference prayer will make.

What gets me the most about this account, though, is the disciples’ absolute conviction that their prayer would make a difference.  Dallas Williard said it this way: “The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a specter that haunts the minds of many who sincerely profess belief in God.  It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best.”  For these disciples, this was not the case.  They went to God, believing that he loved them and would care for them; believing that he would act on their behalf.  And, because of their fervent prayer and the belief that motivated it, they experienced God’s salvation.

Brothers, may the same be true of us.  As we push into the back part of 2018, we can’t forget to pray.  Pray because spiritual opposition is great.  Pray because our families, fellow elders, and church staff need it.  Pray because people are lost and God’s mission is essential.  Pray because it changes, fuels, and directs us for the Lord’s work.  Pray.  We know why.  It makes a real difference.

Preventing Conflict

by Shawn McMullen 

Conflict occurs all around us.  And perhaps nowhere is its presence more quickly noticed and keenly felt than in a local church.  As shepherds of God’s flock, elders are often drawn into conflicts among believers.  Just as often, we should be agents of conflict resolution.

While it’s vital to resolve conflict in the church, it is possible to prevent it.  That’s what Alexander Campbell had in mind when he wrote about church discipline in 1839, “Offences must come; and, if possible, they must be healed.  To cut off an offender, is good; to cure him, is better; but to prevent him falling, is best of all” (emphasis added).

So what can elders in the local church do to help prevent at least some of the conflict that might occur among members?  Here are a few thoughts.

Be a Constant Encourager:  Paul advised, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11), and “encourage one another daily” (Heb. 3:13).

Author Stephen Covey popularized a concept he referred to as “the emotional bank account.”  He pointed out that we can’t make withdrawals from a financial institution without first making deposits, and that a similar principle holds true in our personal relationships.  When we’ve faithfully made deposits into the emotional bank accounts of those around us (by sincerely and continually expressing our appreciation and encouragement to them), we’ll have resources to withdraw from when we need to confront or correct them.  This allows us to address problems before they escalate into conflict.

Say It with Tears: To the Ephesians, Paul offered this helpful insight: “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (4:15).  He twice reminded the elders of the same congregation that he’d served among them with “tears” (Acts 20:19, 31).  Shepherds of God’s flock are not duplicitous.  They can’t simply say what they think others want to hear.  They must be able to speak the hard truth, but when they do, they must say it with tears and in a spirit of love.  Most people will accept anything you have to say if they’re convinced you have their best interest at heart.

Set an Example of Humility: Even if we’re not directly involved in a conflict, we can often prevent it from developing or escalating, and we can encourage others to do the same, by keeping our pride in check.  Proverbs addresses the theme frequently:

 

  • A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a wise man overlooks an insult.  (12:16)
  • A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  (15:1)
  • God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.  (3:34 as quoted in James 4:6)

And we certainly can’t forget Jesus’ example, laid out by Paul, in Philippians 2:1-11 (“…he humbled himself…” v. 8).

Make Unity a Daily Priority: Knowing God is displeased when Christians remain at odds with one another, shepherds of God’s flock will do everything in their power to keep peace in God’s family.  Jesus spoke to this urgent need in Matthew 5:23-24: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”  Paul also stressed the importance of this goal: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  If the elders of the local church, by word and example, show the congregation that unity is a priority – among church leaders and members – their example can have a profound impact on the congregation.

While conflict is inevitable, even in the church, much of it is preventable.  Let’s do all we can to prevent any strife that we can, to the glory of God. 

Elders’ Job Description

by Roger Storms 

For 42 years of active ministry and 36 of them as a Lead Pastor, I’ve come to love and appreciate my Elders.  For some of those years, though, I feared my Elders.  Please allow me to explain. 

For much of my ministry, the Elders regarded me as a fellow team member in the church’s leadership.  In fact, I recently retired from serving my last church for 29 years as the Lead Pastor, also serving as an Elder.  Early in this ministry, a man would occasionally come on board with a personal agenda contrary – not complimentary – to the vision shared by the Lead Pastor and current Elders.  Some even viewed the Lead Pastor as an “employee” of the church’s leadership.  In those times, we walked through difficult seasons of leadership.  

If you find yourself in such a scenario, be encouraged; there were several ways we overcame those challenges.  

