I’ve had a few elders less than the best. I’ve worked with many excellent elders. I’ve had some in-between. Preachers need shepherding as well as other dependent, dirty, and disoriented sheep.
Here are actions and attitudes of helpful shepherds with a few contrasts to make the picture clearer.
- They’ve told me the truth. They’ve done what they said they’d do.
- When I made mistakes, I’ve had enough to encourage me that I didn’t give up. As a young preacher, one night I realized I’d raised money to do a project the elders didn’t want. I went to the two elders in tears, apologizing for what I’d done. I planned to go for a college Bible course in another town that night. I suggested I stay at home and not attend the class. One of the elders was angry — “Yes, that’s what you need to do. You’ve got to learn you can’t do things like that.” And He went on and on. The other elder said, “No. You go to the class. This hasn’t been your pattern. You’ve recognized your mistake. It’s evident you’re sorry for what you’ve done.” I’m thankful for the kindness of the second elder. I’ve wondered what would have been the effect if both elders had taken the harsh approach of the first. I stayed several years and did a good work there.
- They’ve expressed their concern by listening to what was going on in my life.
- They’ve communicated trust by asking for help and prayers as they shared what was good and less than ideal in their world.
- They conducted regular evaluations without my prompting (see #1). Those were times of encouragement. I looked forward to my yearly evaluations the last week of May. I hurried home to read them to my wife.
- Evaluations were positive and complimentary because we kept current with likes and dislikes. Evidently, they were men who didn’t want their supervisors saving all their mistakes to read aloud once a year. My shepherds observed the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) and treated me as they’d like to be treated.
- During times of personal and family difficulty, they prayed for me and encouraged me to take any time needed to work on family matters immediately.
- Especially when my children were home, they reminded me to spend time with my family.
- When there was sickness or loss, they visited without having to have a visitation card. I got the impression they cared and wanted me to know.
- I’ve had elderships who requested and participated in special times of Bible study for growth and to study specific topics of concern.
- They treated me as a trained, intelligent, and competent person who could be trusted to be in leadership meetings to talk, listen, suggest, evaluate, and not think I had to have my way. When I had a suggestion or request, I didn’t have to argue my case before the Supreme Court, then have a decision handed down. I was permitted to be in on the discussion and observe approval, disapproval, or modification of the request in real time. Many times a concern could be answered in five minutes and the project approved. I prefer that to sending me out, denying my request, and telling me why. One time when I explained the objection, the one delivering the rejection said, “If we’d known, we might’ve done it differently. But we’ve made our decision, and we’ll stick with it.”
I’ve had very few classes on becoming and functioning as an elder-shepherd-overseer. I’ve taught hundreds of classes. Most of what I’ve learned, taught, and now write has been learned by observation of men who have led well — and not so well.
What memories do you have of good shepherding?
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