How to Shepherd

by David Roadcup 

One of the foremost elders of the church, the Apostle Peter, gives us a clear picture of our role as elders.  In 1 Peter 5:1-4, Peter he states:

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,  shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;  nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 

Paul also makes clear that our main role is that of shepherd.  We are to manage, lead and cast vision.  These roles are all important to an effective elder team.  But we should be focused first and foremost on our role as shepherd

In smaller churches, the role is hands-on, up close and personal.  In our mega-churches, elders oversee webs of relationships in the church (small groups, Sunday School classes, ministry teams [i.e. Praise Team], etc.).  In larger churches, elders should manage the task of making sure that the thousands or hundreds of people who attend the church are being shepherded in an effective way. 

Whether the church is small or large, elders are to be shepherds.

What does this look like in today’s church?  Here are a few suggestions that might bring clarity to our role:

1)      We are to be visible to our flock.  In a smaller church, this is no problem.  Everyone knows who the elders are.  In churches of 300 and up, it is possible that many in the church don’t know who the shepherds of the church are.  Finding ways to make our shepherds visible to our congregation would help this problem.  Having elders introduce themselves before they lead in prayer in worship services would be good.  If your congregation uses an invitation song in worship services, why not have elders up front at invitation time to receive those who come forward?  Having elders (and maybe their wives) in the lobbies of our buildings at worship times, proactively connecting with people before and after services, would allow contact and connection with those in our flock.

2)      We are to be prayerful for our flock.  One of our main ways to shepherd our people is by offering intercessory prayer on a daily basis for our people.  We should pray daily that God’s blessing, Presence, protection from temptation and peace should be upon the lives of our people.  Our children, teens, college students, singles, married couples and senior saints all need the mantle of prayer that we provide as shepherds.  When we daily intercede for our people, we are spreading a covering of protection over our flock.  Remember, brothers, prayer makes a difference.  Let us protect our people daily by lifting them up in prayer. 

3)      We are to be involved in shepherding activities.  Today’s church growth research indicates that any person, leader or layman, can only connect with significance with approximately 60-80 people in the congregation.  If this is so, as an elder, I know I can touch at least that many people through various means.  As mentioned previously, leading a small home bible study group, teaching a Sunday School class, playing in the Praise Band, etc. are all ways (plus many others) that we can establish relationships and connect with people.  It is an absolute “must” that we are touching people at the grass roots level as shepherds.

Elders, following in the steps of our Lord Jesus, Peter and Paul, let’s shepherd well.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Change Agents

by Mark Taylor 

How do you feel about change? 

It is the universal experience of seeing things today that are so much different than they were just a year or maybe even a week ago.

Some people love change.  They redecorate their living rooms, trade in their cars, or cycle their wardrobe regularly.  They’re never satisfied with the way things are, always looking for something better.

Some people avoid change.  They don’t want to spend the money to buy new.  They don’t want to learn how to use something different.  They’re comfortable with the way things are.

Where do you fall on the continuum between resisting and craving change?  Your answer may say a lot about how you approach your ministry as an elder.

Embracing Change
We live in an era of unprecedented change.  By the time we understand one sociological trend, another has taken its place.  By the time we figure out how to use our smartphone or web-enabled TV or self-parking car, a different version is on the market.  And sometimes older folks like me yearn to retreat from the pace of change and just resign ourselves to the fact that the world is passing us by.

Of course, that’s not the attitude for a leader.  Leaders anticipate, embrace, and initiate change.  Leaders know you can’t build a house without digging up a foundation.  You can’t grow a crop without breaking up the dirt.  You can’t rear a child without constantly buying him larger shoes and shirts.

We can’t reach our communities for Christ with the same programs, building, church staff, or strategies created ten, twenty, or thirty years ago.

Do you talk about change in your elders’ meetings?  Who suggests them – the elders or minister?  How do you cope with suggestions for rearranging or rethinking how you do ministry?

Every group of elders must face the fact that leading and supporting change is part of their responsibility.

Leading Change
Five years ago, Jon Walker, minister with Willowbrook Christian Church in Victor, New York, shared a formula for coping with change.  It had been offered by an elder in his congregation.

