Advice to a New Elder: Getting Started (The Other Ministers)

shepherd3To me, the other ministers — the youth minister, worship minister, education minister, etc. — are critically important but not as important as the preacher. The way American churches do church, you can’t get around a bad fit in the pulpit.

But the other ministers will rarely be ideal, will often be very young, and will always need coaching.

You need to have a concrete, specific, written plan for who coaches whom. My preference is that the preacher serves as the coach for the other ministers (except in a very large church, where you might have an executive minister hired to do this). I mean, the preacher is there every day, most of the day. He’s in a position to truly mentor and coach the other guys. And because he’s in the elders’ meetings, he can see that the elders policies are known and followed.

Many preachers hate this sort of responsibility — but if he won’t take it on, there’s not a good plan B — and the result is almost always a siloed congregation, that is, a church where each minister pursues his own agenda — and we’ve covered silos already.

The alternatives are —

  • No one supervises the ministers. Of course, this means your 23-year old youth minister will have no boss — and that’s obviously crazy and not good for him at all, as much as he may like the idea. The elders will wind up embarrassed over something. Someone may get hurt. (I have stories.)
  • A deacon or other individual ministry leader might be charged to supervise each minister. This can be awful or, when the deacon has a passion for the ministry (not the minister, the ministry) and some wisdom and experience, it can work — especially if the deacon/ministry leader is empowered by the elders to really coach the guy.
  • A committee can be formed to oversee the minister. This never, ever works because the minister winds up chairing the committee and telling them what to do. They are never really empowered to supervise him — and committees cannot be supervisors. It just doesn’t work to have to have a meeting and take vote before counseling the minister on how he might be a better teacher or whatever.
  • An elder can be charged with the supervision of the minister — and I’ve never seen this work. I’ve seen elders and ministers get very close and form intense emotional bonds, but I’ve not seen a ministry thrive under the coaching of an elder. Elders are too busy — and can’t both oversee, say, the campus ministry and do everything elders should do.
  • The elders as a whole can supervise the minister, and at least it’ll be clear who is supervising whom, but this is not what elders know how to do, and few can invest the time needed to truly coach and mentor a young minister. I mean, I can see the elders talking policy and such, but real mentoring is one-on-one and involves being available when the minister needs help. It’s not committee work.
  • You can combine any of the foregoing with giving a young minister a mentor from another congregation — such as a senior, experienced youth minister to help coach the young pup you just hired. This is in fact often happening at the youth minister’s initiative, and actually helps a lot. At least the minister is being coached by someone who really understands what he’s trying to do.
  • You can assign a retired elder to coach the young minister. But this only works if the retired elder actually knows how to do that kind of ministry correctly. So it depends on the type of ministry and the skill set of the retired elder.

The problem with most of these models is that you can’t coach someone to do something you don’t know how to do. Some churches are blessed to have members who were once youth ministers or worship ministers and who actually have the experience and skills to mentor someone. But even they can’t be there when his advice and counsel is most needed.

Hence, I find myself more and more inclined toward the preacher as mentor, coupled with some outside mentors from other churches who’ve gotten a few years in and can be a source of wisdom and advice. Of course, all this requires that the mentors agree with the elders/preacher on the philosophy of the young minister’s ministry.

That is, if the preacher believes in Orange and the young minister does not, then the elders need to support the preacher and Orange (a philosophy of children’s and youth ministry I strongly agree with), and the youth minister needs to get on board. But he shouldn’t have been hired without being told that this is an Orange church and that he’ll be expected to do things the Orange way.

The youth minister may well have a four-year degree in youth ministry. If so, he’ll not care to be told by an inexperienced, untrained deacon how to do his job. And so ministry philosophy really has to be discussed as part of the job interview process. It would be very unfair to hire a minister to do his job in a way contrary to what he believes is best. Again: fit matters.

Most elderships don’t really keep up with theories of how to do youth or other types of ministry and just assume that these guys all have the same approach, and that anyone with a good heart can supervise him. But there’s actually been quite a lot of thought given to how to do many types of ministry — especially children’s and teen’s ministry. So whatever you do, be sure that the teen minister’s supervisor knows enough to recognize a good program when he sees it. You may even pay for him to attend some seminars along with the minister.

I confess that I’ve not found the ideal solution here in theory or practice. I’d be interested in hearing from ministers who’ve experience different supervisory models. What works? What helps? What should be fled?

