I guess I am in the situation which my friend Jim Faughn described, when he said, “As a preacher, I had been as close to being an elder as one could possibly be for all those years without actually being one” (Gospel Advocate, August 2008, p. 21). A preacher assumes a leadership role, but elders shepherd the flock (him included)! The preacher and each of the elders (as well as the entire congregational membership) is under the oversight of the eldership.
My thoughts in this article are about elders and evangelists; pastors and preachers. They share more in common than terms beginning with the same letter of the alphabet. While the church is a universal body, each congregation has a personality, that is, each church is different in certain non-descript ways. The “personality” of a congregation is attributable in large measure to the eldership, and to some extent even the preacher. Happy is that preacher-elder bond that shares a cohesive chemistry.
It is a foregone conclusion that the relationship between preachers and elders should be sound, sensible and spiritual. It can and should be a vital element in church growth and congregational unity. The relationship between a preacher and the elders can and will give the church a black eye if it degenerates in a negative direction. No sooner does it go south than people realize, “Houston, we have a problem!” A division usually follows, and true to form some will side with the elders, and some will side with the preacher. Pray it doesn’t deteriorate into what Ira North described in his book, Balance: A Tried & Tested Formula for Church Growth: “Somehow we have never been able to get across to the average congregation the tragedy of division. In the early years of my ministry I believed that it would take 50 years to get over a first class church fuss. In my latter years, I have changed my mind. I am not sure a congregation ever really gets over a tragic fuss and split. The animosity is passed from generation to generation, and it is like the bird with the broken wing, it never soars as high again” (p. 59).
A positive relationship is 100% conditioned upon both the eldership and preacher doing what is right in every aspect of their respective works. Elders may not pursue a proper course and thus contribute to the conflict. The word “elder” is not synonymous with infallibility. They reserve the right to be wrong in matters of human judgment. Conscientious elders want to be appreciated for their humanness, and, as under shepherds to the Chief Shepherd Jesus Christ, they are constantly praying for wisdom and always trying to do their best!
A preacher may be the problem and pride may not allow him to see it. If I, as a preacher, am in conflict with those who are supposed to be the most mature men in the congregation, I need to take a closer look at myself! No amount of knowledge and youthful exuberance, padded by a hefty reserve of arrogance, which I might have picked up in college, university or preacher school training, should ever be allowed to override common sense and humility. In such cases I have known some preachers to be their own worst enemy, when they show zero tolerance in areas of opinion, and try to rule the elders with their ideas of the way they think things ought to be. It’s “their way or the highway,” and usually it’s the highway for the preacher after about six months. They typically exit under the pretense that the elders are weak and the member cannot handle sound doctrine. And that is not to say that sometimes problems are encountered when skeletons come out of the closet, and the matter or matters of dispute go unresolved. The real test of unity (Eph. 4:3) will come with issues that I as a Christian, and secondly as a preacher, feel strongly about, and I may not have practiced it until I am tested in that arena.
Both preachers and elders could conceivably contribute to strife and feel the other should pursue corrective measures, if, in fact, the breach can be repaired at all. In either case there needs to be a good dose of “second mile” religion, lots of love, and a generous application of the Golden Rule (Matt. 5:41; 7:12).
Mutual helpfulness is the desired plan of action. Elders should be of the spirit of Aaron & Hur (Exo. 17:12) toward the preacher, and hold up his hands, (support him) as long as his teaching is scripturally sound and his life is Christ-like. Preachers need to likewise hold up the elder’s hands as long as they adorn the doctrine of Christ in word and life. We share together. We serve together. We succeed (or fail) together. The center of a preacher’s emotional gravity is in a right relationship with his elders. A preacher’s spiritual growth is also somewhat at the mercy of these men!
by Dennis Gulledge