Advice to a New Elder: The Preacher/Elders Relationship, Part 2

shepherd3We need to deal with a couple of false doctrines.

False doctrine 1: We shouldn’t hire preachers. There is no authority to hire them. Preachers are bad.

That’s just wrong both doctrinally and practically. There was once a considerable branch of the Churches of Christ for which objection to the “hireling” minister was a defining doctrine. There were lots of debates and discussions on the issue in the early 20th Century. This goes back to the Sand Creek Address and Declaration.

The problem solved itself — because those churches have nearly all died. The few that are left are small and weak.

In modern-day America, we do not know how to be successful without a paid preacher. And you can spout all the theory you want, but this teaching kills churches. We have over 100 years of experience, and the result is dismal failure.

Second, it’s clear that the scriptures justify putting apostles, elders, and others on the payroll. “Double honor” in 1 Tim 5:17 is a reference to a cash stipend, according to most commentators. Paul wrote,

(1 Cor. 9:1-15 ESV) Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?  2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.  3 This is my defense to those who would examine me.  4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink?  5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?  6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?  7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?  8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same?  9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned?  10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.  11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?  12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.  13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings?  14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.  15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.

(1 Tim. 5:17-18 ESV)  17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.  18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 

Jesus said in sending men out to preach the gospel,

(Matt. 10:9-13 ESV)  9 Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts,  10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.  11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.  12 As you enter the house, greet it.  13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 

Jesus expected those who preach the gospel to be supported by those benefited from their work.

And surely it’s obvious that those who worked for the Jerusalem church were supported by the church. How did Philip have time to travel to preach the gospel if he was not supported?

So follow the logic of what Paul says, and he plainly approves paying those who labor in the gospel — not just apostles and not just elders but “those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”

False doctrine 2: Preachers should not meet with the elders as though they are elders. 

Why not? What book, chapter, and verse says that the elders may only meet with other elders?

I mean, how is the church made healthier by separating the elders from the preacher? Just what good is that supposed to accomplish? How does that make anything better?

I’ve read countless comments over the years complaining about preachers who meet with the elders, as though this violates a commandment somewhere, and I’ve yet to read an explanation for just what harm this supposedly does. And I’ve seen plenty of churches where the elders refused to meet with the minister — and it hurt the ministry of both the elders and the minister — every time.

The reality is that churches are healthier when the elders and preacher are close — so close that they work together hand-in-glove. After all, their job descriptions aren’t all that different. Elders and preachers both teach. Both have administrative duties. Both counsel. Both have Bible studies with potential converts. Both provide counseling. Both comfort the mourning, Both visit the sick.  Why would we not want all these ministries to be as well-coordinated as possible?

Bad practice: While not false doctrine, I would add to my list of complaints the notion that each minister is autonomous and answers to no single, coordinating person.

This is what Lencioni calls being siloed. In the typical church of any denomination, the teen ministry pursues its own vision, utterly uncoordinated and unconnected with the adult ministries. The campus ministry does the same. The singles ministry does the same. Each minister answers only to himself or to his elder or deacon — but there is no over-arching vision.

Why? No business would accomplish much if marketing, accounting, technology, product development, administration, and sales all were trying to accomplish something different  — even radically different.

I’ve read too many books on church leadership. Most aren’t very good, but a few things impressed me. Very early in my studies, I read a book by Bill Hybels (I think it’s out of print now) on church leadership in which he described his effort at Willowcreek to unite all the ministers under a single vision for one year. He wanted to pursue evangelism as a churchwide goal — and the staff was so used to their autonomy that they rebelled. Half refused to do it! And he fired them. Half the staff of a 20,000-member church lost their jobs because they insisted on doing their own thing … in preference to evangelism. Really.

But the problem wasn’t the goal. They were all for evangelism. They were opposed to submission to Hybels and the churchwide leadership team. The church had hired the most effective, talented, energetic youth and college and singles and children’s ministers that could be had to work at one of the most distinguished churches in the country — and they were all used to doing their own thing their own way. And when Hybels tried to exert genuine oversight, they couldn’t bear it.

Hybels wrote that it was the most difficult thing he’d ever attempted in ministry! And when I read this chapter, a long time ago, it made no sense to me at all. Now, after many years as an elder, it’s exactly what I’d expect.

