Elders Know…

by Bob Hightchew 

As Senior Minister at South Fork, there are three things that I love about the Elders I serve with: they know the Word of God, they know our congregation, and they know me personally.  I believe these three factors led to the success of our ministry together and I believe these three things will lead to a successful ministry in any church.  Let me explain what I mean.

Know the Word2nd Timothy 2:15  
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

I love the ministry with all my heart.  I really do.  But as any minister will say, there is nothing more exhausting than being the only 22resident Bible “expert” in your church.  People desire to go to someone they know is studied for the answers to the questions they have.  This allows them to grow.  When it is only the minister they can go to, there is a bottleneck in the system.  I love that my elders are not only studied, but the congregation knows they are.  When elders become studiers, the whole church will follow their example. 

Know the Congregation1st Peter 5:1-3
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing…  

Our elders have their finger on the pulse of the church.  They work to know every family and as many individuals of that family that they can.  It would be a lie to say that they knew every person, but I will say it is not for lack of trying.  If you remember the song from the show Cheers years ago, there was a line in the theme song: “You want to be where everybody knows your name.”  That is true.  When people know that their elders know who they are, it makes a world of difference when they come in.  There is also an accountability that comes with being known.

Know the Preacher1st Timothy 5:7
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.  

Often times, there is a division between the elders and the minister.  I feel sorry for the brothers I know in ministry who talk about how terrible it is when they meet with their elders.  I am so blessed when it comes to this.  The elders I work with are like my brothers.  I really mean that.  When I go to them with church issues, they carry the load as well.  I never feel like I have the weight of the church on my shoulders alone.  My elders will often pull me aside just to see how me and my family are doing.  They ask if there is anything I need.  I cannot tell you how cared for that makes me feel.  They know me personally and they care about the needs of my family and myself.

These items above can be done by an elder at any size church.  I often hear, “Well, that may work at a big church, but not one our size.”  These three steps work no matter what size church.  Try them and see.  I bet you will be very happy with the results. 

Provision During Pandemic

by Gary Johnson 

I have lived in Indianapolis for 31 years.  The month of May here is all about the Indy 500: a festival, a mini-marathon, parades, celebrations of all kinds, practice sessions and Carb Day, all culminating in 33 cars vying for the world-famous checkered flag on Race Day.  This year, race officials looked ahead, through the impact of the COVID pandemic, and rescheduled the race to August 23rd.  Looking ahead, they took necessary steps to make the race happen.  

Are we doing the same in our local church?  Are we, as elders, looking ahead and making plans for the steps necessary in light of all that has been happening?  Are we working with the church staff to determine how we are going to address our summer schedule, change our ministry methods, and more?  Let’s consider three essentials in taking our next steps.  This is part of strategic planning – a skill that elders must cultivate in leading the local church.  Below, we have included a link to our e2 Talk on Strategic Planning.  It’s free for the time being on our YouTube channel and may be a benefit to you. 

In the news cycle’s dominance by COVID-19, one story came and went quickly, but still caught my attention.  It told of how teens had completed driver’s education, but because of social distancing, were given waivers on their road tests. 
 
That story brought back memories of my driving test.  After pulling out of the parking lot and going through all the paces, the examiner had me pull onto the expressway.  It was both exciting and unsettling.  I remember glancing in the rear-view mirror to see who I left behind as I sped off. 
 
Teens are not the only ones who have learned to drive during this pandemic. 
 
As elders, many of us have had to put the proverbial pedal to the metal.  We were forced to the on ramp of leading ministry in ways never experienced and for which we were not prepared.  It was unsettling for many of us to merge onto the virtual church expressway.  We worried and were greatly unsettled about who we were leaving behind while racing down this new ministry path.
 
We suddenly found ourselves bumper-to-bumper with every fellow American church on the digital highway.  We learned to drive virtual worship gatherings, hold leadership meetings and life groups, pursue student ministry, etc., all on screens.  We have now spent more than two months barreling down this virtual highway, often simply hoping that we would not run out of gas.  We urged people to help refuel the church by giving digitally, and fortunately, many chose to do so. 
 
After being forced to drive the virtual expressway, did we look in the rearview mirror, trying to catch a glimpse of where we had been prior to COVID-19?  Did we look back and wish we could do a U-turn to pre-COVID days?  If we hope to navigate this new road well, we cannot keep looking back.  With steeled determination and Spirit-given courage, we must drive the Church forward – and to do so, we must think forward. 
 
Our Provider
Through all of this, God has been, and will be, our faithful Provider.  One of His many gifts to us is the ability to think.  Being “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14), we can think and reason, having been given “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). 
 
To what degree are we using these minds God has provided?  Are we taking time to simply think?  Dr. Thomas Edison would sit for hours at the end of his dock in Fort Myers, Florida.  The good doctor did not like people bothering him while he fished; so much so, that he often did not bait the hook.  He simply wanted to sit and think, with absolutely nothing to bother him – not even the fish!  
 
