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Leading your team can be difficult. 9 key insights to guide your attitude.

I trust this is not true of all churches, but I have discovered that elder meetings can have an unexpectedly difficult social dynamic. There you sit at the table with a number of godly men. You are hashing out this or that issue. And somehow the room feels tense, even political!

“Why is he contradicting me?”

“Is he just posturing?”

“Why did he say it like that?”

“What a jerk!”

Truth be told, you can see my own small-heartedness and sin in such responses. But I am confident I am not alone.

The Biggest Lesson

Here’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned about the social dynamic of elder meetings: fear of man sometimes keeps us from saying the things we should say, and fear of man sometimes provokes us to say things we shouldn’t.

That is, sometimes we fail to say what we should say because we are afraid of saying something different, something wrong.

But sometimes we speak more than we should, or harsher than we should, because we are afraid of losing control or losing the argument. We think persuading the brothers depends upon us. So we push too hard. We clutch our ideas too tightly, because we are afraid of losing face. And that is just another form of fear of man.

Different sized elder boards, no doubt, have different social dynamics. I remember sitting on a small elder board, where all the men had good relationships. So it was easy for us to trust one another, but it was also easy for us to fall into group think.

Larger boards can fall into group think, too, but there are more personalities to challenge it. Indeed, factions can form which challenge it, but then factions are problematic for other reasons.

I remember when I first became an elder at my present church, everybody told me not to talk much for a while, but just listen and learn. And in general, that is very good advice. So I decided to speak only when I thought the elders were heading in a bad direction, and they really “needed” my input.

Well, there are a couple things wrong with that approach, one of which is that you only talk in order to disagree. Second, when those moments come, you will probably push too hard because, by the nature of the moment, you are already convinced the guns of others didn’t work so it is time to bring your bombs.

How to Speak in Elder Meetings

So when should you speak in an elder meeting? What is a useful attitude to adopt toward the other brothers?

Jonathan is the director of communications for 9Marks. He first joined Capitol Hill Baptist Church in 1996. After a stint in journalism, he felt called to ministry in 2001. Since then he has completed one seminary degree, is working on another, and has served as interim pastor in two churches. Jonathan is absolutely amazed that God has saved him, in spite of all the reasons he has given him not to. He’s also amazed that he has a wonderful wife, Shannon, and two young daughters, Emma and Hannah.

More from Jonathan Leeman or visit Jonathan at http://www.9marks.org/blog/by-author/jonathan-leeman

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  • Preacher

    Enjoyable article, well written and packed with Biblical strengths for your points and evaluations

  • deandeguara

    I would add one more thing that helped our board meetings. Change the atmosphere. Move it from the board room to a living room setting. Atmospheres help change attitudes!

  • The Rust Rider

    first lesson of ministry-Fear God more than you do man, turn the phrase around and your ministry will be an emotional rollercoaster. That’s my 2cents for your 50. wSc

  • Zack Martin

    I recently preached a sermon on unity in the church. I had a point similar to your #3: Assume Love. I didn’t have a great Scripture reference for it either, but tried to connect it with James 4:7-8 and Ephesians 4:2.

  • RevMom51

    Glad my elders are both women and men. An all male board probably brings many of these dynamics.

    • Peyton Jones

      We serve as ministry couples and I have to agree with you that it changes the dynamics. Plus, as men, we miss tons of stuff. The requirements for elders and deacons wives are there for a reason in the Pastoral Epistles! They’re not just pretty faces.

      • JD4Vikes

        Though I seek my precious Wife’s wisdom all the time, I don’t see anywhere in Paul’s letters that an Elder or Deacon is a woman. And RevMom51, to your point: “An all male board probably brings many of this dynamics;” does not give us the liberty to change how God desires for us to work through issues. Whether there is ‘sin’ in processing issues or simply the ‘sharping of iron’ the men of an elder board must humbly love, serve and sharpen one another, as they lead their church body. And I say this with utmost respect for your thoughts, though I disagree with them.

      • Dalia

        That is soooo sweet. We’re not just “pretty faces.”.

    • Rannykat

      I agree.

    • Pastor Kevin

      Rev Mom … forgive me if I misread you, but I have to say that comes across to me as an incredibly sexist statement. I have served on many board with both male and female leaders and those same dynamics have been there. Oh, they manifest somewhat differently at times due to gender differences, but they are there.

  • Peyton Jones

    This article was awesome. I’ve been a church planter for many moons, and these principles even apply when working with a core team. Thanks for the balanced perspective.

