Comments from elders and wives of elders of what they learned their first year of service that might be helpful to new shepherds and shepherds’ wives:
(Some) Things I Learned My First Year As An Elder
- Spend the time necessary to know and understand your fellow elders.
- The importance of spending much time in prayer together.
- Establish the non-negotiable and negotiable operating procedures for the eldership.
- The importance of establishing trust within the eldership.
- Communication with the congregation.
- What may seem insignificant to you may be a “big deal” to some member or members.
- Without God being the true leader of the eldership, it will fail, but with Him much can be accomplished in His name.
- Serving as an elder will take more time than you anticipate and God’s work is rewarding.
- Need to be on your knees a lot! Pray! Pray! Pray!
- You are not alone.
— Ron Gambill, Berry’s Chapel Church of Christ,Franklin, Tennessee
The first thing I remember upon becoming a part of the eldership here was a strong desire to begin laying some groundwork to challenge myself and the other elders to learn what an eldership should look like, what our work and responsibilities are, and to do the same for our deacons. Casual observation made it obvious to me we were spending too much time dealing with issues our deacons should probably be handling and very little time getting to know the sheep, learning how to council and disciple, thinking about vision, and other spiritual matters – things elders should be doing. It was very obvious that we could do better and should do better.
Looking back, one missing key element was “delegation”. I became acutely aware of this missing piece to the puzzle while reading Dr. Flavil Yeakley’s book, Church Leadership and Organization. There are many excellent books out there that spend time giving the scriptural background, the need for, and “qualifications” of elders and deacons. Dr. Yeakley’s book goes well beyond the basics and delves into the practical side of a working eldership and leadership as a whole in God’s family and gives advice on how to organize. A fire was kindled. I now had a mission and was eager to share what I had learned with the other elders.
I made an outline of each chapter in the book and shared it with the other elders. We spent time over a few weeks discussing the book using the outline as a guide. It was not easy getting use to the idea of ‘giving up’ some of the things we were use to doing ourselves. Initially, the idea of delegating met with resistance. What would that look like? Would we still be ‘overseeing’ this or that? Could we trust the deacons to get the job done? What would we do or how would we handle it if a mistake was made? How much money could be spent by the deacons without eldership approval? Who would set the ministers’ salaries? As you might imagine, a myriad questions were asked and what if scenarios were presented. Over the next few months, praying together and working together, we gradually became comfortable with the idea of delegating. We were finally ready to take the next step by defining the work that had to be done, putting it in writing, and asking for the deacons to commit to choosing their area of work and taking ownership of that work.
We began structuring our elders and deacons meeting, held each month, to coincide with the ten major areas of work that were defined so that deacons assigned to each of the ten areas of work could discuss what was going on and ask questions as needed. This has been a tremendous help to the eldership. Has delegation been implemented without problems? No. Has it worked perfectly? No. Has every deacon taken complete ownership of their area of work? No. Are we, as an eldership, where we need to be, yet? No. But, the good news is we are making tremendous strides in the right direction – both elders and deacons. Much has been accomplished. For the very first time, the eldership has recently had time to learn the process of and put together a vision and mission statement. Our plans are to implement this vision by the end of 2014. We are excited about this and give praise to Our Father who has been patient with us through this whole process. He knows we are a work-in-progress and we are grateful for his longsuffering toward us!
Jerrie, I have attached a copy of the “Deacon Responsibilities” booklet that we put together through this process of delegation.
— Mike Bailey, Woodbury, Tennessee
1. One’s idea on how to do something or solve a problem while maybe good is often made greater by input and tweaking by the other elders.
2. Listen twice as much as talking.
3. We spent much time discussing minor issues and problems and very little spiritual time feeding ourselves as a group the meat of the word, that is major spiritual issues that would enable us to be on the same page and unified in the faith. Lots of problems that are not matters of faith can rob your time from being a true shepherd.
4. There is much more to serving as an elder than attending the regular weekly elder’s meeting.
5. Visit your members when they are sick or well or their grieving from loved one deceased. Get to know them personally. If you know them personally then it is much easier to talk to them and get them involved or discuss a sensitive situation with them.