R = A/T ± S

The formula reads this way: Resistance to change equals the Amount of change, divided by the Time before the change, plus or minus Salesmanship; A and T should, if possible, cancel out.

If your church is changing what brand of coffee it serves at the welcome center, you’ll probably not encounter much resistance.  The Amount of change is small.  But if your church is moving from one side of town to another, you may experience major resistance, because this is a huge change.  In this case you need to allow plenty of Time between when you announce the change and when it happens.

You’ll use that time to carefully explain the rationale, patiently listen to objections, and thoroughly answer questions. People need time to absorb all the good reasons for making the change.  Leaders will wisely allow for all this interaction and not demand that the church follow them just because they’re called “leaders.”

During that period, the elders’ role is crucial.  That’s when they’ll use their Salesmanship skills and encourage church members to agree with the proposal.

If you don’t like the connotation of “salesmanship,” then let the S stand for Shepherding.  Your role in leading change is to keep the flock together, go after strays who want to wander off in a different direction, and counsel and correct members who willfully resist their leaders.

Facing Change
Some facts about change:

  1. It’s almost always difficult.  By nature, people like things to remain comfortable and familiar.
  2. It almost always brings conflict.  The most vocal among the resisters will challenge, campaign, or complain.
  3. It is absolutely necessary if a congregation is to grow.  The seedling in your hand today cannot become a mighty tree if it remains forever in the same small pot.

To make these changes possible, a congregation needs elders who are not afraid of change, leaders who will prayerfully seek God’s guidance about which changes to make now.  Your role as an elder is carefully and lovingly to lead your congregation to welcome the changes that will advance the Gospel in your community. 

Elders Encourage Church Staff

by Rick Lowry 

The relationship between a church’s senior minister and her elders is a frequent topic of discussion in leadership circles.  But what about the connection between the elders and the associate ministers? 

Elder-associate interaction is often determined by the size of the church or the church’s philosophy of ministry.  But here are some general principles that apply in most leadership situations. 

Develop a personal relationship.  Most associates feel supported when an elder takes time to show a loving interest in them and in their ministry area.  An elder can be an ally, not just an authority.  Some eldership teams annually assign individual elders to specific ministry leaders, who then get together with them regularly and offer encouragement.   

Make sure elders and staff are like-minded about the direction of the church.  The church leadership team should have a handful of forward-thinking values and visions they have agreed on, and every leader should support those ideals.  If the leadership has agreed about the philosophy of any given ministry in the church, individual leaders can confuse associate ministers if they promote their own agenda privately with a staff member.

Get involved in their ministry.  Elders are a great benefit to their staff members when they get involved in their ministry.  Not to check up on them, but to intentionally take a sincere interest.  And of course, the best way to get involved is to volunteer for needed ministry roles in their area.

Appropriate Financial Compensation.  If they are full-time, make sure their family can thrive.  It’s hard for a guy or gal to completely focus on their ministry if they are always worried about the financial health of their family.  And in these days of staff looking more like a team and less like one main figure in charge, compensating an associate on the level of a senior minister is often appropriate.  If the associate minister is part-time, expect them to work only the number of hours they are being paid for.  Many conscientious associates quietly work full-time hours for part-time pay.  Elders can and should play a key role in protecting them in this regard.

Allow their voice to be heard.  Associate staff members often feel powerless.  Decisions that affect their ministry are sometimes made without consulting them.  In many settings, it is not possible for associates to be a part of the key leadership team, but creative ways can be introduced to get their input.  Invite them to key leadership meetings a few times a year.  Or have their team leader on staff brainstorm with them and then take their ideas to leadership meetings.  It may also be beneficial to have a trusted elder talk with an associate minister before a decision that has the potential to alter something in their ministry area.

Confront Privately, Support Publicly.  Wise elders handle complaints about associate staff members in an appropriate way.  Confronting a member of the staff in the presence of church members, or even in a meeting, can be harmful. Concerns should initially be expressed in a private setting.  Associates need to be perfectly clear about who their supervisor is, and that person (or persons, in a team setting) should be the final job performance authority for them.  A staff member who receives conflicting input from a variety of individual elders and staff members, especially when it is negative in nature and aired publicly, can be left confused about who they really need to listen to and what they really need to do.  Confronting an issue one-on-one will help the person to hear and understand the substance of the critique with better clarity, and without being defensive or dismissive.