The COVID crisis has intensified our need to think critically and strategically.  God expects us to ask Him for His wisdom (James 1:5).  There are at least three ways this challenges us and for which we need God-given wisdom. 

A New Perspective
COVID-19 has forced us to adjust our ministry worldviews.  We have all merged onto the expressway of virtual church.  While many of us were not early adopters of “streaming church,” here we are now.  Remember, the sons of Issachar had “minds to understand the times and they knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).  We must understand our culture and know how to respond; what next step to take.  Have we been seeing obstacles or opportunities these last couple months?  How you and I answer that question has much to say about our perspective. 
 
Thinking – and asking – the question “what’s next?” is a discipline of leadership.  Elders must develop this as a regular practice.  Thinking forward moves the church forward.  If we fail to think about the future strategically, the church is in ‘park’ or ‘neutral’ while we simply rev the engine – making a bunch of ministry noise and spending resources to capture the attention of people, but making little or no measurable progress.  Thinking “what’s next” helps us develop and implement a strategic plan for the church.  God provides us with minds to cultivate this perspective.
 
A New Platform
The coronavirus shut down the traffic in Lane A, forcing everyone to merge into Lane B, where everyone did ministry on a digital platform.  With Lane A reopened or soon to be, do not go back!  Merge, instead, into Lane C, where we do ministry in a “both-and” world.  We can be an embodied, gathered church, and a church with global, virtual reach. 
 
God provides us with minds to understand that technology is the way the world works.  We even have wearable technology that syncs to our other devices.  We must make use of digital platforms to preach and teach the Word, to disciple others, to conduct meetings, plan events, receive donations, and more.  The list of possibilities is endless.  Church is not relegated to Sunday only in a specific building.  Our digital platform opens wide the door of the church 24/7.  God provides us with His wisdom to leverage this platform in myriad ways for each unique congregation.
 
A New Place
Gathering physically for church will never be outdated, but cyber church is also here to stay.  Retail stores with a strong internet presence move people from clicks to bricks; from their websites into their store sites.  We can do the same.  What will it take for us to move people from just viewing to actually visiting the church?  Will we invest in our virtual campus, hiring staff, buying necessary equipment and more?  Think with me.  People from all five living generations are online, from websites to Facebook to TikTok. We must meet them there with the Good News.  
 
Before, during and after the crisis, God was, is, and will be faithful.  He provided for all that we needed and more.  Being that God doesn’t change, He has been, and will always be, our Provider.

Better Together

by Rory Christensen 

Why do we have elder teams anyway?  One of my favorite arguments comes from the 1930s.  It’s found in the story of one of the greatest newsmakers of that decade.  No, I’m not talking about FDR, Lou Gehrig, Clark Gable, Hitler, or Mussolini.  Go to 1938, and believe it or not, the most newspaper column inches were devoted to “an undersized, crooked-legged racehorse named Seabiscuit” (Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit, xvii).  The reason for it was obvious.  The “Biscuit” was a racing phenom.  He broke track and attendance records.  He became an unlikely hero for a nation that badly needed one. Seabiscuit was remarkable.

More remarkable than Seabiscuit’s success, though, was his rise to that lofty perch. Early on, Seabiscuit was anything but a sure bet.  His team, more so.  Seabiscuit was a tired, rundown, too-small racehorse.  His jockey, Red Pollard, was unsuccessful and oversized.  His trainer, Tom Smith, was an inexperienced, eccentric loner.  And his owner, Charles Howard, while professionally successful, had significant personal struggles.  Individually, these characters were tired, broken, and worn out (Tom Jones, Creating a Church Planting Team. 122-123).  Together, though, they became a team that mesmerized America.

Maybe there’s something there for us.  I like how Jones puts it, “Teams have a way of doing that kind of thing.  Whether it’s horse racing teams, baseball teams, business teams, or [elder teams], we are far better together than we are apart. (Jones, 123)

I couldn’t agree more, for at least two, connected reasons.  First, we’re better together because teams push us to rise from “me” to “we” … and it makes a difference.  Ecclesiastes reminds us that “two are better than one,” that “a cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecc. 4:9, 12).  There’s truth in that.  Elder teams provide a natural conduit for the knowledge, ability and experience necessary for making key, church-shaping decisions; this is Providential provision that we would be impoverished without.  They are the natural avenue for the physical, emotional and spiritual support we all need to stay the course in ministry leadership for the long term.  Note the way that teams form a natural environment for biblical “one-anothering,” for creating an atmosphere of prayer (Jas. 5:16), teaching (Col. 3:16), accepting (Rom. 15:7), carrying burdens (Gal. 6:2), confessing sin (Jas. 5:16), and loving each other (Jn. 13:35).  Teams push us to rise from “me” to “we,” and we’re better for it.