6. Your wife can be a great partner/aide in your efforts especially by being by your side in visiting women; after all she brings you honor and helps make you qualified to serve.
7. Pray often, study the Word, and review elders qualifications to see if you are “walking the talk.”
— Larry Graham, Hendersonville, Tennessee
I learned to go to bed before Ron got home from the elders’ meeting which was usually 11:00 or later! We all know elders should not be discussing confidential “elder business” with their wives (or anyone else), but elders are human and it’s only natural to want to discuss decisions with someone else (especially spouses whom you should trust). Going to bed lessened both my frustration at sometimes seeing him upset or disturbed when he got home and not being able to do much to help and also kept him from being tempted to discuss something that he shouldn’t.
I think the workshop and web site will prove very helpful for new elders and wives. So glad you are doing this.
— Reida Gambill, Berry’s Chapel, Franklin, Tennessee
Elders must work together and realize we do not have all the answers.
—Sellers Crain, Rivergate, Madison, Tennessee
Here is the biggest lesson I learned in my first year as an elder:
There is no such thing as a “junior elder”, or “elder in training.” Once you are appointed, you are an elder. Period. So, speak your heart in love. Share your best wisdom. But fully participate in all things pertaining to feeding the flock. A timid elder who “holds back” for fear of disrupting the old guard is failing to do the very thing that he was appointed to do.
This may be the craziest thing you ever heard, but it was a great lesson for me.
— Jack Hall, Richmond, Kentucky
I had been asked to “sit in” on elders’ meetings in all 3 of the places where I have preached. It did not take long to realize 2 things.
1) MUCH more responsibility.
2) The absolute necessity of communication & teamwork.
— Jim Faughn, Central, Paducah,Kentucky
As a young elder’s wife, I knew that when Durley told me something about church members that I was not to repeat or spread news that he had told me confidentially. I knew that our family was an example for other families. Many mothers would call to see if our children were participating in an activity, before they would make a decision for their children. Also I felt I was in a leader’s role. I learned a great deal from the older elders wives. Participating in church activities was important…you were being watched as an example. Your love for God, your love for people sent a message. Also the best way to get to know the people is around a dinner table (make it simple and comfortable).
— Sue McLarty, Collegeside, Cookeville, Tennessee
First of all, I am learning to really be an active listener. I find myself seeking other people’s opinions more, and also pondering statements being made by my fellow shepherds. I seek to fully understand what is being said and the context of the whole conversation. I am learning that there is usually more than one way to resolve issues.
I have found that I am just a part of the eldership and that the eldership needs to function as a unit—unified on the issues.
I have discovered that I love “shepherding the flock” — that is, being approached by a member about a need and being able to help or serve in at least some small way.
Lastly, I have found myself truly growing in my relationship with Jesus and being very passionate about finding effective ways of seeking and saving the lost. In closing, I find myself frequently thinking of different issues and things that I have recently learned, and realizing that you, Jerrie Barber, were the source of many of those lessons learned. So…thank you again for your impact on my life and so many of us at Collegeside!
— Bill Harris, Collegeside, Cookeville, Tennessee
In addition to getting less sleep due to all the late night meetings we had, the most important thing that I learned was communication with the congregation is vital for the health of the church.
I (we) also learned that it is important to refrain from nodding the head when listening to someone who has a complaint. If an elder nods as a person is talking, they get the impression that he is agreeing with them when the elder may be trying to convey that he understands what is being said. This can cause problems later on if the eldership comes to a conclusion contrary to position that the person had discussed with the elder.
— Jim Hightower, Berry’s Chapel, Franklin, Tennessee
- I recognized immediately that I needed to work on being more patient and check out things before I formed an opinion.
I learned that showing respect to my fellow elders was a must because we all brought our different personalities and background into the eldership. That first year we all worked hard on getting to know each other better.
