What kind of church do elders need? Three stories illustrate the answer.
Men of Character
Sally’s question was wise beyond her years, “What can I expect from you (elders)?” Bill’s answer took the form of an explanation.
“When someone approaches us with a complaint, our response will always be, ‘Have you talked with Sally? If not, we have nothing to discuss. If she doesn’t respond to you in a professional or Christian manner, come back and see me. Then we’ll have something to talk about.’ Sally, we promise you we will never accept criticism about your ministry from someone who hasn’t talked with you, first. We will always have your back.”
Both the other staff members in the room could be heard to utter a quiet, “That’s true.” All members of the staff knew they were protected by their elders. No one was allowed to criticize staff. Mistakes would be made—everyone knew that—but failure was not an unpardonable sin.
There is little more important to successful ministry than a sense of security. No one who serves a church remains unscathed. No one who serves a church lives mistake-free. But to live under the promise of security makes ministry possible.
Men of Courage
After several months of consideration, the eldership at Grace Christian Church determined the congregation was healthy enough to change the approach to serving Communion. Having considered all the biblical and practical concerns they could think of, they resolved that women could serve Communion standing up as well as sitting down.
Martha, serving for the first time, approached the end of the row where an older gentleman, Joe, sat. When Joe realized he was being served by a woman, he rose, towering over Martha, and glared. After what seemed an eternity, Martha passed the tray around him to the next person and moved on. Then, after finishing her serving, Martha went to the hallway and sobbed.
By Wednesday evening of that week, elders from Grace had been to Joe’s home. The confrontation was direct, kind, but specific. “You will never do that again. You do not have to accept the emblems from a woman if that’s your choice. But you will never intimidate another of our servers. If you do, you will be removed from the congregation.”
Elders are shepherds—they protect the sheep. They must always act expeditiously and directly. Anyone can disagree with the decisions and direction of a church. No one can be allowed to behave in such a brazen, non-Christian fashion.
Men of Conviction
Grace Christian has been moving forward for several years and will continue to do so. Several years ago, elders of the church determined the congregation was getting old. There was more gray hair. Several on the staff were in their 50s. The number of young people had leveled off and was showing no signs of growing. Something had to be done.
Before long, every program decision included the question, “How will parents of young children respond to this?” Meals became “kid friendly.” More young people appeared on worship teams and as servers and greeters. After a few months, a younger staff member was added to the mix. Summer programming for youth was totally reevaluated, and in many cases, shifted.
After another year or so passed, another young staff member was added. The dynamics of the preaching were directly impacted by the critique of the younger staff. Vocabulary changed. Application was altered. Choices of illustrations were impacted. Elders were recruited to be in the areas of the building where youth were taught.
As a direct result, young families began to appear and stay. Over a five- to six-year period, virtually all the growth had been young. An additional staff member was added to handle early childhood ministry. Nurseries were remodeled and check-in procedures revamped. And the church continues to grow.
Elders are ultimately responsible for the congregation. They must be men of conviction who are willing to make hard decisions and live with them long enough to see whether they are working. Only when men of conviction serve as elders will churches be able to make decisions that positively alter the direction of a congregation. Otherwise, the loud voices of the “we like it this way” or “that won’t work” crowds will dictate the demise of the church.
Men Churches Can Count On
What kind of elders do churches need? They need men of character who know and do what is right. They require men of courage who are willing to act decisively and deliberately when necessary. They demand men of conviction who will make the hard decisions and live with the consequences.
Chuck Sackett serves as minister with Madison Park Christian Church in Quincy, Illinois.