Clergy & Laity: He says he’s suffering from burn out. Is he serious? (Elders/Staff Relationship) 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.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

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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6 Responses to Clergy & Laity: He says he’s suffering from burn out. Is he serious? (Elders/Staff Relationship)

  1. Alan says:

    You see, the elders are all part time.

    That's the core problem IMO. We are constantly making a set of unfortunate concessions simply because the elders are only part time, and the preacher is full time. But we never fix the real problem, because we think we can't afford to. Really, we just choose to spend the money on something else.

    Putting elders and staff on the same line is problematic in most cases. God gave a specific list of qualifications for elders, but not for preachers. If the preacher meets the qualifications of an elder, then his judgment should carry the same weight as that of an elder. (So he should *be* an elder.) If not, then the preacher's opinion should not carry as much weight. That's just common sense. There is no substitute for the wisdom that comes experience, proven over time.

  2. mark says:

    Unionization this would pay everyone according to there seniority. It also helps in the bargining process. Less people would need to be fired.

  3. jeff ingrim says:

    Why is it that there is no mention of elders in Paul's epistles outside the Pastorals which hardly any scholar these days considers to be any more authentic that deuteropauline? Pehaps the whole concept of sectioning off the church into 'offices' is manmade accretion. The Lord Himself says Matthew 23:8 "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren." He seems to be forbidden all offices not just the title 'rabbi.' This forbids the offices of elders and deacon and widows and all the rest in one divine swoop that blasts away the imaginations of men that have produced sinful chucrh hierarchy and ever injected texts supporting it into the Bible.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    (1Pe 5:2 NIV) Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;
    (1Pe 5:1 ESV) So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:
    (Jam 5:14 ESV) Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
    (Act 20:17 ESV) Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.
    (Phi 1:1 ESV) Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

  5. Gregory Alan Tidwell says:


    The Achilles heal among churches of Christ, both traditional and progressive, has been autocratic leaders acting as lords over God's church.

    In more than one congregation of my acquaintance, the church in the past was run by autocratic conservative elders. If anyone did not like the traditional way things were done, they were told to sit down, to shut up, or to leave. The elders were in charge and should not be questioned.

    In due course, life transitions replaced the conservative elders with more progressive elders. Since the church was run by and for the benefit of the elders, these new elders imposed changes which were not desired by most of the congregation. When members complained they were told to sit down, to shut up, or to leave. The cast of characters was different, but the script had not changed.

    There is a danger for elderships on either side of the doctrinal divide to act as a "good old boys" club. Among progressives there is much talk of "servant leadership," but too often this talk devolves into a self-congratulatory farce of men puffed up with their reputation for humility.

    Preachers are certainly not immune to abuse of power, but their "hireling" status in most congregations limits the damage they can inflict. The worse abuse I've ever seen is with professional preachers who have infiltrated the ranks of the elders. I have never seen a situation in which such a man could be held accountable in any meaningful sense.


  6. Brad Palmore says:

    You said "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."

    Why is the assumption that elders must oversee staff and review pay?

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