Thursday, December 31, 2009

Elders and pastors

The post that follows started life as an email I was drafting last summer. I never finished it, so I never got around to sending it. The thoughts here are rough, but I submit them for your comment anyway.

I've been thinking about the whole subject of elders that we were talking about the other day, and I came up with a few random thoughts.

  • There's nothing inherent in the NT about the elders of a church being the church staff. By analogy, the U.S. government does not put ultimate power into the hands of any one man, or even any one branch of government. A church may be free to implement that, but it is a questionable choice, since a staff might become insulated from the members it's supposed to be leading. Which means …
  • Having "lay elders" in addition to the ones on the pastoral staff might be a good idea. (Scripturally, this is a position I am not qualified for, BTW.)
  • Traditionally, Baptists have taken one of two equally wrong tacks:
    • Pastor as the only elder
    • Deacons as defacto elders
  • Not having the organizational structure written and knowingly agreed to means some people will become disgruntled. This used to be done via a church covenant and bylaws members understood and agreed to abide by. If there are bylaws they should be published to the members. If the bylaws don't express the way things are done, one or the other should be changed. I.e., yes, leaders are accountable to God, but they are also accountable to the congregation.
  • Baptists have always been congregational in their government. As one pastor put it, all churches that are not cults are ultimately congregational: When they aren't given a vote otherwise, people will still vote with their feet and their checkbooks. I think we have seen the truth of that.
  • Regardless of elder structures, there is a great danger in leading people spiritually the way Jennie's dad used to lead Jennie and her mom through airports. His attitude was, "I'm going, and God help anyone who can't keep up." That's NOT leadership. So …
  • Before great changes are made, the congregation needs to be convinced of the change, not merely told where the church is going, the people being expected to follow. That is, the pastor is a shepard, not a commander. This is because …
  • There is a priesthood of all believers (not a priesthood of the individual, BTW).
  • The senior pastor is not just another elder, he is the chief among equals, setting the direction for the staff and persuading the people to follow. After all, if where the elders lead is scriptural, old, ingrained patterns may need to be overcome. This takes time. You persuade a friend by showing him the truth from Scripture, not by clonking him with a 2x4. (The 2x4 is for people who are in wilfull sin. But I digress.) But …
  • The senior pastor and the other elders, in order to be able to lead, must first learn to listen, learn, and love.

Got any thoughts?

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