Advice to a New Elder: Generational Input; The “rule of do”

shepherd3Here’s the rule: You don’t know your flock at all if you only get information reactively — that is, in response to complaints. To know your flock, you have to proactively solicit input from a representative sample. Nothing else works — even when you’re sure that something else works.

It takes hard work and discipline to know your flock.

  1. Delegate! The more you involve your members, the more representative of the church the leadership will be.
  2. Don’t limit your input-seeking to the staff. They are very important. They are not enough. Also talk to your members.
  3. Make a point to talk to the small groups — of all ages. Spend time with young and old, male and female, black and white, old and new, leaders and followers. Don’t wait for people to grab you and complain. Seek members out and talk to them.
  4. Don’t ask about musical taste but about spiritual formation. Did the song service draw you closer to Jesus? Do you feel encouraged to live for Jesus for the upcoming week? Would you invite your friends to the service next week if you knew it would be just like this week? Ask the questions that matter — not the consumerist, indulgent question like “Did I pick songs that you like?”
  5. Check the numbers. Is the church growing? Is it attracting new members? Are baptisms up? Is the children’s ministry growing? Are the small groups for young couples and singles growing? If not, you’d better change something — because if those signs are going badly, your church is dying. And pleasing us old people isn’t going to make it better if the old people are mainly worried about the old people.

You see, there is nothing more unhealthy than an old person complaining because you aren’t making the old people happy.

I’m 62. I’ve hit Social Security retirement age. I’m old! And nothing makes me more angry than people my age and older who don’t care about anyone but themselves and their old friends.

I’d be thrilled to never again sing one of my favorite hymns — if by singing hymns that other people like I could see the church grow, the damned saved, and the young matured. I enjoy a baptism far more than any hymn.

On the other hand, even visitors can smell church politics. When the song selection is based on pleasing constituencies rather than the pursuit of Christ-like-ness, well, who would want to join such a church?

do_somethingThe “Rule of Do”

I learned this from my father, who learned this in OCS (Officer Candidate School) during WWII.

You’re the lieutenant leading a platoon of soldiers in battle. You’re pinned down by enemy fire. No help is available in time to keep your men (and you) from all dying. Every solution you can think of will probably fail. There’s no scouting available to tell you where the enemy is. The odds are that whatever decision you make will get everyone killed — 90% or worse. But if you do nothing, the odds of death are 100%. What do you?

Correct answer: Something. Do something. Because doing nothing is certain death and failure and dishonor.

Yes, there’s no way to know what the best solution is. There’s no way to know if there’s a solution at all. But unknown odds beat certain odds. Do something.

If your church is dying, and if every choice seems bad, do something. Something. Nothing is death and dishonor. Bad choices are better than choices that certainly lead to death.


Obviously, it’s even better to do the research and ask the questions and figure out a great plan with stellar odds. If you have that option, do it. But if every choice looks to be near-certain disaster, well, that’s better than certain disaster. Take bad odds over no odds — every time.

When the leadership has to pick between a church dying for certain or a church possibly splitting. Go with possibly splitting. I mean, isn’t that better than certain death? Even if death will take 20 years?

Or die constructively. Invite a church planting team to take over your facilities and submit to their leadership as part of a new church.

But don’t procrastinate yourself into worthlessness. You see, there’s a corollary to “Do Something.” It’s: “Don’t wait until every choice is certain death.” Procrastination is tempting. It’s often politically expedient. It avoids conflict (today). But it usually just makes things worse.

To borrow from the late, great Charles Siburt, that which must be done inevitably should be done immediately.

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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3 Responses to Advice to a New Elder: Generational Input; The “rule of do”

  1. John says:

    Jay, a very good post; wonderful advice. I’m 66 years old, and I have to admit, that I have always been a cautious individual. Not so much in growth of thought; I am very much the progressive. But, in taking steps that affect, not just myself, but those around me. I believe it comes from growing up in a family in which “worry” was an art form. There was always that confusion as to where Godly concern ends and sinful worry begins. “Be careful” was pretty much the mantra I heard during my youth, especially when it came to action in the church.

    Your last line by Charles Siburt is a gem.

  2. Bob Brandon says:

    I learned the rule back in 1984 at Navy AOCS. Good rule for life, too, regardless of what life hurls at you.

  3. My college room mate used to say there are only two things you shouldn’t worry about: things you can help and things you can’t help. If it’s something you can help, then act to help it instead of worrying. If it’s something you can’t help, then worry won’t improve things and will take a lot of energy as well as making you miserable – so don’t worry.

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