On Bad Elders: Thinking Out Loud

One of the biggest challenges facing the Churches of Christ today is how to deal with lousy elders. Of course, many churches have excellent elderships, but there are far too many congregations being held back by weak, ineffective, or downright sinful elders and elderships.

This all-too-common problem has led to several very unfortunate tendencies —

* to interpret passages to weaken the influence of elders (or to overstate their authority)

* to operate outside the eldership, by asking for forgiveness rather than permission

* to turn a youth or campus ministry into a sub-congregation of which the minister is pastor

* for staff to try to push elders incrementally to an unstated goal, rather than work together toward a shared goal

* to operate outside the church, such as by founding a nonprofit organization that could have worked better under the elders, were they effective leaders

* to start new churches in the same town purely to escape the authority of the weak elders

Of course, when the elders really are awful, you do the best you can with the mess you have to deal with. I’m not saying all these responses are necessarily wrong in a given situation. On the other hand, the attitudes many have toward weak elders sometimes become a part of how we think of elders in general, meaning even excellent elderships often find themselves treated as though they were spiritual dead weight.

Moreover, poor eldering has —

* Driven countless good men and women from fulltime ministry

* Cost many their faith

* Split the Lord’s church in countless places and in countless ways

* Destroyed the reputation of the church in many communities

just to name a few of the many problems this problem is causing.

Now, the first step to getting better is to admit our problem, right? The Churches of Christ are long overdue for a frank discussion about how to deal with bad elders.

The solution is easily enough stated. There are three great needs —

* To do a much better job of training elders

* To do a much better job of selecting elders

* To come up with some mechanism for removing bad elders

There. That should pretty much do it. Aren’t you glad you asked? There’s the answer!

Ahh, but it’s not so easy to do as to say, is it? I mean, each one of these problems is very hard to solve. I mean, no one intentionally puts sorry elders in. But we do it every day. And then we have to live with the problem until the guy dies or does something so awful he can be forced to resign.

And so, the next few posts will deal with lousy elders — a problem that won’t go away by pretending it doesn’t exist.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to On Bad Elders: Thinking Out Loud

  1. Joe Baggett says:

    I would like to fire some elders. I think we all would. We all have our horror stories. Most elders today would barely meet the first two qualities which are teaching and hospitality. My wife and I were talking about this and we only felt that about 3 out of the dozens of elders we have been involved with were anything close to real shepherds. I believe that elders should be re-affirmed every year. I believe elders should attend some type of training or seminar at least once a quarter. I believe that most of their time should be spent in direct discipling efforts with people not administration.
    Most of the bad elders should have never been elders in the first place. The question is not if they meet the qualifications but rather should be pointed to the members and asked if they will commit to follow the potential elder. If a significant number of people do not commit to follow the potential elder then he should not serve regardless of the qualifications.
    How do you get a bad elder out?
    Go speak to them face to face and ask them to resign but be willing to use actual information not just feelings. Explain why it is hard to follow them.
    Do not let bad elders in. If the people do not sign a statement committing to follow the potential elders they don't get in regardless of qualifications.
    Re-affirm each year. Only re-affirm with 90% positive written response from pointed questionnaires by the membership.

  2. Doug Key says:

    I believe some type of re-affirmation is a good plan. This could be done on a rotating basis and if those elders whose time has come for re-affirmation do not wish to serve anymore their names are not submitted to the congregation. Let's say a two week period for the congregation to present their views.

    Don't know how rotating would work out in some of our rural congregations who struggle to even have an eldership. This leads to the hard of question of how effective are some of these leaderships.

    Training and communication with other elderships are essential to me. The exposure to their knowledge and experience can prove to be invaluable.

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