Bad Elders: A Question from a Reader

I get emails —

Small Church of Christ in the Bible Belt. Not incorporated, and so no bylaws or charter.

The church has two elders, one of them is the preacher. The non-preaching elder fires the preacher and demands his resignation as an elder, and he complies.

The now sole elder appoints his nephew as an elder though this man does not have believing children. A significant number of the church are opposed to these actions. Some of the members have approached a lawyer to see what help can be gained under state law.

What should the membership do to rectify the situation?

Readers, what do you think?

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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10 Responses to Bad Elders: A Question from a Reader

  1. Alan says:

    I think going to court is the wrong answer.

    Options that come to mind are (1) to move to another congregation, or (2) to stay, pray, humbly exhort the elder (only once) to repent, and wait for God to do something about it.

  2. As Alan already has said, going to court is not only not a solution, I doubt the court would even intervene.

    But the elder needs to be confronted (assuming the facts in evidence are correct). It should be done initially by a small group of two or three, and then a larger group, if that fails. If that fails, I would take a vote of the congregation and see what comes out.

    Or, maybe, just "cast lots."

  3. First, Alan and David are 100% correct. 1 Corinthians 6:1-6 shows the wrongness of court action. To do so, and expect a worldly court to behave according to biblical standards is certainly unwise and would give a secular judge rule over the church. We are to be wise enough to ferret out God's truth. Do not go to court!

    Second, it is deity who makes elders (Acts 20:28). Assuming the accuracy of the statements, and I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the submitter, there was never a biblical eldership present. How can one elder "fire" another? When two are serving, and one is a preacher as well, such an eldership should diligently strive to be in tune with their congregation. For the preacher/elder to meekly submit to such cavalier treatment speaks little for his commitment or else shows he was ready to leave for obvious reasons. For one man to assume he a sole elder is false. With the other elder gone, he also ceases to serve in this official capacity and has no authority. To presume to appoint another elder, especially a younger family member with questionable qualities, indicates extreme danger for doctrinal purity being taught in the future. If the controlling elder disagrees with a teaching, he apt to fire again based upon his desires!

    We, the church, do not make elders – deity does. We merely recognize the work of God among us! To presume that a sole elder is scriptural, that a sole elder can appoint another according to his will – well I would remind people of a man named Diotrepes (3 John 9-10).

    Third, rectifying the situation calls upon the church to confront this man with Scripture. If he fails to abide by that, then let him be removed from the church as Paul and Jesus teach. If the man refuses to acknowledge such teaching and action, then I would submit that a division has already occurred precipitated by the sole "elder". Those desiring to remain scriptural must withdraw to another congregation or, if none are available, start anew. However, be prepared for to handle the fallout this man will surely cause in the small community.

    Lastly, but the most important – PRAY and STUDY! Seek God's counsel and ask for wisdom (James 1:5; 3:13-17). He will provide.

    My heart goes out to the brethren involved in such turmoil.

  4. Terry says:

    What a mess. Assuming that the "elders" have been confronted with their sins and refuse to repent, I would not bring this to court. I would look for a healthy church in the area.

  5. Royce says:

    Evidently deity didn't make these two elders or the new one being considered. It appears that the elders and a good portion of the congregation are very immature.

    This mess didn't happen in a few months and will not be resolved quickly either. My option would be to gracefully bow out and find a place with mature believers where Christ is the center.


  6. Pray. Pray. Pray. Then follow the instructions others have shared above.

    If these new elders are not loving shepherds, it's time to go where there are some.

  7. Jay Guin says:

    I entirely agree with those who counsel against going to court. It would be plain violation of 1 Cor 6 and wouldn't accomplish anything anyway. Over 100 years ago, many churches split over the instrument and went to court to fight for the building. The hard feelings from the court fights help divide the Restoration Movement and left feelings of enmity that are still with us. Don't go to court.

    The correct path is found in 1 Tim —

    1 Tim 5:19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.

    Before a public rebuke, follow Matthew 18 and go to the elder, charge him with sin, hear him out, and failing that, take two or three witnesses. If he still won't hear you, then take it before the church. Matthew 18 is plain. The church should then decide the case. (Not just the men — all members.)

    Elders are not demi-gods. They answer to the church.

    It's important that the right person confront the elders. It should be whoever among the members has their respect and knows their heart. This needs to be handled by someone that the church would want to represent their interests.

  8. Todd Collier says:

    As a preacher I have to speak up and say that the minister – based on the facts presented – is to be commended. He could have proclaimed "I am an elder as well" and led his supporters in a big fight against the other elder. He did not but – again based upon the facts presented – submitted rather than divide.

    Trust me, there are many times when an eldership decides things for all the wrong reasons, even up to and including sinful ones. Our job – as men of God – is to warn them firmly but depart in peace and leave the outcome to God. It is His Church and His flock, not mine. My job is to proclaim the Word, His job is to light or snuff the candle.

  9. Zach Price says:

    can't ever go wrong with prayer

  10. Terry says:

    I appreciate Todd Collier's comment. When I attributed sin to the "elders" in my previous comment, I was not referring to the former elder/preacher.

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