The title of this article might strike some as strange. Why should a meeting for church elders be simple? Well, it need not be, but my desire is to address a particular problem that is not uncommon; elders who meet only when there is a “crisis,” fearing that regular meetings could make life complicated! Asking a few questions to figure out why this should be so, brought some surprises. The “officialness” of a regular elders’ meeting conveys intimidating ideas of power, control, and big business. Better to keep things low key and only meet when forced to by circumstances. Interesting!
Let’s spend some time thinking about how a simple elders’ meeting can become a valuable tool in providing what every assembly needs: good leadership, without falling into the trap of complexity or power seeking. This can serve as a checklist for elders who already enjoy regular meetings as well as a resource for those who do not.
Why a Meeting?
While there are no specific instructions in the NT as to how elders should carry out their work, the idea of elders coming together to consider a matter is found in Acts 15, commonly referred to as the Jerusalem Council. Here a plurality of leaders moved toward a decision by receiving input from those who had helpful information to share. The end result was unity (Acts 15:25 lit. “having come to one accord”) and blessings for the churches (15:30 – 31). What sort of material might occupy a typical elders meeting today?
There are at least three reasons why elders ought to come together for the good of the church. 1) They should spend time together in the Scriptures and in prayer, 2) They can discuss and make plans for shepherding the flock, and 3) They can exercise oversight by making necessary and timely decisions
Each of the above can, with practice, be kept to a reasonable amount of time and will soon result in blessings for the church. Of course, there are many added benefits from such meetings as well. The believers find joy in knowing that those who lead them take the Lord’s work seriously, and will learn to pray for them. Elders are drawn together by working together on a regular basis resulting in a team spirit which is a good model for the whole assembly.
Fortunately, there is great freedom for elders to meet in a way that best serves their needs. The following suggestions are offered simply as helps to those who may not be sure where to begin.
Time in the Word and Prayer
Elders need to know and defend their priorities. This is the great lesson we learn from the earliest church leaders in Acts 6:1 – 7. As the church grew, temporal concerns threatened to swamp the spiritual leaders forcing them to abandon their most important work of spending time in the Scriptures and in prayer.
It is no different today! Elders must delegate temporal work of the church to men who can care for it, leaving them free to spend time with the Head of the church seeking wisdom and direction to lead. In my own assembly, it has become a matter of habit over the years to identify issues and problems that could consume large amounts of time. These are immediately handed over for action to the deacons of the church or in some cases to the monthly meeting of the brothers.
But what does it mean to spend time in the Word and prayer? Here simplicity is best. The goal is not to plunge into deep studies on thorny church issues, but simply to spend time with the Lord Jesus, learning from Him as He explained in Matthew 11:28 – 30. As laborers together with Him, we want to take His yoke, learn of Him, and then speak to Him about what we are learning.
This can be accomplished beautifully if one of the brothers will bring a brief meditation from a portion of Scripture. Alternatively, the men may work through a book or section chosen in advance. The tone can be devotional rather than theological; under-shepherds listening to the heart of the Chief Shepherd as He would encourage, train, exhort by His Spirit through the Word. This time in itself can make the elders meetings a delight for every brother.
But be assured that the adversary will not allow such quality time without some opposition. “Emergencies” seem to come out of nowhere when elders purpose to dedicate time to meeting with the Lord. Firm resolve is needed to hold good ground!
Shepherding the Flock
The writer of Proverbs counsels shepherds to “be sure you know the condition of your flocks….” (Prov. 27:23 NKJV). This is good advice for elders. At the heart, elder – work is all about people. It is sad when elders become so engrossed in discussions and decisions about church funds and temporal matters that the care for people is neglected. What simple tools can help in this crucial work?
Providing a list of all who are in fellowship is a great asset. By the way, I am not referring to the conventional “church membership” list which tells who is a member of the corporation and gives them certain legal rights in voting, etc. Rather, the fellowship list is a simple resource for church elders reminding them of those for whom they are responsible before the Lord to “keep watch over you” (Heb. 13:17). Regular prayer for those in the church, deciding who needs to be visited in the home or hospital, learning from one another about needed growth steps and significant decisions ahead in individual lives, are all aspects of shepherding care. This will shed light on future needs for platform ministry or conferences for equipping. Once again, try to keep it simple. If meetings are regular, even if only monthly, there is no reason why a brief time to work through one section of the list of names could not result in covering every family and individual in the course of a year.
Another helpful tool can be a written record of families visited and prayer requests.
This one presents a special challenge because if it is not restrained, it will quickly swallow up the other two! Without question, there are decisions which need to be made by elders; the careful and judicious exercise of spiritual authority for the good of the church. But wise elders will learn to distinguish between serious doctrinal or moral issues which they must not neglect, and routine decisions in the myriad of small concerns that can well be handled by younger men who need to learn the basics of working together in problem solving.
In any case, it will greatly help if the first two items are given attention at the early part of the meeting.
Elders should adopt the thinking that training younger men in assembly work is more important than the financial or material concerns that are handed over to them. Give them the freedom to make some decisions and learn by experience!
Also, it can be a great encouragement for elders to meet periodically with deacons or others who are serving in this way. Ask more questions about how they are doing in their walk with the Lord or in their marriages or in their ability to work together as a team than about the details of their tasks.
Be sure to thank them for the work they are doing to relieve the elders from things that might draw them away from their priorities. Assure them that the time thus gained will not be spent in merely addressing other such issues, but that it is really being applied to time with the Lord, and caring for the flock.
Because the assembly is more an organism than an institution, it will manifest the marks of life. This means that a healthy elders’ meeting must be a tool that serves something living; not a harsh task master in a cold organization. There will be both demanding times and times that are more restful by comparison.
Flexibility is important. Brothers will be absent for business or vacations. It will be helpful to agree in advance that the regular meetings should continue where possible. Most needs and decisions can be handled by those present, the others giving their blessing and trust to those who meet. Unanimity should especially characterize more serious matters, and those who are absent can use modern technology to “check in” through phone or email in such cases.
As the Lord sees our willingness to invest time in the work of shepherding His people, we may find the same words used to describe the earliest church in Acts 6:1 “In those days, when the number of disciples was increasing…..” applied to us!