  • Allan Woolf

    One thing we’ve found VERY helpful is to rapidly CLARIFY things as we go. “When you said “x” did you mean this or that?”. We’ve found this heads off a lot of problems as the hearer, or sometimes listener, got it wrong. To do this we allow quick interjections without getting miffy about them. It helps lots. Allan – New Zealand

  • Suz

    I’m glad that we have men and women on our church board, as Elders, Deacons, Deaconesses and Trustees. It’s a good mix.

    • Pastor Kevin

      Suz are you suggesting that these things don’t happen on mixed boards? I have a great deal of experience on boards both mixed gender and male and I have seen these very same dynamics in both types of groups. The modes of communication may be different but the dynamic problem is still there.

  • sylviamzz

    I’ve never been in an elder meeting, but what do you do when elders are jerks OUTSIDE of meetings? I’ve been the victim of elder behavior that made the elder appear to be unsaved yet in control of the church’s entire functioning. And these are people who were supposedly walking with Christ for 30, 40, 50 years!! No one is perfect except God, but shouldn’t the elders be MODELS for those who are younger in age?

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/2JJA4WR4WEGTFD5IAYLFHO2ZSI V Bradley

      Yes, they should. It is disheartening to observe and experience.

    • Joe Rhoads

      You’ll want to follow the instructions found in 1 Timothy 5:19-20, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.” If an elder is acting like a jerk, that is, he has sinned, is sinning, and is unrepentent about it, take 2 or 3 people with you to the pastor/lead elder. His job then is to investigate the accusation with the other elders. If the pastor/lead elder and the other elders find that the accusation is true, then the elders have the responsibility to rebuke the sinning elder in front of the whole church.
      The reason why you need 2 or 3 witness is because that’s the model found in the Old Testament. This is not a privilege just for elders, but that if any church member is accused of being in unrepentent sin, 2 or 3 witnesses of that sin must go to the elders.
      If this elder is indeed in unrepentent sin, and you and other witnesses go and speak to the pastor/lead elder, and he does nothing about it (give him time, however), or the rest of the elders wish not do anything about it (again, give them time to work through the process; sometimes it will seem like nothing has been done, when all along, they have been working on the issue); if they truly do nothing about the unrepentent elder, you should seriously consider finding another church. I normally don’t counsel people to leave their church; it’s much better to work hard at fixiing problems, regardless of how difficult and messing it may be, but an elder board that refuses to deal with unrepentent sin in their own ranks is asking for a great deal of trouble.
      An elder board that overlooks the unrepentent sin of a fellow elder will do it again and again and again. Unless God so radical intervenes, that is.
      You are correct; elders are supposed to model Christ. Spiritual maturity is the primary qualification that a man must have in order to be an elder. It’s not that they won’t fail from time to time, it’s the unwillingness to repent when they have sinned and the unwillingness to desire to be like Christ in every aspect of their lives that disqualifies a man from serving as an elder.

      • sincerely1

        In my case the elder IS the Pastor. Who has been unrepentent and in fear so became power hungry.

        • Joe Rhoads

          If the pastor is the only elder and he is unwilling to listen, and no one else at the church is willing to confront him, then it may be time to move.

      • followerofChrist

        Hey Joe, what are your thoughts on Sylvia first going to the elder and sharing one-on-one with him (in an appropriate setting) where she sees him being a jerk, believing the best in him as I Cor 13 says love is and humbly confronting him? I’m thinking Matthew 18 teaches we are first to go one-on-one humbly to someone. Don’t we all want someone to come to us privately rather than bring 2-3 people to confront us?

        • Joe Rhoads

          Yes. I’d definitely agree with that. Although, if Sylvia is married, I would counsel her going with her husband. I can’t put my finger on it on why, but I just think that would be a wise thing to do. Humility, of course, is the key. The elder(s) may not know that they are being jerks. Sometimes we read as sin when in reality it’s just personality.
          One of the closest friends that I have is a couple from another church that I pastored. I had preached a couple of sermons from Romans, and my bent toward Calvinism came through. This couple did not see the issue in the same way. (Frankly, some of things I had spoken on they had never thought through.) They asked for a private meeting and at that meeting they presented me with a 4 page written response to some of the things I said in the sermons. Not opinions, but their best interpretations of the Scriptures that I had used in my sermons. Through that meeting three things happened: I found out that I could have said things a bit better. At some points, my explanation of the text was muddy and my illustrations of the text was hard to understand. They found out that you can disagree with another person’s theology (at very minor points) and still be in unity. We both found a profound respect for one another because they were honest and scriptural in their approach to me, and I responded to them honestly, with love, and didn’t treat them as an enemy, but saw them as people who loved me and loved the church and wanted the truth to win out without sacrificing love and grace.

