When working with a church in conflict, one of the most frequently asked questions is, “How can we get rid of a bad elder (that usually means an elder that doesn’t see things as I do)? My answer is, ”Have a lot of elder appreciation parties!”
I think that will work — and here is why. More than three decades ago, I was asked by a friend to step into my office. This followed a men’s business meeting where I had been rehired after being fired a couple of weeks before. He said, “Jerrie, I hope you don’t plan to stay here and save this church. If you do, I think it will hurt you, hurt your family, and hurt this church.” He then hugged me and said, “I love you like a brother,” with tears streaming down his face.
That hurt my feelings, aroused my anger, and confused me. I had been devastated by being told that I should resign, been encouraged by being rehired, and now was being told that it would probably be a good idea to move on.
The next morning I reflected on the conversation. What has John Smith done since he became a member of this congregation? He has said, “Good sermon; it is evident that you work hard on each Bible class; we would like for you, Gail, and the kids come to our house Thursday night to eat with us. We want you to know how much we appreciate you.”
My question, “Was John Smith telling the truth when he complimented me, or was he telling me the truth last night when he said it was his opinion that it might be well for me to find another congregation, or was he telling the truth as he saw it in every instance?”.
After thinking on that, I decided he was reporting accurately what he thought and felt on each occasion. And after reflecting for 38 years, I think he had good advice.
Why did I reluctantly value what he said? He had complimented, and complimented, and complimented. Then on a night years later when he delivered a painful message and after I worked through the shock of a different type of comment, I respected what he said. If he had criticized, condemned, and complained from our first meeting, his suggestion that I might need to move on would have been no different from previous observations. However, since he had been encouraging and complimentary from our first meeting, I listened and considered his viewpoint.
How do you get rid of a “bad” elder?
1. Appoint good, qualified shepherds. Don’t be silent if unqualified men are being considered and then criticize them after they are ordained. The best time to get a divorce is before you get married.
2. Frequently express appreciation to good men who are serving well. They put in many hours of difficult work. They are deserving of our respect and appreciation.
3. Plan and participate in times of group expressions of gratitude for their service. I plan more suggestions in the next blog post, March 3.
4. Then, when a time comes that you need to disagree, confront, or criticize, it will be a contrast to your usual agreement and appreciation. Talk to him in the way that Jesus and Paul instructs. Matthew 7:12; Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Timothy 5:19, 20
I think that might help to “get rid of a bad elder.” At least it worked with a preacher I knew one time.
Next post: Why and How to Have Elder Appreciation Parties.