By David Roadcup
For centuries, the devil’s playground in a congregation has been the relational web between the paid staff and elders. Love, encouragement, support, understanding, and communication must flow between staff and elders. In many cases however, struggle, misunderstanding, lack of communication, and sometimes extreme frustration are more likely to be prevalent.
This issue is important in the life of a church because when unity is broken and a harsh spirit and bad feelings exist among leaders, the church knows it. This always hurts the spirit and health of the congregation.
Paul’s relationship with the elders of the Ephesian church is an insightful study in how ministers and elders should relate to each other today. Acts 20:17-38 gives the account of Paul, on his way to Jerusalem by ship, stopping at Miletus and calling for the Ephesian elders to make the day’s journey to come and confer with him. (Paul had planted the church at Ephesus and discipled the elders over a three-year period.)
When they arrived, Paul exhorted them to guard their flock, reminded them of his pure motives in ministry while in their midst, and told them they would never see him again. He concluded his exhortation by commending them to the Lord.
The text then tells us Paul knelt down with the elders and prayed with them. After prayer, “They began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship” (Acts 20:37, 38, New American Standard Bible).
In this vivid picture, we see several important points for staff and elder relationships.
First, there was clear communication between Paul and the elders. Paul speaks to them about his ministry while among them, his pure motives, his imminent departure, and their role in guarding the flock.
If there is any problem that stands out today between staff and elders, it is communication. Clear, frequent communication needs to flow freely when it comes to leadership teams. When we are not communicating, misunderstandings arise and frustrations build. In our day of e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter, there is no reason why effective communication should not take place. The wise leadership team works intently at deepening good communication.
Second, these leaders spent face-to-face time together. Solid relationships are always cultivated in the crucible of time. As staff and elders, we attend meetings and worship services together. But for relationships to go deep and grow strong, they need more than worship and work. Eating together after church, spending time in one another’s homes, and traveling or serving together all provide opportunities to deepen our trust, affection, and appreciation. The value of this informal time together has been proven to make our personal and spiritual bonds grow deeper. It should be a part of the fabric of every leadership team.
Third, we see this group on their knees praying together. Allowing our spiritual journeys to flow together is an absolute must. As the leadership team of a church, we need to pray individually, but we also must pray together, intensely and frequently. As leaders, we must remember the old idiom, “When I work, I work. When I pray, God works!” Spiritually discerning leaders are men of personal prayer who make serious, intense, soaking prayer a major part of every formal elders meeting.
After Paul prayed with the Ephesian elders, they began to weep, embracing Paul and kissing him. The expression of their love for Paul is truly moving, a beautiful picture of the love and care elders should show to every member of their staff and vice versa. We should truly see each other, as Scripture instructs, as fathers to sons, sons to fathers, and brothers to brothers. Genuine mutual love for one another must be cultivated to fulfill the type of solid relationships we are called to experience as leaders in the body of Christ.
We are always better together. Italian writer and actor Luciano De Crescenzo expresses it beautifully: “We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.”
Let us each one, ministers and elders, do our part in building and nurturing mature, loving relationships together, that the body of Christ might be healthy and effective in fulfilling her mission.
David Roadcup serves as professor of Christian ministries at Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University. He is part of a triauthor team that has written five books on the eldership. See www.e2elders.org.