Living, Leaving, a Legacy

by Ken Idleman
My father lived a very full life of 94 years.  He started out as the youngest of four boys – not an enviable place in the “pecking order.”  He grew up in a two bedroom, one bathroom, nine hundred square foot house just 30 yards from five sets of railroad tracks in the little village of Tolono, IL.  His father, my paternal grandfather Lee Idleman, was a section boss for the Illinois Central Railroad where my dad swung a pick alongside his older brothers – 8-10 hours a day for a dollar a day during the Great Depression … which wasn’t really “great.”  He learned Morse Code and applied for an operator’s license.  He succeeded and was later promoted to Train Dispatcher (air traffic control for trains).  He married my mother and they raised a daughter and three sons.  I’m the middle son.  His family and work were my dad’s world until he was introduced to Jesus as a 38-year-old.  The Lordship of Jesus changed my father from the inside out – and a good man became a great man, as God measures greatness.  Ken Idleman, Sr. became a Christ-follower, a local church elder, and as a result, an even better husband, father, grandfather and provider.

I spent the last 48 hours of his life beside his hospital bed.  Dad’s lungs and heart were worn out.  But he was lucid into his last moments of this life as he fell asleep – and awoke in the presence of our Lord.  He taught me three vital church leadership lessons in his last days and hours.

  1. Legacy matters.  It is the one thing you leave behind that will survive.  You will quickly be forgotten after you die.  Just as you cannot remember the names of your great-great grandparents, your posterity will not remember you.  But your influence will survive you – if it is a legacy of real and deep devotion to what is right and true in God’s sight. 
  2. Love until the very end.  I remember how my dad looked at my mother as she left the hospital room on the last night of his life.  My own eyes took a picture of the expression on his face. He knew it would be goodbye for a while.  He would have to go on alone, without her, after 77 years of being with her, nearly every day.  And I remember the look on his face as he turned up on his side, managed a weak smile and said, “Good night K.D.” (his nickname for me).   It was the unmistakable look of pure love.  
  3. Leave well.  I remember some of his last words to me: “I would like to live longer. … But if it is my time to cross over, I’m ready.  I am not afraid.  It is well with my soul.”  That testimony was absolutely the best gift my dad ever gave me. In his hospital room he wanted it quiet.  No TV, no cell phones, no laptops.  I tried to get some work done as he quietly rested.  But he said, “K.D. I am going to need you to turn that off.”  It was uncharacteristic for Dad to be so assertive.  He wanted the curtains open, the light on in the bathroom, the door open to the hallway.  When I asked him that last night , “Dad, don’t you want to take your [false] teeth out?” he replied, “Not tonight Son.”  He knew.  I pulled the sheet up and read part of Romans 8.  He labored for breath as he softly sang a verse and chorus of Great Is Thy Faithfulness.  I laid my hand on his and prayed.  He said good night and fell asleep.  As I reflect on it today I am thinking “what a way to go!” 
None of us can script our passing from this life into the greater life.  But as Christian leaders we can live a legacy, and leave a legacy of faith and faithfulness that will live long after us in our nuclear family and in our church family.  

Do the Right Thing

by Dick Alexander 

Elder work can be hard work, involving gut-wrenching decisions.  On the one hand there is great joy in seeing lives changed and God honored.  It’s an undeserved privilege to be used by the Lord to facilitate His kingdom work.  On the other hand, there can be late-night meetings and lost sleep.  But in times of crisis in a church, it is essential that the overseers of a church do the right thing – not the expedient thing.

The world has been shocked over the last couple of decades by the still-unfolding stories of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests.  It was one thing to hear the cascading stories of priests abusing children and youth.  But it is an order of magnitude worse to learn how repeated abuses were covered up by church authorities.  It was not only an issue of individual sin, but of systemic corruption.

That happens other places as well.  This year an influential evangelical church was found to have covered up reported inappropriate sexual conduct by its lead minister.  Numerous reports had been given by responsible people.  Staff members who were aware of the allegations were reportedly required to sign non-disclosure agreements at penalty of their jobs, while the leader continued in his role.

In counseling, secrecy in a family is a sign of major dysfunction.  Appropriate confidentiality is a mark of good character; enforced secrecy is a sign of sickness.

It’s a normal reflex for leaders to not want bad news about their organizations to hit the streets.  But what is the impact on victims to not only be abused, but then have the abuser protected by fellow leaders?  And what is the impact on the reputation of God when the story later becomes pubic (increasingly common in a social media world), and it’s not only the sin of an individual, but a cover-up by a whole organization?