  • http://www.facebook.com/I.ncrediblyG.iftedB.lackW.oman Imani G. Brooks-Wheeler

    I LOVED this article and I posted it upon the book o’ Faces!! I really wish this had been written ten years ago when I was was involved in some VERY raw church experiences – including meetings – among mixed gender church “elders” – and I use that term loosely. I’m grateful for every single experience, though; it taught me exactly how NOT to act. Unfortunately, I suppressed my spiritual gifts despite ALL that the Lord showed me about the leaders around me. Yet, I kept silent because I knew that they didn’t have the heart to receive for VARIOUS reasons. Years later, a former pastoral leader on staff assured me that my experiences were not a figment of my imagination; it was true church hurt inflicted by people who were hurting themselves. Another former pastoral leader, who firsthand witnessed me being figuratively “ripped to shreds” in a meeting, even characterized their experience as being emotionally raped!!

    After I relocated (and I did things decently and in order, with a public blessing from the pastor), I went “ministry AWOL” for a while. I joined a very well-known megachurch so that I could hide in the crowd. I didn’t want to be a minister to anyone. I tried my best to avoid being pulled on prophetically. However, that didn’t last long. Even in a church of over 30,000+ members, God still singled me out and gave more favor than I could have ever imagined. Since then, my Father has expanded His reach to countless individuals through my ministry as a chaplain in the U.S. and abroad. All things work together for the GOOD because I am called by and passionately in love with Jesus Christ. I’m so glad that I didn’t run away from the calling as a result of what I experienced; I chased after God even harder. I released those individuals into Daddy’s Hands and I have prayed blessings over them. That is what you call…#Winning

    • sincerely1

      Please pray for me in this too. I am considering moving on to another church but the pain from this experience is overwhelming. I have been close to my church elders for over 15 years an now I feel being involved has casse me deep turmoil.

  • Dave Ekstrom

    excellent article. Very practical. I’d like to hear more about group think. Seems to me that the chairman should actively seek contrary ideas. The story goes that a board met to decide on an issue and everyone was 100% for it. “Well, what are the drawbacks?” asked the chairman. None were found. “Well, then, let’s table this motion until we’ve thought it through because there are always drawbacks.”

    • Joe Rhoads

      I like that idea. One of the principles that I’ve put in place is 100% agreement with the whole church, except in matters that are clear in scripture. For instance, should we be sharing the gospel with the lost. Yes, that’s clear in scripture, and I don’t need a 100% agreement from the church to do that as a church. But let’s say we want to build. I have found that waiting until the whole church is behind an idea causes less problems, and I believe God is big enough, that if He wants us to do something like that, that He convince the entire church to do it. I’ve only pastored small churches, so I can’t speak to how effective this would be in larger churches, but it has served me well so far.

  • ServantHeart2012

    Whenever an elder feels it is necessary to introduce himself in any and every circumstance by tacking on “and I’m an elder at first blah-blah church,” you’ve got the wrong person in that position. Many use their position within the church to bolster their position in the community. Nothing really wrong with that, but don’t force it. Let it happen naturally. It will.
    Similarly, using the position as influence or leverage away from church is a “no-no” in my book. The cashier at the local market with whom you are arguing the price of bananas could not care less that you are an elder in your church.

  • Pwife43

    Really conned with the article. Very true, very insightful.

  • Pwife43

    Connected that is!

  • sincerely1

    I tried these but I felt railroaded by the elderds. I have now been so hurt that I havent beento church for a couple of months. I didnt feel they led me correctly and they chose to ignore my ideas and downplay them, change them or criticize them. My enthusiasm for any positive change has dwindled and I now feel it’s useless to bother. I don’t know how after feeling it’s a waste of my time or energy.

  • Rev. Vera Madge

    I love this article. It has made me think very seriously about my approach towards my fellow elders and others. Thank you.

  • NaNTHuel

    If upon that there is Counsel has failed and with understanding…may it be that The Truth of argument bring that axe head to the surface of The waters. Has it gotten to Be that even the so Of few that know and Have wisdom Of great undertanding which is not always present in Your Pastor or Your eVangelist, or Your Teachers. Afterall, These men receive Death Threats too from The ignorance Of not speaking out. so who wins… The person who listens and knows Wells Of Keeping His silence or peace as You may call it… or the other side… Debate all You want and still not come to a Spirit-filled Decision. Agreeably … these Elder meetings can Be Valleys Of Decision and Derision in which a 12 yr Old could even confound The Scribes at The Temple in Jesrusalem in His Day !

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