by Rick Grover
Let’s face it. The relationship between elders and a senior minister is tricky. When I started as the senior minister of East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, one of our elders told me we had to learn to dance together without stepping on each other’s toes. Indeed. It took time, patience, humility and a lot of communication, but I can honestly say our elders and I are now doing the waltz together.
You can too.
When I talk with senior ministers around the country, I hear a similar story: “I wish my elders knew __________ about me…” Here are five of the most common “blank fillers” ministers wish their elders knew about them.
1. I wish my elders knew me personally and not just professionally. Our relationships cannot completely center on the church’s wins to celebrate, conflicts to resolve, staff/volunteer issues, or finances. I know that I work much better when I know we are friends and we’ve got each other’s backs.
2. I wish my elders knew I am for them and not against them. I know I get defensive at times, but “we’re on the same team,” and I’m playing to win with you, not to boost my individual stats. I want to learn from you and share with you. Forgive me for the times I spout off about my “wonderful” vision and get frustrated when I feel like you’re holding things back. Thank you for leading with faith, and with a healthy dose of caution.
3. I wish my elders knew how hard I work at preaching, leading the staff, visiting the sick, “marrying and burying,” witnessing to the lost, discipling the saved … and still protecting time for my wife and kids. Someone once told me it must be nice to work one day a week. It took effort not to hit him. I know that you, my brother and elder, are working very hard in your career and in leading our congregation well. Thank you for acknowledging that I am, too.
4. I wish my elders knew how much I love the church. I really do. I want to see the church grow in healthy ways, and I get just as frustrated as you do when the church is plateaued or in decline. My work here is not just a job. I love the people I serve, even when a few of them get under my skin.
5. I wish my elders knew how hurting and alone I feel at times. While it’s not my intent to complain, there are moments when I just want to throw in the towel. I’m sure you have felt that way before. If I can’t be vulnerable with those who hired me and can fire me, to whom do I talk about these moments? Fellow elders: ensure that your preacher participates in a pastors’ covenant group where we can let down every guard, talk about how we’re really feeling, encourage and support each other, and let brothers look into every dark corner of our souls.
Elders, as one of these senior ministers who wants to know you better and be better known by you, thank you for fulfilling your role of shepherding, teaching, and caring for the flock.
Your task is difficult yet rewarding. It is demanding yet enriching. It is burdensome yet fulfilling. Thank you for getting to know your preacher. Thank you for encouraging him, praying for him, and letting him know we’re in it together. All you need to do is learn to dance without stepping on each other’s toes.