I found myself leaning on Christ more than ever and trusting that He would be there and He would help me grow in wisdom as I took on the responsibility of guiding and taking care of His church and making good decisions.
I always thought I was a non-judgemental person but I found out right away that I needed help in this area. I realized that everyone has a different pair of shoes to walk in and a different life journey and I needed to value everyone no matter where they were at in life.
Set priorities and goals and strive to reach at least a portion of them. Time management was always a concern.
This one probably should have been first. Realizing that even though I was now an elder, I was still a human. I thought like a human, reacted like a human, and would always be a human. Nothing changed…just like before I became an elder, I still had to trust in God and know that God’s grace would be there for me. I praise God for His forgiveness and continuous help.
— John Hayes, Central, Dalton, Georgia
Irene says it was hard. She had to do more with the children and with our business to allow me time to be out and attend more.
— Irene Oglesby, Western Heights, Sherman, Texas
- I am not superman. I can’t be everywhere doing everything. Eventually, I will not live up to someone’s expectations.
- We really don’t control everything or everybody.
- We are subject to the same pettiness as everybody else. We have to resist that temptation even more because of the effect on the congregation.
- We are not equipped to handle many issues. The root of some people’s problem seem to be personality disorders. Some of these disorders are revealed in struggles with sex; premarital, extra-marital, same sex, threesomes. In dealing with these issues some have been fueled by drugs and/or alcohol. The addiction to sex and drugs has been complicated by trying to determine what role, if any, mental health issues have played. Common themes run in people who have been officially diagnosed with certain mental disorders and others who have not been diagnosed.
- Many members don’t understand the difference between tradition and scripture. Issues such as: is it ok for the elders to be upfront to handle responses to the invitation? Is it ok to move the announcements from the start of services to the end of services? I am not talking about serious Biblical issues, but silly this is the way it has always been done issues.
- Trying to get Christians to understand that Christianity is not a plan, not a church program, but a way of life. They do not need to wait for the elders to plan their every move. “Work out your own salvation”. Use your abilities to do what you do. Do what you can and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing or not doing.
- If you need constant positive feedback from the congregation do something else.
- Virtually everything you do will cause one group to support you and another group to oppose you.
- Lack of real personal spiritual growth among the majority of members.
- The person who (because they agree with you) appears to be the most spiritually mature on one issue will be the most spiritually immature (because they don’t agree with you) person on the next issue.
- Once a member believes that they are Biblically correct on an issue, that gives them the right to say anything they want about the other person. Their motives are divinely inspired and your motives are from your father the devil. They can gossip about you, they can do or say anything because they are right and you are wrong.
- An elder with loose lips sinks congregations. You cannot talk about what is said in an elders meeting, PERIOD.
Wow! Great question. I may answer it again later as well, but I noticed it was tough being one of the two people to make even the smallest decisions. In our situation, there were many unknowns since we lost a key leader who always took care of most things. It was difficult trying to decide within the first few months what to pay for and what to carry on with the status quo, i.e. mission work, before we knew what the income verses outgo tallied up to be. I am still learning. I learned that there are very few people who are actually carrying the work load, and that there MUST be delegation to as many as will accept tasks to accomplish.
— Ronnie Kephart, Boston Church of Christ
When members come to meet with the elders, some people are upset over____________. Who are some members? Tell us so that we can talk with them.
— Ward Harder, Highland Hills, Tullahoma, Tennessee
I learned not to take things personally or try to defend my husband and the other elders when I heard criticism of the elders and not try to justify their actions to others who might or might not know all that was involved. I also learned to be a good, calm, non-judgmental listening ear without offering my own advice unless I was asked specifically by my husband to contribute. Additionally, I learned firsthand the great stresses my husband was under and how to help in other ways that he usually handled, like finances and phone calls and even helping with his business dealings. (All of these areas were those which I had not previously handled all on my own.) Finally, I learned how vital an active and fervent prayer life was to ask for support and guidance for my husband.
— Beverly Perry, Collegeside, Cookeville, Tennessee
I learned 2 things in the first year serving, things that I am continually reminded of and try to keep in my thoughts at all times.