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  1. This is so not what Jesus wanted for his church, or followers to do. There is only one “boss” leader and that has to be the written word of God. The spoken word of God spoken by Jesus. Not the made up word of man. or men, who think they know God best, and God favors them and their decisions, over all others. The day of the “elder” should come to an end. The day of giant congregations, should come to an end. The day of money ruling Christ’s Church should come to an end. All of these man made things are devastating to the Church Christ built . It is very sad for men to think they can improve upon what God has made. And it is not doing their soul any favor .

  2. One day , not to far in the distant future (as God sees it) these brilliant highly educated men will be called before a being that will make them seem as a child just entering the educational system. I wonder how they will react , when they see the least as the greatest, and the greatest as the least. I wonder if they will throw a fit like Donald Trump, or will bow down as did Paul.

  3. Does the evangelist need a boss? There is the argument that something may happen, but we are dealing with people and something almost always will happen. I have seen preachers un amok or do something stupid while covered in elders. Preachers are people and they will make mistakes. Peter had the Holy Spirit and had to be called down by Paul, but he didn’t have to relinquish his apostle card or go before the elders or church. Peter stood before God as we all will.
    If you look at the scriptures the preachers and evangelist had one job, preach the word, usually to the lost and sometimes to the saved. They were not under an immediate supervisor other than Christ. In Acts we have people going out and spreading the gospel under the boss of Christ.
    It would be actually better if the elders and such got out of the way of the preacher and let him spread the word wherever he needs to, locally or not. Support him, but don’t smother him.

  4. Technically, according to the IRS a minister isn’t supposed to be told(directed) what to do, how to do it, or when to do it by church “bosses”(elders, deacon board). If he is, he is considered an employee of the church and the church must pay his SS and he loses his self employed status and housing allowance benefits. At least that’s what I remembered reading.

  5. Monty,

    The IRS rule is misunderstood by many, including CPAs.

    The rule is that ministers of the gospel are treated as self-employed solely for FICA/Self-Employment Tax purposes. This has nothing to do with whether they are in fact self-employed. It’s a mandatory treatment regardless of the facts.

    For income tax, pension plan, health insurance, and ALL other purposes, whether the preacher is an employee or self-employed is governed by the same rules that apply to any other service provider. Most full-time preachers are employees under these rules.

    Any minister of the gospel may qualify for a housing allowance if he has an employer who sets aside part of his pay as a housing allowance that doesn’t exceed the limits.

    Missionaries are generally independent contractors (but there are exceptions). But located, full-time ministers should be treated as employees for all purposes other than FICA. They are exempt from FICA withholding and the church is exempt from the FICA match. The preacher must pay self-employment taxes on both his salary and his housing allowance.

  6. Dwight,

    In my view, accountability and submission are good things. And “overseer” translates a word that essentially means “boss.” Episkopos means “supervisor” or “superintendent.” The overseers supervise and superintend the church. The preacher is part of the church. The notion that the preacher is immune from oversight is a Baptist teaching that I don’t find in scripture.

    If the preacher isn’t overseen by the overseers, then he’s overseen by something like the men’s business meeting. Any rational preacher would far prefer to answer to the elders than a men’s business meeting.

  7. We do remember that Elders are not placed into that position because they are soo far advanced beyond anyone else in the congregation. In fact, many times the men who would be the best “overseers” may never be allowed to serve in the congregation. The larger the congregation the more possibilities that this exists. Elders are not super disciples either, they are just Christians who can meet the qualifications and be popular enough be trusted by ordinary Christians to place them in a position where they can express guidance to those who need it. Why would we assume that a preacher would need more guidance than one of the Elders, or even the whole Eldership. The true guide book stands before us, and neither can perfect their lives without it.
    Jay, you mention that, “Any rational preacher would far prefer to answer to the elders than a men’s business meeting”. The way I see it, unless the Elders or the men’s business meeting make demands upon the preacher that are not in the scriptures, the preacher should be capable to follow the guide as well as they can. So for your comment to mean anything the Elders or the men’s business meeting have done exactly that, they have created another guide other than the scriptures. When they lay out plans to do something in a specific way hoping that it will bring results they desire, they are deviating from the methods that were proven to be effective while the scriptures were being written. They are following a business example rather than an approach that depends upon the sheep to produce. How many examples in scripture do we find of Elders riding heard over a preacher teaching the flock? I am not trying to say that all preachers are error less but am bringing to the surface what we all already know, that many Elderships contain just as much error as some preachers. They promote their own concepts of the scriptures which have been held as tradition from their youth, and their education from others. You hit upon this in some of your posts as to men who have been appointed by men into Elderships who acted like children in voicing their own commitments rather than shake the boat. On second thought that might not be the best example, children are usually very brave in voicing their demands and desires. When we have men in this leadership responsibility who act like this they will not even stand up when they encounter a false teacher who could easily be refuted by many of the members. Then we can also notice the many times where teaching which would have corrected false concepts which have been accepted for many years among the congregations are controlled by these Elders to the extent they are not effective.
    We all really have one Elder, Shepherd who has given us his instructions and commissioned some helpers to guide the sheep in his flock, keeping them safe through following his instructions.