A second reason we’re better together is because teams unlock the “we-together factor.”  Teams provide an opportunity for us to punch above our weight class ministry-wise.  A functioning team provides opportunity for overlapping strengths, and the potential for weaknesses to be counterbalanced.  In Building Teams in Ministry, Dale Galloway wrote:

When mutual ministry is emphasized and a system of shared ministry is developed, an amazing multiplication takes many forms—all of them significant. More persons are won to Christ. More believers are nurtured in the faith. More service satisfaction is experienced by more believers. Healthy churches result. As we know, a kind of synergism of strength happens when a team of horses pull together: one can pull a full load, but two working together can pull the weight of five or six loads.” (p. 12)

We’re better together because of this “we-together factor.”  

Why elder teams?  I’m sure you can come up with other reasons.  As you do, give thanks to God for your own team.  Emphasize the “we” in your leadership.  Live the “we-together factor.”  Trust that we’re better together.  Because elder teams make a real difference.

O.P.E.N. – 4 Things Elders Must Do

by Gary Johnson 

Believe it or not, this Sunday, May 3, has been declared “ReOpen Church Sunday” by Liberty Counsel, an organization that defends the rights of churches.  Though we may have the legal right to do so, elders must determine if now is the right time for their local congregation. 
 
Throughout America, we hear of many states and communities reopening businesses, parks, offices, stores, malls and more.  Some churches have already reopened.  Last Sunday, churches in Montana were permitted by their governor to resume gathering.  It appears churches may be opening sooner than later.  But what about the church you lead?  Your elder team must determine what is best for your church. 
 
When people are stopped at a red light, individuals respond differently when the light turns green.  For example, when the light goes green, some people look to their left and right one last time to be certain no one is speeding into the intersection, and then they proceed with caution.  Yet, if you are like me, I put the pedal to the metal and I am off and running!  Similarly, when your governor gives your state the green light to reopen, your elder team must determine how your church will respond.  Think O.P.E.N.
 
OVERSEE
At e2, we have coached over 7,000 elders and church staff to practice elder governance as found in Acts, and one responsibility of elders is to on-board policy.  A policy will be needed to reopen the local church.  President Harry Truman is well remembered for having a sign on his desk declaring “The buck stops here.” Truman did not think that he had ultimate authority in the country, but that he had ultimate responsibility for leading the country.  As shepherds of the church (1 Peter 5:2-4), we are responsible for the wellbeing of the congregation and must oversee when and how the church reopens. 
 
PLAN
Long before the light goes green, your church needs a plan to follow for its reopening.  This doesn’t mean that the elders dot every “i” and cross every “t” of the plan, but you must give thought to major components of the plan and then trust the church staff to develop and execute the details.  For example, elders must decide if the church will practice social distancing or not, and if so, the staff then determines how to implement that decision.  Elders must decide if the church will be a “touch-free” environment, and if so, the staff determines how to observe communion without passing plates, etc.  Elders must decide if children’s ministry will open right away, and if not, the staff need to design family-driven worship services. 
 
ENGAGE
Elders need to engage the congregation with essential communication.  Once the plan is completed, it must be communicated to the congregation before they arrive for their first Sunday back on campus.  People need to know what to expect when they pull into the parking lot for the first time.  Use the website, email, video, even snail-mail to creatively and thoroughly communicate specific information with the entire congregation about your reopening.  And be sure to communicate the WHY behind your well-thought out plan, which is simply to create as safe an environment as possible for everyone to appreciate. 
 
NEW NORMAL
All of us are moving into a new normal.  We will never be “back to business as usual” on the other side of COVID-19.  The word bittersweet best describes the day we are back in church.  It will be sweet to worship the Lord with one another.  Yet, there is a bitter aspect in that many people will be grieving loss.  In addition to the loss of life, untold numbers of people have lost jobs, retirement savings, businesses, memories of canceled commencement and wedding ceremonies, and much more.  The new normal demands that we acknowledge these losses and help people cope with grief and fear.  Joshua led God’s people into a land where they had never been, and we will be leading the local church into a new social environment where we have not yet been.  Just as He said to Joshua, God calls us to be “strong and courageous”.  After all, God will be with us every step of the way (Joshua 1:9).  Welcome to the new normal.
 
As of this week, the CDC reported 91% of fatalities to COVID-19 are Americans 55-years of age and older.  People in that age group are well represented in congregations as regular church attenders.  If we fail to develop a plan for as safe an environment as possible, we will put far too many people at risk of infection.  As shepherds, we must work to keep the flock together and safe.  Elders must determine the when and the how of reopening the church. 
 
You can watch a video discussing these four essentials by clicking the button below. 
 
Also, we asked 16 leaders what ONE CHALLENGE each of them would give to elders to pursue on the other side of the coronavirus.  These #LifeAfterCOVID mini-podcasts are also available on our YouTube channel through the button below.