First and foremost — GOD is the head of the church and He is working out His perfect plan for His people. My job in serving as a shepherd is to get out of His way and avoid hindering this plan. I can either be of some help to Him or I am an obstacle He WILL overcome. My role is to listen, pray, study and seek His will. This has saved me many times from losing sleep because I know God is in control and will not let any mistakes I make defeat His plans.
Secondly no decision that an eldership makes will be universally accepted. Some will think we are perfect, most will not have much of an opinion, and some will think we are perfectly wrong.
I hope there is a mustard seed in some of this for you. May God bless you in this endeavor.
— Lloyd Franklin, Collegeside, Cookeville, Tennessee
One may study greatly preparing for the role of an elder or shepherd, but actually serving as an elder brings much more awareness of what joys, sorrows, and struggles the flock is facing each day. In my first year, I learned to listen closely, choose my words carefully, and pray for the individuals – give it to God and have a servant attitude.
— Robert Gribble, Collegeside, Cookeville, Tennessee
- Essential to keep yourself and your family spiritually strong. This takes focus and is primary before you can or should do anything else.
- Listen to the flock without agreeing or disagreeing, listen.
- It’s going to be harder than you thought. Before accepting the elder position, you could come to church and not know any of the problems going on at the church. Once you become an elder, you learn about all the issues that had been kept quiet (ie. people conflicts, dislikes of brothers and sisters, this one is not happy because of “?”, etc.).
- Appreciate very much the prayers, cards and words of encouragement from the congregation.
— Mitch Burke, Woodbury, Tennessee
When I first became an “elder’s wife”, I did not feel worthy to have that title. I wondered what other church members thought about me. I was also concerned about “doing enough”and being a good example to others. While all these concerns may be valid, I realized all I can do is “do my best”, and not worry about what others think. God knows my heart. He knows what I am trying to do and become, for his kingdom.
— Kathy Mattson, Collegeside, Cookeville, Tennessee
- I was not responsible for everything and did not know it all.
- I was a part of a team and had to live with the decision and support what ever the majority decided-never tell outside of the elders room how anyone voted.
- Our agreement was majority ruled and if it was against our conscious we would step down quietly-never divide.
— Durley McLarty, Cookeville, Tennessee
I have learned what a precious blessing it is to share this constantly deepening relationship and spiritual bond with my fellow elders. Obviously this is essential for the optimum functioning of our collective eldership. The unanticipated blessing for me has been the ways that this bond with 4 spiritual men has helped me to continue my own personal spiritual development.
An obvious conclusion is that all christians can benefit from similar relationships.
— Keith Young, Woodbury, Tennessee
Thanks for the opportunity to share this information.
Within my first year as a shepherd the biggest lesson I learned involved being part of a group. This manifested itself first of all in the realization that each matter was not my personal problem to solve alone. The other shepherds shared the prayer, faith, patience, etc., needed to find a solution for each situation. The second realization was the need to understand the personalities, strengths, weaknesses, Biblical approaches, emotions, involvements, experiences and insights – including my own – of each shepherd. The third part of this was learning to communicate these traits between each person within the group.
Thank you for your part in working with the previous eldership to prepare for making my experience one of joy. I can honestly say that it never became a burdensome work due largely to your leadership. Each eldership added to and adjusted those basic principles to form into cohesive and effective groups. God blessed your efforts as you brought characteristics of many leadership traits from the Bible to Berry’s Chapel and to others as well.
— Mike Norwood, Berry’s Chapel, Franklin, Tennessee
During my first year, I did take a careful look at my own example and behavior and that was right to do so. Next, I remember having the other elder’s wives over to my house for a devo and planning and suggested having dinner at my house after church for newcomers (other elder’s wives brought the accompaniments to the meat). The dinners and devos did not continue after my kickoff. So don’t be surprised if your uplifting ideas don’t continue. I wish now that I had continued maybe twice a year to have that dinner anyway. I was too concerned that my suggestions fit in with the others. I have always been my own person, and the elder’s wife role works well for that. Be your own person. When you have an inspiring idea, just follow through on whatever level you can.
