by Randy Boltinghouse
Our elder leadership team meets twenty times over the course of a year, typically twice a month for two hours. During the first hour of our meeting, we pray over each of the prayer requests made from the previous Sunday’s communication cards. Furthermore, all of us have the same daily devotional book which we read between meetings then share on the evenings we meet. A rotational schedule assigns each elder the opportunity to lead both the devotion and prayer time. After praying, sharing scripture, and reflecting on the devotions, it’s been an hour, leaving an hour for congregational matters. Our meetings consistently end at the two-hour mark.
We have a policy governance system which delineates the responsibilities of the elder leadership team, the senior minister, values, vision, limitations, etc. Policy governance streamlines what decisions need to be made and by whom. When needed, we have spirited discussion over necessary issues. All decisions are by consensus. Our policy governance serves as “good bones” supplying structure, discipline, and an operational unity that results in leadership alignment.
That said, I don’t believe it’s enough to have “good bones.” We need an environment of spiritual nutrition and brotherly warmth entrusted to God and His Word. Paul wrote about this in his parting words to the Ephesian elders: “I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). A proper understanding of biblical eldership involves shepherds who, when they gather, do so to consume the Word, seek to be built up by it, and then strive to remind each other from it that in Christ they are heirs with the saints of all God has promised. How can any meeting of the elders go wrong when such a spirit dominates the room?
I’m convinced that prioritizing prayer and the ministry of the Word are what keeps our meetings unified, efficient, on schedule, and spiritually nourishing for each elder. One of my priorities as senior minister is not only to encourage each elder toward the work of the Lord but to see that the Lord’s work nourishes each elder. Starting each meeting with prayer, Bible reading, devotions, and spiritual reflections ensures unity, love, and a brotherly affection among the shepherds of the flock. Our elders tell each other that our meetings are a highlight of the week; a spiritually enriching small group time. Sometimes the agenda changes in the meeting itself because one of the elders (or the senior minister!) has a heavy heart, needing conversation time and prayer. What that means is that the other elders will rise from their seats and surround the one in need, praying fervently with the laying on of hands. This does not mean we do not have difficult conversations. Nor does this mean we won’t process through differing points of view. It means that the difficult conversations situate themselves in a larger context of loving, truthful, prayerful Christian unity. It means that differences are discussed in a gospel tone of grace and truth. Such unity spreads out through the congregation, contagiously affecting the church family. Christ-honoring elderships lead to Christ-honoring congregations.
When our elders meet, we don’t come representing the interests of the church. We come foremost to represent the interests of our Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. We come to build one another up in Him. Our brotherly unity touches the entire church family. If your meetings are consistently running more than two hours, they’re probably too long. So if you want richer, more effective meetings, pray more.