Churches are afraid to lose people.  Most are stretched thin financially, regardless of size.  It becomes a matter of institutional survival.  In a small church, losing a few “key families” (read “meaningful givers”) can push it over the brink.  In a large church this issue is the same – there are simply more zeros in the budget.  A badly managed crisis or unpopular leadership decision can cost a few hundred or few thousand members, resulting in staff layoffs, missed building payments, etc.

But at what price do we maintain our institutions?  Is it more important to God that we keep the seats filled than that we live in truth, justice, and integrity?  Can we not admit when there is sin, and as the body of Christ model repentance, restoration and reconciliation to the world?  Isn’t this our birthright – a distinctive and biblical community?

Most long-time church members are weary of spin.  They read between the lines of our carefully-crafted letters on leadership decisions.  The church isn’t a reality TV show or a long-running soap opera.  There is a place for diplomacy.  But can there also be a greater place for clear, honest communication from leaders?  We will take hits no matter what, so should we take hits for being transparent, repentant, and restorative?  Or should we take those hits for being spin doctors? 

We counsel our teenagers about healthy sexual conduct well before they begin dating.  We want them to decide on a right path before they’re in the thick of temptation.  Hopefully your church is not in a crisis now.  That makes this an excellent time as a group of elders to decide to always do the right thing – even when it’s costly.

Differences

by Jon Weatherly 

When asked to be an elder, I only knew one thing about the job for sure: I didn’t know what I was doing.
 
That might seem like an odd thing for me to say.  After all, I had a Bible college degree, two seminary master’s degrees, and a doctorate in New Testament studies.  I was a genuine expert and had the papers to prove it.
 
But I knew that eldering mostly involved things for which I had no special training.  I knew that elders had to make personnel decisions, like HR professionals.  I knew that they had to make facilities decisions, like real estate developers.  I knew that they needed to make communication decisions, like marketers.  I knew that they needed to act sensitively toward people in crisis, like counselors.  I was none of those.
 
And so at my first meeting, I began to learn a lesson that I’ve continued to learn since: God calls us to service together, not as individuals.  Church is group work, and so is eldering.
 
Among our elders were the very kinds of people I mentioned above, people with knowledge and experience in areas that I lacked.  Some had professional skills, some had life experience, and some had what I could only call God-given insight.  Together we still didn’t know everything, but together we knew much more than we knew separately.
 
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
1 Corinthians 12:4–7
 
Paul’s familiar words apply to the church’s elders as well as the church at large.  The power of God’s Spirit is exercised through the elders together, the church together, exercising the gifts each has received from the Lord.
 
So that realization changed how I operated as an elder.  It meant that I listened much more than I spoke.  It meant that when I did speak, it was often to learn more from my brothers, asking them for their perspectives on the issues that lay before us.  It meant that I approached even the matters about which I thought I knew something with greater patience and humility, remembering that all of us were relying on one another, learning from one another.  It meant that a good elders’ meeting was not one in which I got my way, but one in which I saw others apply their wisdom to everyone’s benefit.  Over time I pray that it brought a greater measure of wisdom to my own life as I learned from the accumulated wisdom of others.
 
And in retrospect, I realize that we learned another lesson about serving together.  The Spirit of God empowers us in our differences, but not so that we will go to one of two extremes.  The first extreme is insisting on our individual empowerment by always finding reason to disagree.  But the second is just as dangerous and sometimes harder to recognize: standing together in conformity to exercise autocratic power.  Sometimes elders are tempted to “stand together” to bend people to their will.  But the love of Christ enables us to see the different gifts and perspectives of elders as reminders to act in love toward one another and toward all in the Lord’s church. 
 
My ecclesiastical forebears insisted that the leadership of the New Testament church was always plural, never the responsibility of one person.  Their disappointments with kings and bishops drove them to read the New Testament with an eye to the plural pattern of leadership.  The answer they found reflects the very nature of the church as the Spirit-empowered people of God.  Our differences overcame my weaknesses.  Working together, a church’s elders in their diversity lead the army of Christ against which the gates of hell will never stand.

Faith vs Sight

BY LARRY CARTER 

I often tell people that Great Lakes Christian College is “a faith-based organization.”  We believe that we exist because of God’s faith in us and our faith in God.  It’s all about faith.  

But, sometimes we get confused on this issue.  Things get complicated.  Troubles mount.  Crises loom.  “Success” and “failure” seems to hang in the balance of our very next decision.  We ask ourselves, where does God’s provision and our responsibility meet?  Where does His power and our effort intersect?  Where does our faith and His faithfulness coincide?  