The way elders relate to associate ministers and staff can be one of the most powerful ways they lead the flock – by serving the flock.

Tale of 2 Ministries

by Dave Thurman 

Charles Dickens penned one of the most memorable lines of English literature in the opening of his A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”  He was describing two metropolitan areas – London and Paris – separated by a little over 200 miles.  Ministry often tends to be that way for those who serve.  But as I look back at my first two full-time ministries, one filled with difficulty and frustration, the other full of joy and fruit, it is easy to see that the elders made the greatest difference.  As a baby-faced preacher who desperately wanted to reach the lost and disciple people, it truly was “A Tale of Two Ministries.”

In my first ministry I served a small congregation in Northern Kentucky.  I was twenty-two and my bride just twenty, still a student at Cincinnati Christian University.  For the sake of transparency, I didn’t really know what I was doing.  I prepared sermons and preached with passion, tried to comfort the afflicted and call members to a higher level of commitment.  But along the way I received little to no encouragement from the elders, who saw it as their job to keep young bucks from creating too much chaos.  The preacher before me had been fired, and there were days I thought I was right behind him.  It wasn’t that the elders were bad men – a couple of them became friends – but together they saw themselves only as supervisors, not shepherds, and as I tried to be innovative and make some needed changes, they beat me down.  It impacted my marriage, as a beautiful young woman saw her husband under attack.  Being stubborn and inexperienced, I tended to fight back, which of course, only made things worse.  Thanks to a sweet elderly couple who lived next door and took us under their wing, we survived and the church grew.  But it was a rough introduction to located ministry. 

Three years later, I accepted a call to Marengo Christian Church (Indiana), just 24-years-old, and only slightly less wet behind the ears.  Immediately I found that the elders were my biggest supporters, wanting me to succeed.  They held me accountable, but more than anything, we prayed together, envisioned what the church could become, and in the next 8 years the congregation doubled, reaching more than a quarter of the town’s population.  Two men in particular, each with unusual names, Novy Andry and Revis Crecilius, coached me up, showering me with love.  Many elders’ meetings ended with all of our leaders on our knees for in extended prayer.  They valued me, my wife and our kids, and it was, in many ways, the best 8 ½ years of my life.

So, what made the difference?  Sure I was a little older and more seasoned.  I walked in the first day with a better plan and a bit of wisdom.  But most of the difference was in the MO of the elders I served with.  In one congregation, I was a partner in ministry; in the other, just a hireling. 

Elders: never underestimate the impact of your leadership.  You set the tone for the entire church – preacher included – and the most talented preacher in the world will only succeed if you come alongside him, build him up, and lovingly guide and correct him. 

Earlier this year I returned to Marengo, 32+ years after that first call, to conduct the funeral for Novy’s wife, Colleen.  It was a beautiful day, and I had the opportunity to tell Novy what a gift he’d given me as a young preacher.  He shepherded our family.  The Andry house was always open to us.  Novy came in person to have hard conversations one-on-one.  He loved me like a son.  That simple man, who worked on a line at Ford, did more to make me a successful preacher than he will ever know. 

Lead well, brothers.

Adopted

by John Caldwell 

I was literally moved to tears when I read a front-page article in the Indianapolis Star on November 25.  It concerned a 17-year-old girl who had just been adopted after 4,057 days in foster care in 36 different placements.  That’s over 11 years since she was removed from her very abusive biological parents at six years of age.  Nearly 1,000 other kids in the system had been adopted while she waited.  Her hopes had been raised again and again only to be dashed in disappointment.  Then, while living in a group home, she met Mike and Patty at an adoption event.  When they met again she told them, “When I got back to the group home, I was hoping you guys wanted me, because I wanted you guys.” 