Submission is a Christian virtue so important that Jesus modeled it for us on the cross. We’re repeatedly taught to submit as Jesus submitted — and our ministers struggle mightily in this area. And preachers struggle to submit, too. I mean, how many preachers can’t bear to be told what topics to preach on? I’ve seen preachers deliberately avoid making a point the elders suggested just to prove their independence. There is something about the sermon-writing process that preachers take to be individualistic and independent from leadership oversight.

Well, the Bible doesn’t say much on this topic, except that we should submit to one another and submit to our leaders. I don’t believe the preacher should be micromanaged by the elders, but neither do I believe that being a minister frees one from accountability. And a little accountability would be very good for our churches and ministers.

I’ll have more to say about siloed ministries as we go, but this is the background. I believe elders and ministers should work together very, very closely. They should be a team. The ministers should support the vision of the church. The elders should lead in finding and stating that vision. And the ministers should be a critical part of the process — as should be the congregation.

And when the elders and ministers pursue different agendas, the church will be messed up. The dissonance will reveal itself in countless ways — and the congregation may not diagnose the reason for the problem, but they’ll see that things aren’t right.

Plainly, the ministers can’t be on the same page as the elders unless the ministers are all on one page. If they insist on going their separate ways, they may lead truly excellent programs, but they’ll have a weak, diseased, dying church. The teens won’t easily transition into the college program. The college students won’t stay in church after they finish college. The singles won’t remain members when they marry. Rather, you’ll have four or five congregations meeting in the same building, each with a different vision and pastor — and it’ll kill the church. Slowly but surely.

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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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7 Responses to Advice to a New Elder: The Preacher/Elders Relationship, Part 2

  1. laymond says:

    Jhn 10:11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
    Jhn 10:12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.
    Jhn 10:13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.

    I don’t believe this was just some wild guess, It was a read in human nature. It is sad that this has come true, even more today than in Jesus day. Most Christians today sit and listen to a preacher
    who all the time is looking for a pasture that is greener and better paying. and is not shamed by dickering the price for his abilities to speak in a public setting. In my opinion , more money does not elevate a preacher in God’s eyes. I seem to recall something about “you can’t worship two gods”

  2. Laymond, for what it may be or not be worth, I once told some elders where I preached that if they treated me as a hireling, I was likely to act like one. I believe most people would react this way. Treating a preacher as an employee instead of a co-worker isn’t good practice. The one area where this might not apply is in matters involving compensation.

  3. JES says:

    What if the “hireling” was the most talented person the elders could find to help them equip each member to grow to their full potential in Christ? Wouldn’t that be an awesome concept!

  4. dwight says:

    Jerry, I believe you are on to something. We often hire the preacher and then separate him out, instead of thinking of him as a person on the same path doing the same in spreading the gospel, albeit dedicated. I think it is unfortunate that while we speak of supporting distant preachers, we have gotten away from the concept of support for the local preacher…they are employees of the congregation. In reality the apostles, even Timothy, was supported whether they were local or not. Timothy didn’t just preach to one assembly, but was a preacher for the town and region. He had a mission to do.

  5. laymond says:

    If you find a preacher who actually cares about the congregation, cares the same from the poorest to the wealthiest , then you are lucky. In modern day, I have not seen a preacher that did not gravitate to his age group, or the higher economical group, and I have never attended a CoC congregation that was not divided into groups. I attended a church that had approx. 130 members, I mentioned that I had not seen a political mix , as I had seen in other churches, and the preacher who was a friend, said “Well you are not alone, I know of at least three democrats here.” and the sermons exhibited their political beliefs. A preacher not only has to meet the religious requirements but the political beliefs as well.

  6. laymond says:

    What baffles me is when I quote scripture, people here ignore who I quote and credit me with the scripture, so they can with good conscience say I am wrong. It is amazing.

  7. Dwight says:

    Laymond, I don’t know of anyone here that assigned the “hireling” quote to you or said you were wrong in it. If so, then I totally missed it.
    While the local preacher does exhibit many characteristics of a “hireling” as mentioned in John 10, many do actually care for the people and many have formed a bond with them and yet they are still not really one of them either. Our preacher does genuinely love many in the congregation, but as a preacher he is driven by the job to tell others what they must do…in general and cannot be wrong in any sense of the word showing any weakness. The preacher is to be super-human or not worthy of the role of a preacher. Many are led by what they perceive as growth in their field, either in money or in growth of the congregation, even though many just move into the area and not many are converted and saved.
    But this only because he is hired to do this.
    There are a few in our congregation that could easily step into our preachers shoes from the pews without breaking a sweat and do from time to time as allowed.

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