This article was published in the March 2019 Inspire newsletter for pastors by one of our own network leaders.
I am not yet the grizzled veteran that I hope to become, but I have been around the block a few times. Forty-one years serving a single congregation gives me some practical insight into ministry. So let me tug on my suspenders and offer a couple lessons that I have learned along the way.
Lesson One: Your elders can be your ministry lifeline. When I arrived at my present church we had a dysfunctional Official Board system. The only thing good about it, was that it was so bad everyone knew we needed to find something better. We set out to design and then implement an Elder Board system. God was gracious…
It was plenty of work, and we made some mistakes, but this task set the shape of our ministry for the next four decades. I would not still be serving this congregation as pastor without an exceptional elder board. The encouragement, correction, backup, ministry sharing, and camaraderie they have provided have enabled me to do the job I was invited to do.
Do whatever it takes to establish a healthy elder system in your ministry. Most of our congregations now recognize elders, but not all have true and tested elders. You will do yourself a big favor by cultivating this part of the work. A spiritual group of elders provides an arena for discussion, confession, correction, and protection. Somewhere along the line we began to share breakfast together every Thursday morning. I would give up our building before I would give up that weekly support group.
And please, never lower the standards for elders. The scriptures have a very clear profile for the men who do this critical work. Don’t cheat to try to quickly build a system. Stay as small as you have to until qualified elders can be identified. It is very hard to get rid of a bad elder. An unspiritual Elder Board will quickly destroy a ministry.
Lesson Two: Never sacrifice your family. This is actually a companion to the first lesson. A man’s performance as a husband and father affirms or disqualifies his ministry in the church. A godly family is a shining jewel on your ministry, not a hindrance to it. So do what you have to do to meet the needs of your wife and children. Never let them be pushed aside by the pressures of ministry.
I have been blessed to serve a congregation that has cheered me on in this task. At times, I have chosen to skip church meetings to attend my children’s recitals and sporting events. At this stage I am thankful for my adult children and dangerously proud of my grandchildren. Although they live in other cities and serve other congregations, their spiritual maturity adds authority to my continuing ministry here. I love to have my family come back to worship with us, and the congregation loves seeing and meeting them.
These two resources have helped me stand through good and bad times. When someone is giving me grief I will often say, “Why don’t you go take this up with one of the elders and see if he can help us out?” The varied gifting among our elders qualifies them to deal skillfully with almost any problem that arises. In another tense situation I can say, “Would you like to call my son and see what he will have to say about me?” My daughter is an equal resource with a different kind of person. Ultimately we answer to Jesus, but it is great to have a supportive team around us. You are working smart when you work on it.
Pastor, Grace Brethren Church, South Pasadena, Calif.
Inspire Board Member & Grace Churches Network Board Member