First, we determined that Elders were recognized and recruited by the existing Elders, not selected by popular vote from the congregation (Titus 1:5). 

Second, we term-limited lay Elders.  They could serve two three-year terms, with a mandatory one-year leave between.  To come back on for a second term, they had to go through the same extensive scrutiny that all prospective Elder candidates face – an extensive application process, questionnaire, written statement of vision and personal interviews.  No one was assured a position.  After that in-depth process, the new candidates were appointed by the existing Eldership. 

Third, the Elders participated in a spiritual and leadership self-assessment and subjected themselves to an annual written review by all the currently-serving Elders. 

Fourth, the Elders set the vision and direction of the church, delegating to the Lead Pastor the responsibility of administering the staff.  The Elders support this effort by enacting policies that protect the spiritual, biblical and legal integrity of the Church. 

Finally, we described our Elders’ role ultimately as LeadFeed and Weed.  Let me break that down: 

Lead: The Elders work with the Lead Pastor to develop, examine, review and support the vision and direction of the church, which will be something along the lines of “to lead people to find and follow Jesus.”  Jesus’ mission while He was here was “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).  The Elders lead with the Pastor in expressing and pursuing that vision. 

Feed: The Elders lead the congregation by example into continued, deepening discipleship.  They examine the teaching, preaching and doctrine of the church, making sure that what is presented is theologically sound and in keeping with the best tenets of Biblical hermeneutic and Restoration principles. 

Weed: The Elders protect the church from division and impurity, (and, overlapping with Feed, from false teaching). 

By clearly determining the scope and function of Elders, we create fertile ground for continued unity in the leadership and congregation.  We will also successfully keep our church on mission with the Church in our community and across the world. 

Elders as Mentors

by Rick Lowry 

The elders at First Church in Burlington, KY are adding a new dimension to their leadership this year.  The responsibility of elders has always been shepherding the flock and making decisions about the overall direction of the church.  Now they also are seeing themselves as leadership mentors.
 
As a group, the elders read the book Designed to Lead by Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck.  Their discussion of that book led to a desire to invest more time in the church’s deacons/ministry leaders.
 
The overarching purpose, in their words, is “a template for linking eldership and discipleship.”  It’s a discipling opportunity for leaders of leaders.  It is their “leadership pipeline.”
 
The idea is that key spiritual leaders invest themselves in others who have the potential to become spiritual leaders in the future.  This is accomplished through mentoring/discipling relationships.  Regular meetings for formal discussions about spiritual growth and leadership are scheduled, plus whatever time is necessary to build personal relationships with those who are being discipled.
 
The process begins with prayer, asking God to show each elder one or more men he should invest in.  After a season of prayer, elders watch for men who are already within their sphere of influence that God might be leading them to disciple. 
 
Three simple questions aid in discerning spiritual potential in men who are to be discipled.  Are they:

  • Faithful?  Is this man fully engaged in the life and ministry of the church?  Has he shown himself to be faithful to Jesus and our body? 
  • Available?  Today’s high-capacity volunteer church leaders are always going to have full calendars.  The challenge is to convince them that they can give up something in order to make time for spiritual depth.
  • Teachable?  Are they willing to listen, learn and grow?

Relationships are built with activities like:

  • Telling our stories. 
  • Getting into each other’s homes.
  • Doing life together.  Find out the interests of the men being discipled and create times to do those activities with them.  Examples:  A common hobby like woodworking or visiting museums, tennis, fishing or other outdoor recreation, or maybe movies of common interest.
  • Eating meals together.
  • Building relationships by serving the congregation together.
  • The overarching principle: are we being appropriately transparent and becoming known by each other?

This is a marathon, not a sprint.  It can take two or three years to develop the kind of relationships that have rich meaning, and also that result in the ultimate goal: men who are ready to disciple others like they have been discipled.  Of course, not everyone who is mentored by an elder will become an elder.  But any church will benefit from additional qualified leaders in every ministry area of the church.
 
Every year most churches have a season when they elect or recognize elders for the coming year.  In many churches, the leaders ask who they should put on the ballot, and ask questions like, “How about Joe?  He’s a nice guy.”  Or “Don’s a good businessman, how about making him an elder?”  The First Church elders are hoping never again to have that type of conversation – because a fresh supply of future elders is always being discipled by the current elders.