As I was looking through one of several brotherhood periodicals I receive each month it struck me that the first thing I do before reading the article is to check the short biography of the author at the end. The vast majority of the time the authors are active or retired preachers, even when the article deals with elders. When attending various lectureships held throughout the year, how often do you see classes taught by elders, even when the topic is about elders? How many sessions are geared toward elders or potential elders? Often we hear preachers lament the fact that most of their members call them, not the elders, whenever they have a spiritual or physical problem? Congregations often perceive the preacher as fulfilling a “pastor” role even when he is not an elder.
While many congregations do not have elders, most do have preachers. Often these men become “de facto” pastors because their elders are not fulfilling their God-given roles as shepherds of their flocks. Sometimes preachers are forced into this role because their elders, for whatever reasons, do not step up and lead as God intended; other times preachers seek this role because of a desire for attention or control. Although Peter tells us we are to be a peculiar people (1 Pet 2:9) in many ways congregations of the Lord’s church are becoming more and more like the denominations around them (1 Sam 8:5).
Who is going to be held accountable by God for this subtle transformation? Since ultimate spiritual leadership in our congregations rests with the elders, we know the answer to that question. Satan is stalking our congregations (1 Pet 5:8) and if our leaders are not vigilant (Acts 20:28-31) we will wake up one day in astonishment at the similarities with denominational churches.
Why do so many members in our congregations perceive their preacher in a pastoral role? I believe one of the primary reasons is that elders do not take advantage of opportunities to be “visible” to their congregations during assemblies and other activities. There are certain times when elders need to meet privately to discuss confidential matters, but they must guard against slipping into a “Board of Directors” style of oversight. Good shepherds spend as much time as possible among their flocks so the sheep will come to know and trust them. The result will be a group of Christians that are willingly led by men they trust to watch for their souls.
How can elders begin to create the perception throughout their congregation that they are pastors who should be sought out in time of spiritual or physical need?
- Take every opportunity to be in front of your flock during assemblies by making announcements, teaching, preaching, during the invitation song, leading prayers and songs (1 Tim 3:2)
- Be available to greet members and visitors before/after services, mingle in the foyer (don’t be the last people to arrive and/or the first people to leave), and attend various social functions (weddings, funerals, graduations, sporting events, etc.). Remember that every elder should not be expected to attend every function, but schedule at least one representative if possible. This is an excellent opportunity to develop a more personal relationship with your members. Visit members in their homes as well as having them in your home. Visit the sick and shut-ins in their homes, in the hospital, nursing home, etc. Make every attempt to lead a prayer before leaving (Jas 1:27)
- Write articles for your congregation’s newsletter/bulletin and brotherhood-wide periodicals (1 Pet 3:15).
- Consider placing your pictures in the congregation’s weekly publication along with assigned ministries. The use of name badges identifying the elders and deacons to members and visitors alike is another option.
- Meet with the deacons on a regular basis to discuss the effectiveness of their ministries and keep them abreast of plans and developments affecting the congregation in general and their particular ministries. Involve them in visiting. Continually evaluate their potential as elders (1 Pet 5:2).
- Develop the lost art of effective listening. Understand body language that tells people you care about them and their problems (Prov 19:20).
- Follow through on your commitments in order to develop the trust of your members. Speak with one voice to the congregation once a decision has been made by the eldership. NEVER discuss personal information outside the eldership. Trust is hard to attain, easily lost and most difficult to regain (1 Tim 6:20).
- Exhibit the courage to make difficult decisions for the good of the congregation (Ezk 22:30). Remember, you are “teaching” any time people are around you either formally to a class or individual or informally during other activities. Look for opportunities to reinforce your role as a pastor. God designed congregational leadership this way and expects elders to properly fulfill that role (1 Cor 11:1).