4 Ways to Get Rid of a Bad Elder

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.

What are your suggestions for preventing and/or removing a toxic elder?

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Jerrie Barber
Servant of Jesus, husband to Gail, father to Jerrie Wayne Barber, II and Christi Parsons, grandfather, great-grandfather, Interim Preacher, Shepherd coach, Ventriloquist, barefoot runner, ride a cruiser bicycle

10 Responses to “4 Ways to Get Rid of a Bad Elder

  • Roger Leonard
    9 years ago

    I will comment on point number 1.
    A. It is not essential or scriptural to have an eldership if there are no qualified men to serve.
    B. A preacher in a congregation w/o elders should teach annually on the subject and, if there are some potential elders, he would do well to drop tidbits into his lessons on how we should live as God’s men.

    C.When there are no elders, work on developing the younger men in every way.

    • Good observations, Roger. I think most congregations have the leadership they want, the leadership they have trained, the leadership they have prayed for, the leadership they have trained. We will reap what we sow, more than we sow, and later than we sow. Your idea of constantly teaching and training will improve leadership in a few decades — more, or less.

      • Roger Leonard
        9 years ago

        I think Hannah had a long-term agenda in mind with Samuel. If she didn’t, her plan still changed the future!

  • Roger Leonard
    9 years ago

    Good article, by the way!

  • Rick Kelley
    9 years ago

    Enjoying the blog very much brother. I introduced it to our elders and I believe they are all receiving it, and look forward to it. Thanks again for using your talents and wisdom to help in this rather under-discussed niche.

    • Thank you Rick for your encouragement and sharing this with others. Feel free to suggest topics that would be helpful.

      • Rick Kelley
        9 years ago

        Thank you for the invitation to do so. At least one of our elders was familiar with you by some previous means, I can’t recall, but they are good men, and they are a great eldership. Many elderships could benefit from the example of their relationships with one another, with the two of us who preach here, and with the flock they oversee. Thanks again for your labor with us for Him.

  • What do we mean by a “bad” elder? One who is not functioning? One who is not functioning properly? One who is dis-functioning and sinning – both privately and publicly? Jerrie, you know how much I love and appreciate you, but candidly, when an elder is “bad” and frequently causing disruption, yes, even division, within the Lord’s flock, I don’t read in Scripture when/where it says, “Have a party for him…” 🙁 Prov. 17:17

    • Mike,

      If an individual or church has waited until an elder is not functioning properly or is causing division, they are late on the parties.

      We get rid of “bad” elders by starting with good elders. Some churches have “bad” elders because they appoint “bad” elders. To maintain peace, they overlook disqualified men and let them be appointed because they are afraid to voice their lack of qualifications. If one or more men are being considered for elders, this the best time to get rid of a “bad” elder — before he becomes a “bad” elder.

      Once we appoint a good elder, frequently express appreciation individually and as a group (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13). Paul commands that. We don’t esteem them highly beause we agree with every decision but because they work. Ira North often said, “We put a man in an ice house and cuss him out for not sweating.” Many leaders: elders, deacons, preachers, teachers, and others have been frozen out and discouraged by ignoring them and not letting them know that what they do makes a difference.

      If we select good elders and appreciate good elders, when an elder begins to be ineffective and we have to go and tell him his sin privately, that will be a contrast from the encouragement and gratitude we have expressed over and over since he was appointed. If we haven’t done that, we’ve lost the opportunity. If all we have done is complain when we don’t like anything and never express appreciation for his work, it will be just another complaint.

      That’s the reason for my observation, “The best way to get rid of a “bad” elder is to have many elder appreciation parties.” If the “bad” elder was appointed a “bad” elder before you and many others came to the congregation, I don’t know much you can do about it. If he was a good elder when appointed, and the church failed to express appreciation, they lost the opportunity for the contrast when he started becoming ineffective. The church likes it the way it is and has been for a long time. They like it the way it is more than what it would take to change it.

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