  8. Jay, don’t get me wrong as I do believe that preachers should be held accountable, but there is no scripture that places the preacher under an elder or anyone else either and if so then who are the elders accountable to? I believe we are under God in terms of accountability. If a preacher does something sinful, then each member has the obligation to confront them in such.
    In the OT the elders didn’t “boss” the people as the people had Kings, princes, governors, etc. They handled the spiritual matters, which included the law and often made rulings of judgment, but didn’t add to or take away from the law.
    In regards to accountability anybody could bring an accusation against anybody else as long as they had witnesses and this doesn’t change in the NT either. In fact the elders are held under this same level of accountability as everyone else.
    I Tim.5:19 “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.”
    The elders are to rule as you say,
    but I Peter 5 clears up by in what manner they were to rule.
    “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; NOR as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being EXAMPLES to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”
    The elders were to lead by being guides in front and not by pushing from behind.

    You wrote “The overseers supervise and superintend the church. The preacher is part of the church”, but you left out something important…people are part of the church and the elders and preachers are people. We are all under Christ/God. The church is the body of Christ and we all are parts of this body. There is no scenario where Christ is the head, then we have a subhead (elders, preachers), then we have the people.

  9. Keep in mind that the Elders are made up of members who in most if not all cases are trained and educated in various occupational degrees. Usually not a one of them have a degree or training in preaching and serving, leading a congregation like the preacher is.
    So, listening to the preacher helping guiding rather than giving orders or controlling the meetings should be the Elders goal in hopes of doing what is best for the congregation.
    In many cases it would be funny if not so tragic to see those same Elders at a doctors office doing the same to the doctor trying to help with their illnesses.
    Not too different thinking by some as the Elder is paying both for their services!!

  10. Part of the reason the CofC is so entrenched in tradition is the elder(s) protecting the flock from any meaningful change that normally would come from the preacher trying to lead the congregation away from traditionalism. All it takes is one elder whose mindset is set in stone back in the 1950’s and any positive change by the preacher will be seen as being unorthodox and heresy. (IM for example). Good chance the minister could be fired and one more “orthodox”(sound) be hired. The elders that I have had association with are far more vested in maintaining the staus quo and being able to be a part of the “good ole boy club” with their fellow elders across town or nearby. Elders typically study orthodoxy or what is believed to be orthodoxy from “brotherhood” material and do not venture(typically) to Wineskins or Jay’s blog, rarely thinking for themselves and outside the box of traditionalism.

  11. Q1: Why can’t all these ministers just do their jobs well and everything work out just fine?
    A1: Because they are all people.
    Q2: But these are all good, loving, dedicated Christians. Surely such Christians will do their jobs and everything will work out just fine?
    A2: See A1
    Q3: But this is church, this is different, right?
    A3: See A1

    Churches, no matter how well meaning everyone is—and in churches almost everyone is well meaning—share the failings of organizations of persons that all organizations of persons possess. There is no self-organizing, self-supervising, self-wonderful way to arrange the endeavors of a church. This seems obvious to some, but too harsh and too worldly to many.

  12. Dwayne,

    Thanks. Exactly as I see things. Administration and leadership are gifts of the Spirit given to some, not all, because the church needs these gifts.

  13. We are so in tune with trying to be correct we don’t see how wrong we are and the fact that we can never be right, unless it is in our own eyes. We as people are imperfect and thus will form, at least on this earth, an imperfect group. This is evident from all of the letters to the saints in the scriptures. All of them needed correction and yet they are still considered children of God.

    I think we sentimentally look back at the Temple layout and see how the priest did their things within a certain order, etc.and then imagine our church as that. And the elders and preachers must be the priest, even though we are all priest, so maybe they are the high priest.
    We see work and effort from top to bottom, instead of across the board. I can’t help but think of Stephen who was picked as a deacon, but who also shone as a defender of the truth. He was picked because he was full of the Holy Spirit and this is what shone though on all levels. He didn’t have to be contained and then focused, he just had to be allowed to shine.

  14. There is a overwhelming fear that if someone is allowed to shine, he won’t shine in exactly the right way. I think congregations were more in fear of the editor/bishops than they were of God. When you take a general confession of sin out of the service and the absolution (even if taken from the Bible reassuring people that God will pardon sin), then most people are deathly afraid of making a(ny) mistake.