Starting from Scratch

first year of shepherds who had never served before

When new shepherds are appointed, they usually go by former shepherds’ rules which are often unconscious, unspoken, but understood. A pattern has been set about agendas (or lack of), who speaks when, prayers (number and time), how the group makes decisions, and how much deacons’ work elders do. Orientation is usually coming to the first elders’ meeting, watching, listening, and imitating.

But what happens when there are no former elders in the first elders’ meeting?

We had been in the Fuss of ’95. On Fathers’ Day, two of our three elders resigned, leaving the congregation without an eldership. The men appointed a process committee to suggest how to appoint elders. After the document was tweaked and approved by the men, a selection committee was appointed to implement the process.

November 19, 1995, we ordained four men as elders. Not one had ever served a day in his life.

How do you do it when it’s not fixed — when there’s no one to tell you how to do it?

Three Principles I Saw Them Put in Place

  1. Don’t be in a hurry. One of the new elders read an article stating it takes about five years to get over a divorce. He said, “We’ve been through a divorce in our congregation. People have been upset. Several left unhappy. It’ll take time to develop trust in the congregation and heal as a church.” When they accepted the reality they wouldn’t have everything fixed by Christmas, it left them free to decide how to begin and continue as a leadership group. Margaret Marcuson, in a book on family systems, agrees with the time principle: “Change is evolutionary, not revolutionary. As a pastor, I developed a mantra: ‘Everything takes five years.’ Substantial developments in congregational life, the kind that will last, take even longer” (Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry, by Margaret J. Marcuson, Copyright © 2009 by Margaret J. Marcuson, page 30).
  2. For the first year, we’ll study what the Bible teaches about shepherds and practice what we learn. They wanted to be guided by God’s word in the function of the eldership.
  3. For the first year, we want to learn how to get along with each other. They’d seen what happened when elders didn’t communicate and have close, trusting relationships in the group.

Those were their goals.

When leaders set goals, someone(s) will try to sabotage their plans. That happened quickly.

Soon after they were appointed, people approached the elders and said, “We need to appoint deacons.”

[tweetthis]When leaders set goals, someone(s) will try to sabotage their plans. [/tweetthis]

The reply of the new shepherds: “For the first year, we’ll study what the Bible teaches about shepherds and practice what we learn. For the first year, we want to learn how to get along with each other.”

In the spring, a group approached the new elders and asked, “What are you going to do about Vacation Bible School?”.

Their reply, “We aren’t going to do anything about Vacation Bible School. For the first year, we’ll study what the Bible teaches about shepherds and practice what we learn. For the first year, we want to learn how to get along with each other. If you’d like to do something about Vacation Bible School, bring us a proposal and we’ll talk with you about it.”

We didn’t have Vacation Bible School in 1996. I’ve often observed that some of the best things those elders did were the things they didn’t do. They stayed focused on defining themselves individually and as a leadership group according to their study of scripture.

When the year was up, they started a process of leading the congregation in selecting and appointing deacons. They proceeded with continuing to lead the congregation where they thought the Lord wanted them to go. They were effective and continued with excellent servant leadership.

My Observations

  1. They took time to look at themselves and their growth first before telling the church what to do.
  2. They started with the Bible, not the way it had always been done.
  3. They refused to be sidetracked by every request of every person who had an idea of what needed to be done.
  4. They stayed focused on a good objective until it was completed.

I saw it work. The congregation healed and started growing again. The congregation began to follow the attitude of their leaders.

What if a group of shepherds reevaluated every five to seven years? What if they studied the Bible and said, “We want to do what God tells shepherds to do — not what we’ve always done?”

What if — instead of using the ready-mixed — they started from scratch and went by the Biblical recipe?

[tweetthis]What if a group of shepherds reevaluated every five to seven years?[/tweetthis]

It’s something to consider.

What have you seen elders do to be more focused on their responsibilities as shepherds and overseers?
Please comment below:

How Do You Set the Budget?

do you ask or tell what the contribution should be?

How do you present the budget in your congregation? Is it simply a business transaction? Do we do it like we’ve always done it — look at last year’s budget; increase it by 7-10%; tell everyone what they need to give this year?

Gail and I have been living on a budget for nearly fifty years. I haven’t gone to my employers (elders) with this presentation: “Gail and I have been working on our budget for next year. We’ve looked at our expenditures, new needs, and inflation. We also believe we deserve a merit raise. Therefore, here’s our budget for next year. Please fund this for us.”

[tweetthis]Here’s our budget for next year. Please fund this for us.[/tweetthis]

My experience has been elders evaluate my work, comparable compensation of preachers in the area, and the financial condition of the congregation. They tell me my income for the year. I go home and announce to Gail what we’ll be making. We sit down at our computer and decide how we’ll spend the income paid to us.

A few years ago I wondered why we did it the opposite way in the church. I suggested to the elders where I was working as an interim to think about this concept. They considered it. Since then, they’ve been asking Christians what they’re planning to give and budgeting that amount instead of budgeting what the elders wanted and telling Christians what they needed to give to fund the budget.

Giving Intent Card, LaVergne Church of Christ

Giving Intent Card, LaVergne Church of Christ

Giving Intent Card in Word format

It’s been my experience when people think about giving, they give more liberally. At least two times in my ministry, we planned a month of lessons on giving from the pulpit and home studies for families. Both times the contribution increased and maintained a higher level.

Unless asked, few people think about how and how much they give. When given an opportunity to think, discuss, and pray about this grace, many people grow in this spiritual exercise.

[tweetthis]When people think about giving, they give more liberally.[/tweetthis]

Suggestions

  1. Meet with the deacons and all members in large and small groups. Discuss needs and opportunities of the community, area, and the world. What has God prepared this church to do to spread the gospel in word and deed?
  2. Refine and combine ideas. Give specific works that will challenge this congregation as a whole and individual Christians. Present plans that fit into the mission of the Lord’s church with no money attached discussing projects for sharing the gospel from this congregation.
  3. Ask the church to consider and pray about this for two weeks.
  4. Request each family to hand in how they’d like to take part financially and in other ministry to do what we’ve been dreaming and praying about.
  5. Fund the work to the extent the people have agreed to give.

Observations

  • Not everyone will participate.
  • Enough will cooperate to give a good indication of the amount of the contribution for the coming year.
  • Many will contribute more when given the vision of what God can do in His church than if we read a spreadsheet during the announcements and tell them the amount to give next year.

What have you seen effective in encouraging Christians to grow in the grace of giving?
Please comment below: