Advice to a New Elder: Networking, Benchmarking & Training

shepherd3Networking

Some of my favorite times as an elder were times spent with preachers and elders talking about church leadership. I’ve spent many an afternoon or evening just comparing notes with leaders from other churches.

We in the Churches of Christ have turned autonomy into isolation — and in so doing, we’ve greatly weakened ourselves. We’ve unduly empowered editors, and we’ve failed to take advantage of resources God has given us.

  1. Go to ElderLink. Be sure to spend the lunch break at a table with elders from another church and ask them about their ministries, plans, etc. Be a sponge and learn all you can. Get names and cards — and over time, you’ll have a list of people you can call for help on all sorts of questions.
  2. Go to some of the university lectureships and do the same. Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration is very close and very good. Pepperdine is the biggest — but the farthest away and most expensive to travel to. Go anyway — and meet some of the great thinkers and leaders of the Churches of Christ. Abilene is kind of in between — but ACU has this just incredible Bible faculty. It’s a great place to network. In fact, at my last trip to the ACU Summit, I did not attend a single class. I spent the day talking to preachers and program leaders, and I learned so much more and came away far more encouraged because I was learning about issues of immediate concern to my own congregation. NETWORK!
  3. Look for chances to meet with the elders of other churches going through whatever your church is going through or planning. If you want to plan a merger, meet with the leaders of a church that has recently merged It’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever be the first to do anything. Learn from those who’ve gone before. Schedule dinner halfway between your towns. Meet them face to face. Buy appetizers and dessert — and plan to spend three or four hours talking about a shared passion for God’s church. It’ll be great fun — and you’ll grow spiritually by being around good men from other congregations.

Benchmarking

This is a business term, and it refers to comparing how you’re doing to how other people are doing at the same thing. In the business world, there are consultants who gather stats to help you do this — for a fee. Lawyers can subscribe to services that show how much your revenue per partner ought to be — that sort of thing. In the church world, the same data can be found — but you have to scratch around a little.

ACU posts an annual survey of ministerial salaries and benefits, which is invaluable in negotiating fair wages. I mean, outside of church, you’d work the phones or buy a study to know what the fair wages are in your part of the country. In churches, we just guess.

But think bigger and wider than numbers. What are churches around the country doing to improve their adult ed programs? How are they getting volunteers for children’s ministry? How do they oversee missions programs? Work the phones: ask.

Make friends with experts at the universities or in parachurch organizations — nonprofits that specialize in these things. Send your program leaders to the best seminars — not just the ones targeted to Churches of Christ. Make sure your children’s minister attends the biggest and best seminar — and brings back notes and shares them with her leadership team. Budget for this.

Just as is true in business, invest in your people — and encourage them to network, visit, and compare. If the chair of your teen oversight committee wants to visit several churches to see what they’re doing, let him — even though it takes him away from your church for a Sunday or two.

Obviously, we don’t want to chase fads, but neither do we want to arrogantly assume that no good ideas can come from anywhere else.

Elder Training

Notice that the Churches of Christ are HIGHLY dependent on having excellent elders — and yet we invest next to nothing in elder training — either to become an elder or once a man has been ordained. This is foolish beyond words — and the price is obvious.

  1. Budget money to do elder training every single year. If the elders want to fund out of their own pockets, more power to them, but put it in the budget offset by their contribution. But the church would be wise to insist that the elders do this even if the money takes away from beloved church programs. There is no substitute for a well-instructed eldership — and nothing worse than an uneducated, uninformed eldership. And so there is nothing more short-sighted than skimping on elder training. (A wise preacher would insist on this in his annual salary negotiation. He’ll last longer and enjoy his work far more if the elders are trained.)
  2. Read good books. I’ve suggested several in earlier posts of this series. If you find one that’s helpful, pass it along to a fellow elder. If it’s really good, buy everyone a copy and study through it together. And tell the church that you’re doing this and let them read a copy, too.
  3. Read good blogs.
  4. Go to the lectureships. Some have an elder track. If so, see if those classes meet your needs at your church. If there are more classes you want to hear than you can attend, get the podcasts. Sometimes they’re free. They’re never expensive. Listen to them in the car or on weekends.
  5. Ask the ministerial staff for recommendations. Read what they read. It may be wonderful or it may be garbage, but at least you’ll understand what’s driving them. (It’s astonishing how much ministry is done in reaction to today’s hot book — with no real science or study as to whether these ideas actually work.)
  6. Do NOT hole up with your fellow elders, study a controversial issue for a year, and then issue a white paper telling the church what you’ve concluded. How foolish to suppose that you should be allowed a year of study and the church only gets a piece of paper with your high and mighty conclusions! Do it together with the church! Cover it in class, and let the members participate in the study right alongside you. I mean, believe it or not, they don’t consider you omniscient and won’t be shocked to see you struggling with the same issues they struggle with. And their participation might actually help you find the truth of the matter. You aren’t the only Christians who have the Spirit.
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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5 Responses to Advice to a New Elder: Networking, Benchmarking & Training

  1. “6. Do NOT hole up with your fellow elders, study a controversial issue for a year, and then issue a white paper telling the church what you’ve concluded.”

    This item is called Organizational Change Management. If you’ve never heard this term or terms like the learning curve, the step function, the J curve, disruptive function, old status quo, new status qou, etc. you should NOT be an Elder. If you already are an Elder and don’t know these things, either resign today or learn.

    I believe the vast majority of congregational splits and people leaving congregations is because Elders stumbled and bumbled through change. People were hurt, and I mean legitimately hurt by ignorant Elders.

  2. eddodds says:

    Use the “network” to network: Google Plus Hangouts, Skype for Business Conferences, Zoom.US. I am amazed that enterprise businesses spend millions of dollars on Cisco this and Polycom that and congregations are still fighting about faxes on line items. C’mon, people, get with the program!

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Readers,

    I agree with Dwayne that elders considering a major change should read up on the literature about how to bring change to an organization — that is, the “change agent” literature. In the secular world, change agents are good and necessary people. And in church, too. Don’t let the ignorance of a few loud voices keep you from learning what the experts are finding out about leading change. Here are some examples —

    http://michaelpapanek.com/four-strategies-navigating-j-curve-change/

    https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_96.htm

    http://www.kotterinternational.com/the-8-step-process-for-leading-change/

    Or search Amazon for “leading organizational change.”

    http://amzn.to/28Oz3Ko “Leading Change in the Congregation” is very well reviewed (I’ve not read).

    In the last few years, there’s been a lot of study on bringing needed change to institutions, some dealing specifically with churches. And despite the business jargon, you’ll find that the principles taught often have roots in scripture. After all, there is no bigger change than conversion to Jesus. The church has been a change agent since Pentecost — and the solution to bringing about change is usually found in thinking about how to best “Love thy neighbor” when change is being considered.

    PS — Mark Love is about to begin a series on leading change at Dei-liberations. https://dei-liberations.com/2016/06/22/tell-a-story-change-the-world/

  4. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Ed Dodds,

    Thanks for both sets of suggestions. Change is difficult in all organizations — not just the church — because people are people regardless of the institution they are a part of. And we church leaders are generally awful at it – in part because we assume that no one else has ever faced this problem and learned from their experience — which is sheer arrogance. Again, we’ve turned congregational autonomy into isolation — contrary to scripture and good sense. There is just so much literature and training available, and yet we assume that the solution is a three-part sermon series.

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