I was hoping you guys WANTED me…”

When she moved in with Mike and Patty on a trial basis it was hard to believe it would last since she had been hurt so many times before.  However, on November 16, it became official.  She was now their daughter, a part of their family.  Furthermore, she legally changed not just her last name but also her first name because it had been given to her by her birth parents – whom she doesn’t want to remember. She’s a new person, with a new name, a new family, and a new home.  She’s ADOPTED!  Wow!!!

One of my favorite praise choruses is Hillsong’s “I Am Who You Say I Am.”  The words to the bridge of that praise song always move me: “I am chosen, not forsaken, I am who you say I am – You are for me, not against me, I am who you say I am – You are for me, not against me, I am who you say I am – I am who you say I am.”  But one of the other things that God says to me is that, “I am an adopted child of the Most High God.”

There are many names, titles, or descriptions given in Scripture for the Christian.  Here are just a few: believer, saint, blessed, child of God, chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, disciple, redeemed, saved, set free, reconciled, and so many others.  But after reading Scarlet’s story (her old name) “adopted” will always have a very special meaning for me.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent Him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that He could adopt us as his very own children. (Galatians 4:4-5 NLT, emphasis added)

God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ.  This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. (Ephesians 1:5 NLT, emphasis added)

It is also significant that when Scarlet was adopted, she put her old life behind her and took a new identity; not unlike when we “died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.” (Romans 6:4 NLT)  

Scarlet had said to Mike and Patty, “I was hoping you guys wanted me, because I wanted you guys.”  The incredibly good news is that we never have to wonder with God.  He wanted to adopt us in advance, and both proved it and made it possible through sending His “only begotten Son.”  And that, my friends, is the GOOD NEWS that we get to share with the world!

Leading with Style

by Rick Chromey 

Every elder leads with style. 

Some elders are active leaders.  They like to be in command and want to get work done.  Some elders are passive leaders.  They prefer working from the shadows, watching and waiting until the time is right.  

Some elders lead emotively.  They work from their hearts, leading “randomly” with a focus on people.  Some elders lead cognitively.  They manage from their heads, operating more sequentially and focus upon tasks.  

Consequently, four different leadership personalities emerge (and you are one of them).

 Active / Emotive:  The Game Show Host

Game Show Host elders are inspirational leaders.  They are delightful, gregarious, daring and charismatic.  Their active nature creates energy and their emotive connections spark attention and affection.  They make decisions through hunches and measure success by applause.

But Game Show Hosts also carry liabilities.  By default, they are not planners and are often undisciplined.  They dislike details, schedules, lists, and deadlines.  Their randomness frustrates sequential leaders (Chefs and Stage Managers) and this disconnect creates conflict related to their spontaneity, riskiness, tardiness and messiness.

Active / Cognitive:  The Chef  

Chef elders are confident leaders.  They enjoy taking the lead and cooking up flavor.  They are decisive, reliable, organized and practical.  Their active nature puts legs underneath dreams and their cognitive nature creates recipes for success.  Many chefs are master communicators and visionary leaders.  They make decisions through highly-developed intuition and measure success by completing the mission.

But Chefs aren’t perfect.  They can easily become rogue or lone ranger leaders.  They can thrive in conflict and heat, which irritates the other styles.  They don’t always care about hurt feelings or disgruntled people.  Their high expectations – for others and themselves can create an environment of perfectionism and workaholism. 

Passive / Cognitive:  The Stage Manager

Integrity is the heart of a Stage Manager elders.  They don’t need the stage or spotlight to influence change.  Rather, these elders operate to the side with well-designed scripts to ensure the work is a success.  They are thoughtful, disciplined, cautious and efficient, economical leaders.  Their passive nature naturally brakes for change, especially with abruptly-conceived visions (frustrating Game Show Hosts) and disagreeable ideas (angering Chefs).  Stage Managers want every decision to be measured and reasonable.  Consequently, they make decisions on the facts and gauge success by security and rationality. 

Stage Managers are not without flaws, however.  They can stall good plans, resist positive change and by stymied by “analysis paralysis.”

