by Billy Strother
I love elders – always have and always will. These dedicated spiritual servants put their hearts, souls, and finances on the line for local congregations. In some congregations, new elders are recruited with no training or mentoring. There is a last-second nomination scramble, with only a few days to affirm or not affirm one’s willingness to accept the nomination.
Sometimes, new elders have no idea into what they are being launched into. They simply said “yes” out of a servant’s heart … then comes the whirlwind.
The congregation I was serving most recently provides rotational and intentional leadership training, mentoring, and personal spiritual care before one is invited to serve as an elder, and active mentoring continues in the first term of eldership.
With or without training, even in the best of healthy circumstances, surprises in the burdens and joys of eldership happen to us all.
In a recent elders’ meeting, I asked our multi-generational group of nine elders two questions. (Our eldership is a larger number because we have been actively passing the elder leadership baton to the next generation of church leaders – half of our elders are in their early thirties or early forties, six of the nine are in their first term serving as an elder). My explanation for the two questions posed to our elders was that I would record and share their answers on this blog, in the hope that their answers would help other newly-serving elders or those contemplating serving for the first time in eldership. Our elders were vigorous and eager in their sharing of answers. I’m still not sure if they were talking to you or simply over-eager to educate me!
Perhaps you have or have had that “deer in the headlights” look after your first elders’ meeting. (My elders conceded such was unanimously their experience.) Or, it could be that you have been asked annually to serve for years; but annually you have declined nomination – from the outside, serving in eldership looks severely mystical, or too much like a monthly city council meeting, possessing all of the excitement of a root canal.
I share our collective answers to two simple questions in the hope you will find encouragement in your own journey as an elder or to eldership.
Question 1: “What do you wish someone had told you before you became an elder?”
- Serving would include more than a “one hour a month” meeting. (Some elders had been recruited with the promise that eldership only consisted of one meeting for “one hour a month.”) We corrected that inaccuracy in approaching candidates.
- Muting cell phones. If you are not retired, and still work full-time, mute your cell phone! (Texts, emails, phone calls, prayer requests, and Facebook posts will come in at all times.) The advice? Take control of your cell phone; do not let it control you. Don’t just put it on vibrate mode, use the Do Not Disturb setting.
- Learning there is only one important voice to which to listen and follow: Jesus. Eldership is not like politics – you represent no group in the church; you only represent Jesus, and what is best in Jesus’ eyes.
- Understanding the church is not like a secular, “normal” business, especially if you are from a professional business background. (There is at times no clear “chain of command” and sometimes no “best practice” to lean on.)
- Sitting in an elders’ meeting is different than sitting in a secular management meeting or fiscal court. It is more of a burden to serve as an elder than to be a small business owner.
- Deferring church business out of our meetings and into staff hands as much as possible, so we could be active Shepherds to real hurting people.
- Keeping necessary confidential secrets (even from your spouse) and prayer requests you become privy to as an elder, until/unless the elder team is ready to disclose them for a Kingdom benefit.
- Committing to be supportive when the elder team makes a decision, even if I personally (or church friends close to me) disagree. Unless I am willing to resign, I must commit to be supportive for the sake of elder unity. Sometimes, it is hard to admit that I might just be wrong, and that I will need to trust the rest of the elder team.
- Abandoning the naïveté to believe that if I reached out to every disgruntled church member who disagreed with an elder team decision, that, since they knew me, they would trust me.
- Finding it difficult to carve out time for prayer and Bible study because of the tyranny of the church-urgent.
Question 2: “What Unexpected Blessing Have You Experienced by Serving as an Elder?”
- Watching a new idea for ministry delivery get tossed into elder meeting discussion, and then seeing it come to fruition
- Possessing an inside look at God’s faithfulness: knowing things kept in leadership confidence, which are best not shared outside the elders, and then watching God make bold moves to resolve or complete those things
- Watching people spiritually grow, including my fellow elders.
- Experiencing deep fellowship with elders who are spiritual heroes.
- Mentoring from older, experienced elders; being challenged in healthy ways by younger new elders
- Becoming more Christ-centered by being with seasoned elders who are already Christ-centered.
- Becoming a more effective leader in one’s small group, by spending time in team with effective elders
- Experiencing unity develop as a group of Christian men. (There was an associated quote: “There is no way I could have predicted the friendships, the connections, and my own spiritual growth with these men.”)
- Discovering even seemingly small leadership decisions can lead to positive, amplified Kingdom fruit
- Experiencing deep spiritual refreshing in elder meetings, often unexpected, and always when it was needed the most
- Participating in something that will bear spiritual fruit long after the second date is carved on one’s headstone
All agreed, the blessings of serving as an elder far exceeded the burdens. (That is why there are 11 answers to question 2, but only 10 answers for question 1.) At its worst, none of us had ever experienced an elders’ meeting as bad as a root canal or a raucous city council meeting.