Four Ways to Love Your Lay Elders
I’m a member of a church that is fortunate to have five elders who shepherd, teach, and oversee our congregation. All five pastors work full-time jobs which enable them to provide for their families. Since we are currently in a transition period to hire a staff pastor, they take on all the pastoral tasks. These five men counsel our members, fill the pulpit, and make tough decisions—all while working 40 to 50 hours a week in their jobs.
Here are four ways to care for lay pastors who go the extra mile for their flocks.
1. Provide an honorarium for lay elders who labor in preaching.
Throughout the year, the senior pastor will need time to rest. Typically, a lay elder will fill the pulpit when the senior pastor takes a Sunday off. For this to happen, lay pastors make sacrifices to ensure their congregation will have a message from the Word of God on Sunday. Sermon prep takes time, which may temporarily take them away from family and other weekly commitments.
Paul tells Timothy: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). Paul has in mind that more than one elder may be considered worthy of financial compensation (“those who labor in preaching and teaching”—plural).
Must this compensation come as a full-time salary position? Not necessarily. There is wisdom here to allow lay pastors to receive some form of payment for their labor. If your lay pastors do not currently receive an honorarium for preaching, consider figuring that into next year’s budget. The church should seek to be generous to those who preach the Word. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
2. Show hospitality to lay elders and their families.
Lay elders don’t shepherd their flock for reward and recognition. After all, a lot of their work goes unnoticed, like early-morning meetings to care for the soul needs of church members. Late night elders’ meetings may seem like fraternal gatherings, but these men are exhausting themselves to care for the souls for which they will give an account (Heb. 13:17).
The best way to provide refreshment for your elders and their families is by inviting them into your home for dinner or offering to bring them a meal during the week. We ought to carry out the one anothers toward them like 1 Peter 4:10 instructs us, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”
3. Treat your lay elders with grace and charity.
While some needs may be urgent, we must remind ourselves that lay pastors have regular day jobs. Sometimes they are swamped with projects that have pressing deadlines. They may face disappointment because of a difficult co-worker, and sometimes they just need a peaceful evening with their family.
The needs of the congregation are important, but we must remember to treat those who watch over us with grace and charity. To expect that they should be at our every beck and call is unfair. One of the qualifications of an elder is to “manage their household well” (1 Tim. 3:4). We must allow these men the freedom to care for their family first.
As church members, we should be empowered and equipped for ministry, too. The next time a need arises, remember that Jesus is there to shepherd your heart, and other members are capable of coming alongside you to offer biblical counsel. This helps us to not be dependent on our elders as if they’re the only ones who can do the work of ministry.
4. Trust your lay elders.
Much like the senior pastor, the lay elders shoulder the brunt of a church’s difficulties. It’s comparably easier to submit to the pastor who fills the pulpit 80% of the year. You know him, or at least feel like you do. You hear him talk and explain various decisions and processes. But lay pastors usually aren’t front-and-center. You likely don’t know them as well. You haven’t heard them teach or explain things as often. But that shouldn’t matter. They’re still men whom God has placed over you to care for you. So allow them to be watchful over your soul and to gently offer corrective counsel in your life. They care for you and can bring just as much wisdom to the table as other pastors.
Sadly, our church has recently had to lean on our lay elders more than ever before after we had to discipline one of our pastors. When his sin was discovered, our lay elders were quick to tell the congregation, and this pastor was removed the following week. During this time, our lay elders prayed, counseled, and shepherded the members of our church for hours upon hours each day. They took phone calls. They read and responded to concerns via email. They led our church through a terrible situation.
Simply put, our congregation could move forward because of the faithful leadership of our lay elders. This is one of the many reasons a church should adopt a plurality of elders. We continued our gospel ministry because we had five qualified men to lead when one of them fell. Brothers and sisters, appoint godly, qualified men to shepherd you. Trust them over the years. If you do, your church will be stronger for it.