During a gospel meeting, I watched an elder work hard for hours on one of the air conditioners at the building. I asked the preacher if they had a deacon whose ministry was the upkeep of the building. He said they did. “Why doesn’t the elder let him, encourage him, hold him responsible?”, I asked. The preacher replied, “It is easier to work with air conditioners than it is to work with people.”[tweetthis]It’s easier to work with air conditioners than it is to work with people.[/tweetthis]
That’s one of the best explanations of the missing of roles in church leadership I’ve heard.
Why do elders often do the work of deacons instead of serving as shepherds?[tweetthis]Why do elders often do the work of deacons instead of serving as shepherds?[/tweetthis]
- A misunderstanding of the role of shepherd. Because of a lack of good role models, many who are in positions of leadership have not seen or thought of an elder being a shepherd. See previous posts: How Elders Can Function More as Shepherds than Firefighters and Let Shepherds Shepherd and Deacons Deak .
- Elders were often good deacons. It’s hard to release something you’ve done well and let a novice do less or worse than you did. So after being ordained as a shepherd, the brother continues to function as a deacon unless he and the other shepherds know better and do better.
- They don’t know how to work with people. Many men have little or no training in dealing with family problems, individual issues, and have no plan to develop a new convert into a mature Christian who grows to become a mentor of others.
- Physical, material, quantifiable projects are easier to do, complete, and feel a sense of satisfaction. If you spend much of your time doing deacons work, you can feel fulfilled that you’ve been busy and exhausted in the Lord’s work. Working with messy, confused, sinful people is often frustrating. Favorable results are often years in coming — sometimes never.
It’s good to continue to improve our application of what we learn. If there continues to be a failure to release the deacon role, it’s because everybody likes it that way. Some time ago, I suggested to a group of shepherds-elders-still-serving-as-deacons, “The reason you continue to function as deacons while being labeled as shepherds is because at least 7 of the 12 of you like that way. If you didn’t, you would hold each other accountable.”
What can we do to improve?
- Realize the transition is difficult. It’s hard to give up something you enjoy and have done well.
- Know that continual training is necessary. Athletes continue to train. Doctors continue to practice. Professionals have continuing education. Read and discuss books. Listen to podcasts. Invite guest resource people. Practice shepherding regularly.
- Talk and pray about the growth process. Encourage every indication of progress. Be intentional about doing what God says shepherds are supposed to do. Have a goal to become more like the Chief Shepherd. Hold each other accountable. Evaluate your progress. Celebrate growth.
- Thank God for the grace to do what He wants us to do. God will enable us to do His will. Thank Him for His generosity.