Passive / Emotive:  The Counselor

The Counselor personality is an elder who leads with compassion.  These sensitive, people-focused, tender leaders are always seeking compromise, resolution and interaction.  Their passive nature makes them bristle at conflict and their emotive sensibility drives them to nurture relationships.  They are dependable, diplomatic, relaxed and patient to a fault.  They make decisions based upon consensus and measure success by general feelings of goodness, forgiveness and positivity. 

This idealism, however, can create issues for Counselors.  They can crack under pressure, avoid risks, disengage, disappear without notice, and grow frustrated with conflict.  Counselors don’t want to leave anyone out, behind, or down.

Every great and working eldership will include each of these personalities. 

We need Game Show Hosts to lighten the mood, inspire change and motivate people.  We need Chefs to craft vision, challenge assumptions and move the church forward.  We need Stage Managers to monitor change, calculate risks and create concrete plans. We need Counselors to resolve conflicts, show compassion and generate interaction. 

No one style is better than another and like the parts of the human body, every personality contributes something to the cause.  One final thought: an eldership that’s top-heavy in one style will prove dysfunctional. 

Too many Chefs spoil the broth (as every chef prefers their own agenda).  With too many Game Show Hosts, nothing will get done (since detailed plans and deadlines are necessary for success).  Too many Stage Managers will stall the organization (because every stage manager wants everything “perfectly perfect”).  Too many Counselors and there will be chaos (as consensus rule is naturally messy). 

The best eldership will feature all four styles. 

And that’s a winning combination.

Elders Resolve Conflict

by Rick Grover

Over the past six years, our congregation has gone through more than its fair share of change, disappointment, loss, and now renewal.  And through it all, our elders have remained united. We had to acknowledge our own mistakes and failures as leaders, the changing context of our church family, and the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding us through the murky water of conflict. 

In the midst of everything, we discovered that our congregation was not equipped to handle conflict in healthy ways.  We had the typical “fight or flight syndrome” rather than the “share and care syndrome” of working through conflict.  We learned that there are four basic reactions to church conflict that, if not addressed, can lead to greater infighting and division. 

Over-spiritualizing
Some church members avoid conflict because they see it as an evil rather than an opportunity.  Thus, rather than deal with conflict, they respond with spiritual platitudes such as, “We don’t need to discuss this any further.  We just need to be on our knees and pray that God will convict the hearts (of those with whom we disagree).”  It’s hard to argue with someone’s conviction to pray, but prayer should never be used as an excuse not to deal with real issues. 

Denying  
Whether in marriage or ministry, some Christians take the ostrich approach and want to bury their heads in the sand.  Elderships can be on a dangerous path of disarray if they are unwilling to go through the tunnel of conflict.  As I’m sure you’ve heard before, “Facts are your friends,” even if those facts are not very encouraging. 

Trivializing
This is the “frog in the kettle,” where churches are facing significant problems, but elders are still living in the glory days and not in current reality.  When elders trivialize conflict, factions, or divisions, they are playing into the hands of the enemy.  We should never make a mountain out of a molehill, but too many unaddressed molehills can trip up an eldership and congregation. 

Guilt-tripping
In church conflict, we easily fall into the trap of the blame game.  The minister blames the elders for the church’s problems.  The elders blame the minister.  The congregation takes sides and blames the elders or the minister or both.  When we were going through our own tunnel of conflict, we had to stop blaming each other and start collaborating on possible solutions and ways to move forward. 

Responding to conflict is never easy, but it is necessary for church health and growth. When we had significant internal tension, it was no surprise that newcomers could sense it and wanted no part of it.  Healthy things grow – and that includes churches.  Your church may be in a geographic area of non-growth, but healthy growth is still possible, even if it is measured in ways that go beyond simple Sunday morning attendance. 

For our congregations to handle conflict in healthy ways, elderships must take the lead.  Are your elders’ meetings characterized by any of the above four common responses to conflict?  Does your eldership over-spiritualize, deny, trivialize, or guilt-trip each other when conflict occurs?  If so, the path forward for your church begins with you taking the first steps in your eldership and handling conflict in ways that honor Jesus Christ. 

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 
1 John 3:16 (ESV) 

And in the church, that begins with the elders. 

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.

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.)