A few weeks ago I ran part one of this article designed to explore ways in which evangelists and elders, pastors and preachers might work more harmoniously together in God’s kingdom and in the local church. I continue that theme with this article in the second part. A better relationship is well within the reach of both sets of servants!
Elders and Preachers Share a Scriptural Bond
And when things are bonded together they stay! Stronger than Gorilla Super Glue is the scriptural bond which should be shared by elders and preachers. This is obvious because of the fact that Paul brought the two groups together in Ephesians 4:11-13: “And he gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and some teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Granted that these gifts were of a miraculous nature for the purpose of bringing the church to the point where “that which is perfect” shall come (1 Cor. 13:10), but, let it be noted that these leaders did not shoulder all the work of ministry themselves. Their task was to train the rest of us to do the work of the church.
Other examples include Timothy and Tychicus, evangelistic co-workers who labored with elders at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Tim. 4:12). Timothy was to appoint both elders and deacons (1 Tim. 3:1-13). Naturally, Timothy would find himself in a working relationship with those elders. Paul met with these elders, and poured out his heart to them, at Miletus (Acts 20:17-38). Paul and Timothy wrote to saints at Philippi, along with bishops and deacons (Phil. 1:1). One needs only to read the book of Philippians to see the happy relationship which existed between this pair of evangelists and that fine group of elders!
A significant part of that scriptural bond is the very simple element of communication. Elders must keep the door of communication with the preacher wide open. That simply means that they will treat the preacher as a “team player.” If the elders call a meeting outside of regular meeting times, and the preacher is unable to attend, two things need to happen: First, he should be apprised of the fact that a meeting is planned. Second, he needs to be informed of the content and outcome of the meeting (that is, of course, unless it involves matters of strict confidentiality). The preacher is a spiritual leader working alongside the elders, and he needs to be kept informed of what is going on in the local church.
Conflicts can and will arise in the best of congregations. Churches of Christ embody the best people in the world, but they don’t always act like it. When traumatic situations arise, and they will, preachers and elders must work together! It is in these unsettling times when elders and preachers are team players, pulling together to bind up the wounded local body of Christ!
Elders are in a position of service that is called “a good work” (1 Tim. 3:1). Like preachers, elders are on call 24/7, whether they are retired or not. It has been said that all too often preachers do the work of elders, elders do the work of deacons, deacons have nothing to do and members are too critical of the work done by a few. As far as the relationship between elders and preachers, the Scriptures suggest that evangelists do “the work of an evangelist” (1 Tim. 4:5), and that elders “shepherd the flock of God,” which is among them (1 Pet. 5:2).
Elders Oversee the Work of the Church, the Preacher Included
In 44 years of preaching I have always believed I work for the Lord, and that I work along with elders. Thankfully, I have never been in a position where that conviction has been challenged. Sometimes preachers pontificate, “The elders are not my boss. I work for the Lord! I don’t work for the elders or the church.” The problem is, if you preach full-time, the church pays your salary or support, and the fact is that the elders employ, or un-employ you!
As in any relationship of close human contact, differences of opinion can, and sometimes will, arise. These occasional glitches should not be detrimental to a good working relationship. Loving and mutual respect may even turn these rough spots into helpful stimuli for personal growth. Pray that attitudes amounting to self-righteousness not develop from otherwise friendly skirmishes.
Elders must allow the preacher a wide range of operational freedom. The preacher’s work is that of preaching. No surprise there! His work is not limited to the pulpit only, but is divided into many different channels of human cries for help. It is true that he stands or falls on his persuasive power in the pulpit. The best way for elders to improve his work is to leave him alone!
Elders and the Preacher’s Tenure
Steve Higginbotham wrote, “I know of no single factor that has more to do with the happiness and longevity of a preacher’s work with a congregation than the relationship he sustains with his elders” (Gospel Advocate, June 2012, p. 21). If the “chemistry” is right, elders can do more than anybody to lengthen the tenure of their evangelist. Remaining with a church a long time requires resourcefulness, wisdom, love, diplomacy and patience from elders and the preacher.
They can do much to mellow a young preacher over time and ground him in the long run. It has been my observation, in recent years, that some young men emerge from our universities and preacher training schools with loads of zeal, mixed with a fair degree of arrogance. If elders can encourage the zeal and temper the arrogance, a happy working relationship will be the result.
How Can Elders and Preachers Work Together for Mutual Good?
Perhaps elders would like for the preacher to:
- Pray for them
- Be a team player
- Give them the benefit of any doubt
- Be patient with them
- Support them in matters of judgment
- Learn contentment
I know that a preacher would like for elders to:
- Pray for him and his family.
- Communicate with him regularly.
- Understand that the work of a preacher is preaching.
- Respect and value his work, and give him credit for trying to do the best job that he can possibly do.
- Stand behind him when he must speak out on difficult or controversial matters.
- Ask him how he is doing, and listen.
- Take care of his expenses by sending him to attend programs like Polishing the Pulpit, in Sevierville, Tennessee, and the Freed-Hardeman University lectures. You will be glad you did. by Dennis Gulledge