Advice to a New Elder: Silos

shepherd3I think one of the biggest shortcomings of all churches with more than one minister is the silo-effect.


More than any of the other questions, answering this one will have the most immediate and tangible impact on an organization, probably because it addresses two of the most maddening day-to-day challenges companies face: organizational A.D.D. and silos. Most organizations I’ve worked with have too many top priorities to achieve the level of focus they need to succeed. Wanting to cover all their bases, they establish a long list of disparate objectives and spread their scarce time, energy, and resources across them all. The result is almost always a lot of initiatives being done in a mediocre way and a failure to accomplish what matters most. This phenomenon is best captured in that wonderful adage, “If everything is important, nothing is.”

Lencioni, Patrick M.. The Advantage, Enhanced Edition: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business (J-B Lencioni Series) (p. 119). Wiley. Kindle Edition. (Covered in detail in this series.)

Lencioni also advises nonprofits and churches, and his teachings often apply more and better to churches than to businesses. Churches in particular have trouble focusing on anything. The elders all want a piece of the vision statement, and so a vision statement made by five elders has five points.

The staff roll their eyes, know that the real vision is their own ministries, and ignore the elders — who don’t even notice that the staff members are undercutting them at every turn. I mean, if the preacher isn’t preaching on the elders’ vision, what is he saying about his opinion of the vision? 

If the youth minister and children’s minister don’t teach the elders’ vision to their charges, what are they telling the church’s children about the elders and their vision?

Now, my experience is that staff will undermine the elders even when the elders have announced a great vision found by all the right processes — because we train ministers to do their own thing. They don’t really see themselves as part of a church-wide vision or mission. And they are reviewed and compensated based solely on their own ministry — and so don’t care about the churchwide vision.

Of course, if the elders follow poor processes and develop a weak vision, the staff will be that much less inclined to support it.

How do we fix this problem?

Step 1:  Well, it might help to talk about it. With the staff.

Step 2:

The point here is that every organization, if it wants to create a sense of alignment and focus, must have a single top priority within a given period of time.

Lencioni, Patrick M.. The Advantage, Enhanced Edition: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business (J-B Lencioni Series) (p. 120). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Notice that there must be just one thing — and it must be a doable thing, not a doctrinal thing. You can’t say “Be a New Testament church” because that’s really lots of things, not just one. Don’t game the system. Don’t avoid the requirement to focus. Focus. Just … one … thing.

And it can’t be something you’ve already done. It can’t be “Conduct five and only five acts of worship each Sunday morning.” It has to be a goal toward which the congregation will work together.

Step 3: The goal has to be owned by the leadership team. Every member of the team — ministers included. It’s a job requirement and will be part of the annual review. It shouldn’t be necessary to say this, but it probably is in most churches. The youth minister will be evaluated in large part by how well he has helped the church realize its singular vision. Not a scaled down version for just the teens. The whole church.

For example, suppose the vision is for the members to become more evangelistic. What would this require? A training class maybe? Events designed to encourage members to invite unchurched friends? I’m hardly the expert, but just think through what the leaders would do to encourage greater personal evangelism.

Now, ask how the teen ministry fits into the church-wide effort. Maybe we need to be sure the events are also attractive to teens — or to families with teenagers. I mean, we don’t split the church between teens and everyone else and have two different evangelism efforts. It’s just one church. It needs to be one effort — although it may affect different age groups differently.

So maybe the teen minister chairs a committee that makes plans churchwide. Maybe he’s charged to help train adults on how to do this. After all, maybe the best way to get teens to be evangelistic is to first get their parents to be evangelistic — and yet the teen minister might have never even talked to the parents but for the elders’ insistence that he participate in the effort as part of the church as a whole — not as pastor to a subcongregation or siloed ministry.

Does that make sense? It’s hard for ministers to wrap their heads around the concept because it’s utterly foreign to how they’ve been trained and how we’ve always done things. We’ve divided our churches in an effort to make them better for young people — and it doesn’t work.

Another example. Suppose the vision is to develop a heart for the weak and needy of society. The teen minister immediately suggests hauling his kids off to another city to participate in a “work camp” someone else has organized so they can learn from another church how to care for the needy — as far away from their parents as humanly possible.

Not healthy. Not churchwide. Very siloed. Exactly wrong.

Imagine, instead, that the adults in the church organize a Habitat for Humanity project and the dads and moms have their sons and daughters swing hammers with them, building a house together. Then the teens see their parents as examples of Christianity lived well — and not people to be fled. The ministry builds relationships among the teens but also with the parents — who teach the kids (not just their own) about construction skills and compassion — making the church truly a family rather than an agglomeration of disconnected ministries.

But this requires: ONE thing AND the ministers ALL on board at a CHURCH-WIDE level.

By the way, this will be one of the hardest things you ever do. And immediately after you finally get it right, someone will forget everything you’ve pushed for and go back to the old ways. And you may have to be a bit of a jerk to insist that the staff (and other elders) remember what we’re trying to do here and why. I mean, part of the job of an elder is admonishment. It’s not the most fun part, but sometimes it’s the most needed part.

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: Silos

  1. laymond says:

    ” I mean, if the preacher isn’t preaching on the elders’ vision, what is he saying about his opinion of the vision? ”

    Jhn 15:26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

    Is the preacher supposed to preach on things other than the gospel. ? Maybe the elders should try to convince the congregation by speaking directly to them. I have never seen an elder to shy to speak about something he really wanted. I really think a preacher should not be hired to carry water for the elders. I think he or she should concentrate on carrying the message of Jesus Christ.
    The word of God.

  2. Laymond, is there a conflict between the elders AND the preacher promoting the same goal for the congregation? And does having a goal for the church to accomplish in its community conflict with preaching the gospel? Or do you think the gospel is all about getting to heaven and nothing about God’s people doing God’s work of loving their neighbors and healing them in their affliction all of the time?

  3. Mark says:

    I rarely heard elders speak. Only when more elders were needed or the donations were running low did most talk. That said, most seemed to use to use the preacher to deliver their message. I have heard a sermon that I know the minister did not want to deliver. I have a feeling he was told to give it. He complied.

  4. Dwight says:

    If we are the church, as in the saints are the church, then we have a mission to accomplish that was given to us on the day we were baptized…spread the gospel, help our neighbors, etc.
    The goal/goals are Christian prime directives given by God and Christ.
    It doesn’t take an eldership or committee to get the saints to do this or at least it shouldn’t.
    It should take encouragement and support to do what we are supposed to be doing.

  5. laymond says:

    The Great Commission

    Matthew 28:16-20 (NIV)
    16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

    We go where Jesus tells us to go, and do what Jesus tells us to do. That is the definition of a Christian.

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