— Jill Parker, Granny White, Nashville, Tennessee
One thing I learned is that it is the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted to do as it can be the most rewarding and the most exasperating at times. Some things you deal with are things you would never even consider normally. It definitely taxes your heart and mind in ways you would never suspect. But Gods word always is there to guide and provide an answer.
— Bob McElvain, Madisonville, Kentucky
I remember back to my teen years that I had a desire to one day become an elder. I planned my life to help me to be what I considered a well-qualified elder. In that my father was a minister and also taught Bible at Freed-Hardeman, I had a good Bible background from home. I wanted to be experienced as a minister, Bible school director, missionary, and a Bible teacher. The Lord allowed me to do all of that. Then came the day I was asked to serve as an elder. It was an honor beyond belief. I was asked to join a strong eldership with men from various backgrounds. Yet, I quickly learned that I was just one voice of many. These men also know the Bible. They have experiences in areas where I had little, or none.
God did not divest authority in an elder, but rather in an eldership. The Bible teaches that elders are to be respected, but it is when the eldership as a whole speaks that decisions are made. Having said that, let me share one experience I had in my first year. I was asked to oversee the educational program of the congregation. We had classes on Sunday evening for children through the second grade. Personally, I would rather have had those children in the worship with their parents. Having to staff those classes also put a strain on our available teachers. I was quickly told by the other elders not to end that program. They were afraid it would cause several families to leave the congregation. Years later, with the consent of the eldership, we phased out that program over time. There have been no problems and no one left. I was taught patience.
Elderships often move slowly so they can examine all aspects of a situation. I am not speaking of doctrinal problems, they are quick and easily handled. Scripture settles those questions. Rather, I am speaking of questions of opinion. Learning this lesson was essential, but necessary. I serve with good men that love the church and the congregation deeply. It is a joy to serve with them.
— Bob Oliver, Eastridge, Chattanooga, Tennessee
My first year was spent watching and listening. I joined a group of well seasoned men that allowed me to make a contribution but I did not come in with an attitude that I had all the answers and I could be the one to bring change, even though some of my peer group sought me out to suggest changes.
One of the motto’s that the Eldership had was “everyone gets his say, not everyone gets his way” that has served me well for over 23 years. I find subsequent years of men coming into the eldership don’t always grasp the need to share ideas and not some how seemly demand they get their way.
First year can be a power swell and must be guarded against. Satan can certainly use power as a divisive tool in the eldership.
We were in the midst of a new location move and raising money and meeting with groups of folks to establish needs and desires for a new building.
Lots of decisions were taking place my first year with lots of meetings. a challenge to my family.
I consulted with my three children and wife what it would mean to be in the eldership and gave more time than I really understood.
— Richard Oglesby, Western Heights church of Christ, Sherman, Texas
During this past year as the wife of an elder, I have found that it is important to be supportive and encouraging to my husband. I also feel another important step is to be hospitable. There are three encouraging words that I keep in mind are to Love God, Love your Family and Love the Church.
— Chris Pardue, White House, Tennessee
- Ask questions before accepting the appointment. While one will not understand all the dynamics of the eldership until experiencing it, ask your potential co-elders (individually and/or collectively) how the eldership functions, its priorities, etc. Ask how split decisions are settled within the eldership when one or more thinks a decision is not wise (or not scriptural). Understand one’s co-elders are people, just the same as you. Differences will arise; it’s best to be prepared up front. Also, why does the eldership think another elder is needed/what specific roles does the current eldership have in mind for the new man to do?
- Enter the eldership because you are qualified, because you want to do so, and because you are needed.
- An eldership (and the individual elders) will not please all people at all times. The eldership is God’s shepherding authority; unpopular decisions will be made and error must be challenged. Be prepared to see a side of brethren that you would prefer to not see. Withstand fads, questionable positions and purely unscriptural matters to keep members happy or to keep them from leaving. The size of a member’s wallet is not a barometer for elderships to make decisions.
