Intentionally Younger Leaders

by Dick Wamsley 

I am serving as interim minister for a rural church in southern Illinois that averages about 100 in worship attendance.  They have four elders.  Three of those elders are 40 years of age or younger.  That unusual ratio of young elders did not just happen.  It was an intentional decision made by their four previous elders, who were all over 60 years old at the time.
 
About three years ago they began to see that they were in a rut as a church.  They were hearing comments like “we’ve always done it that way” and young adults were not engaged in the life of the church.  So they challenged some of their young men to consider opportunities for leadership as deacons and elders. 
 
At this church, elders serve three years, so three of them determined that when their three years elapsed, they would not serve again.  Instead, they would add a younger leader.  The first of those three young men was 37 at the time he became an elder in 2018.  Two more young elders came on the next year, one about 40 years old and the other about 30.  They also added several younger deacons during that two-year period.
 
During the transition to younger elders, they kept the congregation informed about why they were intentionally encouraging younger men to serve the congregation as elders, that it was time for a younger generation to lead.  They assured the people that the change in leadership was purposeful and that the younger elders were not just “taking over.”
 
While there were some questions from older members at first, the transition has been smooth.  When I came to serve with them last January, I was impressed by their eldership.  They were leading, not just maintaining the status quo.  The congregation was vibrant with an eye to the future.  They saw how their transition in senior ministers was an opportunity to break out of the “rut” they were feeling and make a greater impact on the communities they serve.
 
The first younger elder to join in 2018 is now leading the elder team.  His leadership has been critical during the COVID-19 pandemic.  After several Sundays of online worship, the elders decided to begin services in the church building using the Center for Disease Control guidelines for face masks, social distancing, surface cleaning, serving communion, closing off sections of the building and other preventive measures to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.  In spite of their best efforts, after eleven weeks of Sunday worship several members tested positive for the virus.  So the elders met immediately and decided to take another three-week break from live services.  As leaders, they were decisive when they needed to be.
 
Churches of any size need to occasionally evaluate the demographics of their leaders.  Are most of them from a single generation or two?  Is it apparent that there is some disconnect among the leaders and the younger generations?  Are the leaders encouraging younger men to consider taking leadership roles as elders or deacons?  Are they developing formal or informal mentoring relationships with those who express an interest in those roles?
 
Intentionality and expressions of confidence are keys to developing young leaders.  It may take longer than two or three years to bring new young leaders on board, but until there is a plan to intentionally challenge younger men to take up the mantle of leadership, it will not happen.

Healthy Bones: Why Church Governance Matters

by Don Green 

Structures are never neutral; whether a physical building or an organizational, governing structure, they either help you or hinder you.  Structures are either empowering or controlling.  Many years ago, I first came to Lincoln Christian University as a trustee at a time when the Board of Trustees was a very micro-managing Board.  I watched the Board transition to a policy-governance structure and saw tremendous empowerment of the entire entity take place. 

When a congregation plateaus, it’s often because its governing structure stifles the body’s health and vitality.  Seeing LCU’s transformation, and seeing so many churches struggle, was what prompted me to notice this factor in an organization’s health and even write my doctoral thesis on it.  That work involved a survey of every independent Christian Church/Church of Christ congregation within a 250-mile radius of Lincoln, Illinois.  Some 1,400 surveys went out and about 300 were returned.  I’d like to share a few observations from not just that survey, but from decades in observing and coaching churches in this aspect of their health. 

Church leaders often assume their congregation’s governing structure is functioning and working just fine.  I remember working years ago with a particular congregation and I was well into my first presentation when a lady right down on the front row raised her hand and said “If you think you’re going to change our board structure around here, you got another thing coming because it’s working just fine!”  Sometimes, church leaders assume that a Board structure is the biblical mandate.  Sometimes, church leaders have and continue with a Board structure simply out of precedent and example; not knowing of any other way to operate, they simply continue, to put a fine point on it, living an unexamined life.  

Over and again, I have seen an organization, church or otherwise, struggle with their health because two things are not working in a complementary way – a functioning structure, and empowering leadership.  There are many church leadership paradigms out there, but to focus on what’s most biblical, let’s describe it this way…

  • Elders protecting
  • Staff and Servants (“deacons”) leading ministries
  • Congregation doing the ministry

If your congregation hasn’t gone in a direction of “elder governance,” how might one get started?  Obviously, start by studying Scripture.  While “governance” is not mentioned as a term in the New Testament, all the parts, as we think of governance in the 21st century, are there.  Governance focuses on the roles and responsibilities of all involved, and those are highlighted throughout the New Testament.  The roles and responsibilities of elders, of preachers/pastors/teachers, of servants/deacons, and of the people of the congregation in general, are all shown quite clearly.  Of course, one could study Acts for such insights, but beyond that, other texts help us think about this as well.  One text that I frequently work through with churches is Ephesians 4:11-16. 

Additionally, church leaders should get familiar with John Carver, who wrote about policy governance going all the way back to the 1970s.  More recently, John Kaiser wrote Winning on Purpose and he specifically applies much of Carver’s ideas to the church realm.  When reading any book, especially secular books, think along this principle: adapt, don’t adopt.  We are good stewards and leaders if we adapt what’s biblical, along with what works and isn’t non-biblical, to the church.  We should not assume that we can adopt, wholesale, everything any given author says, save for one Author.

