Once we have properly selected elders — that is, once we’ve selected those chosen by God — and once we’ve equipped them for a very difficult office, we need to decide how they should relate to the ministerial staff.
The traditional model is to put the elders over the staff —
Lately, some have noticed that the elders are to be servants, and so the old structure has been turned upside down, with the elders seen as encouraging and supporting the staff —
Of course, the staff are supposed to be servants, too, and so the new missional model is for the elders and staff to send the members out into the world —
Elders ? Staff ? Members
I’m thinking there’s a better way. I heard John Siburt speak at ElderLink a couple of years ago, and he pointed out that the job descriptions of elders and staff are nearly identical. Both elders and preachers counsel, study with the lost, teach classes, seek God’s vision for the church, and serve the congregation. Thus, he suggests —
That is, pick whatever model you like, but put the elders and staff on the same line. It is, of course, necessary that the elders oversee the staff and review their pay and perhaps even fire them, but except for that, they work as a team.
In a larger church, the team might be the elders and the senior staff — if a group gets too large it can’t be truly cohesive or participatory. But the gist of the idea is to bring the ministers into the elders meetings as peers except when the meeting is about the ministers — which should not be routine.
I like that model, myself. I know it will freak out some patternistic thinkers, but it’s the best system I’ve experienced, and we’ve tried them all.
You see, the elders are all part time. It’s hard for them to manage from a distance. The best way for them to manage well is to manage through the staff — not by issuing decrees but by having one heart and one mind. And that requires that the ideas and visions and plans be cooked up together — not by one group and handed to the other for a rubber stamp (and this works both ways).
I know a preacher who, at his former congregation, had to write a letter to the elders to request an appointment just to talk to them! He left and the church has lost half its members. That plan doesn’t work.
A retired elder friend of mine told me that nothing is more motivational than information — and having the ministers in the elders meetings gives them all the information the elders have and allows them to learn the hearts of their shepherds. It’s got to help.
Now, this is a two-edged sword. For the elders to share their hearts with the staff, the staff must do the same. And sometimes they’ll disagree. And the way we do things, the staff will get outvoted by the elders when they disagree. The key, I think, is to never, ever see it as staff vs. elders. Rather, it’s John disagreeing with Harold — with no one picking teams. And the solution is found through all sides putting their thoughts on the table, knowing from the outset that some thoughts will be better than others — and everyone being more concerned with the goal than who gets to be right.