- Your wife must be a strong support. Also, remember to support your wife and family. Your wife may experience some pressures because of your job.
- Elderships and boards of directors are not synonymous terms. Take a reality check often to see if those terms have become confused.
- Find a wise person in whom you can seek counsel. Hopefully, this person will be one of your co-elders with whom you have a strong and personal relationship. Remember to keep confidential matters confidential, so keep matters that are designed to be held within the eldership – held within the eldership. If your confidant is not in the eldership with you, pay particular attention to how much detail is revealed in your conversations.
- Know if/when it is time to step down from serving in the eldership. It can be a difficult choice, but if you were mature enough to enter, be mature enough to leave.
- Sheep cannot follow shepherds’ voice if they cannot hear the shepherds’ voice…communicate with the congregation. Communicating is not reserved exclusively for good news.
— Tim Pannell, Jackson Heights, Florence, Alabama
During the past year I feel like the biggest thing that I have learned was that it is so important to learn as much about the members of the church and their needs. Our job is to help them to grow stronger in the faith. We must study the scriptures to be able to teach, exhort, and show our love to the congregation.
— Bud Pardue, White House, Tennessee
- Weight of the responsibility – I immediately felt the extra responsibility of feeding, leading and guiding them.
- Communication is important – Having been a preacher and worked with many elders, I had some ideas of what they did well and where they needed improvement. I was determined to be more open in the communication with the church. I had seen a failure to communicate as a major issue with several elderships and the congregation. We opened a monthly meeting to all men in the church. The notes from that meeting are summarized and printed as an insert in the bulletin. The monthly bank statement is posted and a monthly report of income/expenses is put in the bulletin. Announcements from the pulpit by myself or the other elder add to the communication with the congregation.
- Consider everyone – It was suggested that we change the time of our morning worship from 10 and 11 to 9 and 10 (perhaps 9:30 and 10:30). But it was important to be sure that this was not a hindrance to anyone. Most were in favor of the change. One family has some health issues. It takes them longer to get up, take their treatments, take their medication, and get ready to come. So the change in time was denied.
- Recognize their work – Nothing boosts involvement and support like a public pat on the back for those that are working in some program of the church. Compliment the workers. Recognize those who are doing something.
- Personal Issues – The only “trouble” that I have encountered is when two members have a disagreement and I am put in the middle. One member was being harsh, critical and very negative toward another member. The harsh criticism was done in public, in groups and was not justified.
- The Joy – There has been a lot of joy working with a congregation that is united, at peace, willing to work and offering to help. The work becomes a pleasure when all can work together.
— Manly Luscombe, Cades, Tennessee
- Some wives are treated differently – Janet said that other elders wives had commented about how the congregation treated them differently when their husband became an elder. People are less apt to talk with them about issues or questions about the work or decisions the elders made.
- But Janet said that she had not found that here at Cades. She is not treated any different than before I became an elder.
— Janet Luscombe, Cades, Tennessee
When a group of truly dedicated elders jointly consider an issue or question, they usually come up with a good and effective answer or decision. Not every time, but usually.
A group of men on an eldership may be widely different on the Myers-Briggs scale, but still get along well and serve well.
No decision should be made on any significant issue until the meeting room is cleared of all people who are not elders. Only then will all the elders reveal their true thinking. It is very easy to assume that everyone is in favor of an issue when some are not and are waiting until they can reveal their thoughts in privacy.
It is important to follow Roberts Rules of Order unless the most obvious decision is on the table. Those rules were developed to provide fair decision play, and any dismissal of them as if they are unnecessary or a kind of joke is a serious mistake. Elders should learn the basic rules and follow them.
In a meeting, start with the most important issue and wait until it is settled before dealing with smaller matters. The issue that is considered first will receive the most time and energy and should therefore be the most important issue. It is a mistake to try to “get the small issues over with first.” This will only result in small issues getting too much time and then rushing through the important issue at the end because everyone is tired.
— John Parker, Granny White, Nashville, Tennessee