Finally, what does the eldership do that no other group in the church can do? 

Ultimately, we need to define responsibility, delegate authority, and determine accountability so that we can, to the best of our ability, see that the church achieves what God wants and avoids what’s unacceptable.  This is how we can “work like it all depends on us, while praying like it all depends on God – because it does.”

A Praying Elder’s Wife

by Dana Spence 

What does it look like to be an “Elder’s Wife”?

I used to think being an elder of a church just meant you were recognized for your faithfulness and your opinion and that your insight mattered to help steer the church.  Not to say that that is a wrong statement, but there is so much more to the role.  It requires a lot of time and energy.  It’s not always fun and rarely easy.  I learned that pretty quickly once my husband became an elder eight years ago.  We share and discuss everything with one another in our marriage.  Once he accepted the role to be an elder at our church, he explained to me there were going to be times he wouldn’t be able to share things with me.  So much is discussed and brought to the elders that is private, personal, and confidential.  I had to accept and become comfortable with the fact I wasn’t going to know everything that was going on behind those closed doors.  He wasn’t going to be able to share everything with me. 

It’s difficult to see him carry heavy burdens, have his mind be preoccupied with issues he can’t share and talk about with me.  This was new territory for us.  I was so used to asking how things went, or telling him I could tell something was bothering him, and then converse about it.  There are certain issues he can’t openly talk about with me.  I’ve learned to turn to prayer.  When I see him burdened, I pray for God to give him wisdom and discernment.  I pray for him to have peace and unity with the other elders.  Not only do I pray for my husband, but I pray and ask God to help me to be the wife and partner he needs.  

There are also times where he needs to talk through something and it’s important to be a confidant while not allowing the struggle or conflict to overtake my own emotions.  Trust plays a big role in being an elder’s wife.  The company I work for is named after Proverbs 31, so I’ve read through it many times.  Proverbs 31:11 says “Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life.”  If he opens up to you about concerns he has, you need to listen in confidence.  Proverbs 31:12 continues: “She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”  It’s natural as wives and women to sympathize with our husbands, but it’s important to not react in a way that might make things worse.  It’s important to support, love, honor and trust your husband always.   

Praying for our husbands and our marriage is something we should always be doing, but turning to prayer has especially helped me be an elder’s wife.

To Elders’ Wives…

by Keren Hamel 

My husband recently received a call from an elder at a church in another state. His face fell as his friend described that a third of his congregation and several staff have left in the wake of Covid-19.

Over the past few months, my husband and I have spent many hours with friends whose marriages are falling apart. Our hearts break as we hear the sordid and devastating details.

Plus, we’re experiencing the same thing as many of you. Personal friends have decided not to return to church because we have a mask requirement. Some of our favorite congregants are leaving for new church homes. Church members and staff have said untrue and unkind things.

These are heavy times. Covid-19 has laid bare some ugly realities. As church leaders scramble to respond, we don’t have the usual relational touch points and face-to-face grace that often make resolution possible. In speaking to elders and wives across the nation, I’ve heard the same sentiment: this has been the hardest and most fatiguing season of leadership in our lives – even when we are spiritually healthy ourselves.

As I share the leadership load alongside my husband, I sometimes forget that my first ministry is to my husband. During this season, as our husbands have taken on so much extra weight, God has impressed upon me my unique ability to minister peace and rest to him. As much as I was his primary companion and greatest encourager before, I am even more so during Covid-19. No matter what kind of challenges he faces, I want him to find rest when he’s around me.

In full disclosure, we have a 1-year-old son, I’m 7-months pregnant, and I have a painfully limiting back injury. So, you can imagine how often I fall short and how often my husband makes sacrifices for me! But, I am earnestly trying to help him find rest in four specific ways.

Most importantly, I want to give him the gift of a gentle and quiet spirit. Each day, I set aside my growing list of prayer requests to take time to enjoy the presence of the Lord – to seek God for His sake alone. He’s my peace, and in His presence is the fullness of joy. I also avoid the toxic Covid-19 diet: slanted journalism (both ways), social media, rumors and gossip. I want more of God’s Spirit and less of the spirit of the age. When my spirit is restful, my husband is the greatest beneficiary.

Second – and this is easier said than done – I try to say and do the things that bring my husband rest and avoid the things that bring stress. These lists are vastly different for each of our husbands, but we do know what they are. For my husband, it’s apple pie, sweet tea and family walks around sunset; it’s not packing our calendar with several engagements every single night.

Third, when my husband is extra fatigued, I try to get creative. This month, I asked a friend if I should help my husband get some alone time. She wisely texted, “No! He gets his energy from adventures and good conversations with people he loves.” She was right! So, I invited her family to come to town for a jam-packed weekend of fun. My husband’s tank will be full for at least a month.

Finally, I pray for God to create life-filled moments for us. God loves to answer this prayer. Just a few weeks ago, I told my husband I wanted to build our son a slide from the deck into the yard. The next day, my husband came home with two large, high-quality slides in the back of his truck. He found them on the side of the road with a sign that read “FREE.” Our son enjoys that gift from God every single day.

Though this is a season of heavy-lifting, I’m more confident in my role than ever. As wives, we are essential workers, vital to the health of the men on the front lines.