I’ve been around long enough to see God at work in so many different situations.  His actions were so powerful that they seemed almost independent of anything we did.  But, to be hones, other times it seemed like He was leaving us to work out the problem like He was simply a silent partner in the process.  

What happens in my world the world of the Christian non-profit is that people can become wary about being a truly faith-based organization.  

The tendency is to try avoiding those stressful times when a dependency on God is all we have going for us.  What most organizations want is a healthy bottom line and rather robust endowments.  Those things aren’t bad, of course, but it does seem to move one further from the necessity of looking to God for the answers.  It also tends to eliminate the need to step out in faith.  We make decisions on the basis of affordability and “being fiscally responsible.”  “Our future depends on it!” … so the reasoning goes.  

But at that point, is it still true to think of oneself as a faith-based organization?  According to Hebrews, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.”  

I am not saying we don’t “count the cost.”  We do.  It’s more a matter of emphasis.  In our organizations, in our lives, what do we emphasize: faith or sight? 

From Unanimous … to Unity

by Stuart Jones 

Do you remember playing Red Rover on the playground?  There were two teams lined up across from one another separated by a span of a few yards.  With arms linked together, one team would yell, “red rover, red rover, send Johnny on over!”  And with all the speed and energy he could muster, little Johnny charged out from his team toward the human wall.  If he broke through, he got to return to his team and take one of the other team members with him.  But if the line held and Johnny couldn’t break through, Johnny was now a member of this powerfully unified team.

In the life of the church, there will be moments when the leadership will need to stand together, arms linked, on a decision or a spiritual stance.  We tend to call this “unity.”  But is that all there is to unity?  Unity is more than defining the party line and holding to it.  Unity is more than voting on a decision and accepting the outcome.  Excitement, ownership, investment and trust among the leadership give unity its real traction and power.  Reaching a unanimous decision often requires time, treasure, and talent.  Not receiving true “buy-in” that goes deeper and beyond the simple acquiescence of “toeing the party line” is a recipe for failure.  So how do we differentiate between unanimity and unity?

Real unity is formed through the trust and appreciation that exists among leaders.  If the interaction among leaders is limited to a once-a-month elders’ meeting, the “red rover lines” are weak.  The on-boarding process for elders must share the same value and weight that Paul presents in 1 Timothy 3. Paul starts his thoughts with “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1).  When part of the leadership process includes meaningful applications and interviews, we raise the felt value of the position and begin significant, deep relationships with the individuals who do, and who will, comprise the group.  But that is only the beginning.  When we make time among the leadership for socializing, retreats, conferences, etc., we galvanize our leadership relationships.  It is during these moments, void of votes, decisions, and “business,” that true unity is born.  In these moments we learn each other’s stories, history and idiosyncrasies that become such valuable elements of our leadership team.

This depth of unity is further strengthened in times of corporate prayer.  Elders’ meetings must involve defined moments of prayer beyond the opening and closing of a meeting.  Elders are the spiritual leaders of the congregation.  Part of the way we value each other is by praying for and with one another.  Unity is formed as we pray for each other’s families, health, career conflicts, financial concerns and moments of celebration.  Whether it’s during the elders’ meeting or during a weekly prayer time separate from the elders’ meeting, unity grows when we celebrate and care for each other through meaningful, heartfelt moments of prayer.

We can see unity on display when leaders stand shoulder-to-shoulder, locking arms.  But unity is not formed in those moments.  Unity grows and becomes real when we know the lives of those with whom we stand, when we know them as the unique creations God intended for such a time as this, when we know them through times of laughter and conversation outside the conference room.  We build unity by holding each other up, lifting each other up, rejoicing with one another in prayer.  

“Unity” is not a vote or decision.  “Unity” is a strong and powerful team of people that God has put together, moving in the direction He has clearly defined.  What could be stronger?  It is that kind of strength and unity that will call people to join the line – and not to break through.

Power, Authority

By Rick Justice

Recently, I twice taught a course on servant leadership for TCM International Institute.  They were held at two locations in Asia.  During the course, we came upon the concepts of “power” and “authority.”  I paused for my translator to translate, and in both sessions, they stopped, looked at me and asked: “Can you describe the concepts to us?  We don’t have a word for that in our language.  We don’t have words that differentiate ‘power’ from ‘authority’ in our culture.”

Scripture does differentiate power from authority.  Remember Paul told the church at Colossae: “For in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority” (Col. 2:9-10, emphasis added).  So I had the students look up the reference in their Bibles.  Now, either their respective translations simply transliterated* the Greek terms, or the translators used such an arcane word that the concepts of power and authority were foreign thoughts to them.  You see, their cultures think of leadership only as the exercising of power.  Sadly, that aspect of culture has leaked into their expression of church leadership as well.

