by Mike Shannon
Recently I received news that an elder I worked closely with for several years had passed way. As I thought about him I was reminded of how he was the kind of elder every minister needs. His name was Ben. I was in a small church and it was my first full time ministry. I was just out of school, lonely, and single. Ben would frequently take me to lunch and would always insist on paying the check. I tried to make him stop, but he would say, “I have seen your paycheck. Just think of it as a supplemental salary.”
His home was a place I could always visit if I was discouraged. We might have dinner or just watch a little television and talk. Ben would also go visiting with me to talk to prospective members. We even experienced a fender bender accident while we were calling. I was at fault. He would compliment my sermons, and even sometimes, my singing. Ben rarely got angry and rarely raised his voice.
But the biggest favor Ben did for me was to talk me out of leaving the ministry. The little church where I was serving was not shy about expressing their complaints and disfavor. Some of the issues were of my own making, but most of them were not. I began getting anonymous hate mail. The mail was cruel and undeserved. For instance, one letter said, “Why don’t you go back to Bible college. It obviously didn’t take the first time.”
I had decided that I just wasn’t cut out for ministry, and figured I was young enough to recover in some other kind of secular job. I wrote out a carefully worded resignation letter and delivered it to Ben, who was chairman of the board at that time. After opening the letter and carefully reading it, he ripped it in two and said, “I refuse to accept your resignation.” He continued, “This church will have a lot to answer for if we drive a good man out of the ministry. Stay with us as long as you can. Start looking for another church if you have to, but whatever you do, do not quit the ministry.” I stayed for a while longer–long to enough to meet the woman I would marry. Ben and his wife were among the matchmakers. I did begin to look for other opportunities and eventually left, but I am not sure I would be in the ministry today if it hadn’t been for Ben.
Don’t get the wrong idea here. There were a few times Ben had to gently tell me I was on the wrong track, or that I was overreacting. He never did this to me in public. He always did it calmly and with love, so I was able to accept his counsel and learn from my mistake.
One time I lost my temper in a board meeting. After the meeting Ben said, “You were in the right on this issue, but next time let me fight that battle for you.” Sometimes when I talk to younger ministers they interpret elder support as being the absolute and unequivocal approval of everything they do or want to do. That is not the kind of elder every minister needs. We need an elder who will look out for us, support us, and even love us. If an elder does that then he can even admonish us and edify us.
We could all use an elder like Ben.