Why don’t people respect the authority of elders? Don’t they know the church is to follow the elders — not the preacher?”
The Bible does teach that ordained men are to oversee each congregation. I’m sure there are strains of the preacheritis virus around that infect some people.
Let me share with you something else that could be happening.
I’ve talked with elders who were devastated when people sided with the preacher in a time of conflict. Why didn’t Christians know they were to follow elders and not the preacher?
Here’s what some in one congregation told me:
When my child was in the hospital, our preacher visited often, brought us food, called, and texted to see how we were doing. We received no calls or visits from any elder.
When my daddy was sick and dying, our preacher gave him medicine, visited often, and set up with him all night. We didn’t receive a visit or contact from the elders.
The elders were confused about why many members didn’t take their side in the fuss.
Jesus describes the Good Shepherd: “the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3, NKJV); “And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:4).
The good shepherd:
- Calls his sheep my name — he knows them.
- They follow him because they know his voice — they know him.
That relationship develops when the shepherd cares. He shows his care by the time he spends with the sheep — in knowing and being known. An eldership cannot make a preacher be a shepherd then expect the people to think they are the shepherds if they haven’t shepherded.
How can we work together to improve this?
- Preachers, elders, and other teachers: teach what the Bible says about the role and responsibilities of elders. “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1).
- Teach and practice what the Holy Spirit teaches about honoring good shepherds. “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13). We are to honor bishops in the Lord’s church because the Lord teaches that principle in the Bible — not because they do everything right and we agree with every decision. Practicing the attitude of gratitude is good for them and us. One of the first questions I ask when I start working with a congregation: “How long has it been since you had an Elders’ Appreciation Party?”.
- Elders: practice what the Bible teaches about the responsibilities of shepherds. Feed, protect, know, speak, be recognized.
Elders haven’t fulfilled the responsibility of being a shepherd by making the preacher do the work of a shepherd while they ignore that role. It is inconsistent to make the preacher do most of the teaching, most of the visiting of visitors and newcomers to the community, be the primary minister at all deaths, go to reclaim those who have strayed from the fold, make regular hospital, nursing home, and shut-in visits (and hand in a report), work with troubled marriages, minister to those who have problems with their marriages and children, rebuke those who are in sin — then get upset when someone calls the preacher the pastor.
“But Jerrie, we all have jobs. We pay the preacher to do the visiting and the other tasks you’ve mentioned. We’re too busy to do those things.” If you’re too busy to do the work of a shepherd, please resign and remove the title. A man who doesn’t farm isn’t a farmer. Do we think men who served as elders in the New Testament church were wealthy and had no jobs and families?
I’ve worked with men who were ordained as shepherds. They were shepherds. They worked together. They communicated. They tried to be in contact with each family in the church. They made it a point to assure each family had contact with one or more of the shepherds during sickness, death, trouble, and times of joy. One group I have in mind were some of the busiest, most-travelled men I’ve ever known. But they did the shepherding because they made the commitment, assumed the responsibility, and wanted to follow the Good Shepherd.
I’ve observed a few men who had their names on the church bulletin as elders who did little or nothing taught in the Bible that shepherds of the Lord’s people are to do. They attended business meetings and made decisions. They didn’t feed, protect, and care for the flock.
As I reflect on the two groups, I remember of no difference in the job and family responsibilities of either. They both did what they thought elders (shepherds) were supposed to do.
- Group 1 — cared for the sheep.
- Group 2 — made decisions and made sure the preacher cared for the sheep.