That experience caused me to pause to consider two questions.

First: How often do we, as Western church leaders, also confuse these two concepts?  James Hunter (The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle: How to Become a Servant Leader, WaterBrook Press, 2004) tells us that ‘power’ is the ability to force others to do what we want because of our position or strength; ‘authority’ is the skill to get others to willingly do what we want because of our personal influence.  Power works but it always damages relationships.  Power works when it is present and strong.  When the power is absent or weak, behaviors are not changed for long.

The second question: How often do we resort to power when we could accomplish the same thing using authority?  Sometimes church leaders need to use power (e.g., when defending the flock from harm), but Hunter reminds us: “ … whenever I am called upon to exercise power, that is usually a bad day for me as the leader.  Why?  Because my authority has broken down and I had to resort to my power.”

So, how about our leadership?  Do we rely on power or authority?  Do we limit the use of power to rare instances when it is truly necessary?

As we continue to shepherd the congregation for which we are responsible, let’s encourage each other with the words we find in Jude 24 and 25: “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!  Amen.”  (NIV, 1983) 

*transliteration: the representation of one language’s word in the script/characters of another (i.e. “baptism;” Baptizo was an ancient Greek term that became our English word “baptism” over time.)

Character Still Matters

by gary weedman

If your congregation is like the one where I grew up, the preacher preaches a sermon or two on the qualifications of an elder before it’s time to choose these leaders each year.  The sermon usually focuses on the 16 requirements for elders mentioned in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  The discussions that follow often include exactly what some of those qualifications mean.  Does “the husband of one wife” disqualify an otherwise godly and faithful widower?  Does “hav[ing] faithful children” eliminate a man who demonstrates the other 15 characteristics but who never had children?  Should the title be “bishop” (as in Timothy) or “elder” (Titus uses both terms)? 

Furthermore, while the two separate lists have overlapping requirements, they are not quite identical.  Why does Timothy include three not mentioned in Titus, which has one not mentioned in Timothy?
 
These are interesting questions, but if we understand the passages to be some sort of check list, which, when “ticked off,” qualify someone to be an elder, we have missed Paul’s point.  These lists are examples – important but not exhaustive – of the core principle of character expected of those who lead.
 
Should character be a prerequisite for leadership?  The question has become one of popular discussion in our current political atmosphere.  Can we overlook the character of potential leaders if they can produce some desired result regardless of character?  What long-term, unintended consequences follow such a choice?  Some believe that even evangelical Christians have accepted that character can be ignored in leaders if they can bring about an otherwise desired outcome.
 
Yet, important voices cry out that character still matters.  Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has spoken extensively about the importance of character as it relates to leadership.  In his article, “Character in Leadership – Does it Still Matter?” he reminds readers that in 1976 Jimmy Carter (as candidate) created a scandal by agreeing to be interviewed by Playboymagazine, a move criticized by many Christian leaders in spite of the fact that Carter strongly affirmed biblical principles for personal morality.  Mohler contrasts that scene to one 40 years later when a prominent evangelical leader (the first among many) chose to endorse a presidential candidate with his framed picture on the cover of Playboy proudly displayed in his office.  What difference four decades can make! 

[Link to Dr Mohler’s character piece: https://albertmohler.com
 
Indeed, some concern about the ultimate importance of character still exists.  Journalist David Brooks recently published a book, Road to Character, much of it the core of his popular ethics course at Yale University.  In the work he affirms the importance of what he calls the “eulogy self” as opposed to the “résumé self.”   What is more important in our lives: character traits for which we would like to be remembered at our memorial service, or check lists of accomplishments that bring temporary acclaim and applause from the culture?  The “eulogy self” is our true character.
 
Not to be outdone by Yale, Harvard professor Michael Sandel has taught, for over two decades, the most popular course in Harvard’s history – “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?” Nearly one thousand students crowd Sanders Hall each year to participate in Socratic dialogue about how to make ethical choices that transcend utilitarian purposes – proof that many still search for truth grounded in something beyond the mere useful and temporary.
 
Yes, character still matters.  It matters in leadership in any enterprise, and it matters most of all in the Church.  Yes, those 16 listed characteristics are important, supremely so because they point to something larger than any individual item listed.  They illustrate the incredible character needed to lead well – being “above reproach,” “blameless,” “an example” – as Paul and Peter described (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:6, 1 Pet. 5:3).  They describe a “eulogy self” rather than “résumé self.”  May our congregations demonstrate that character still matters as they choose elders who first of all value the “eulogy self.”

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.