How to Have a Well-Run Elders’ Meeting
COVID-19 changed the way businesses operate. Instead of fighting traffic, sitting in a cubicle, and discussing politics around the water cooler, a growing number of employees push away their Cheerios bowl, pull out their laptop, and work from home. This change comes with risks like lower morale and increased loneliness. However, few object to fewer meetings; boardrooms are seen as spaces where productivity goes to die.
Even as leadership teams in the business world meet less and less, I see the value of church elders regularly being in the same room as they think and pray about their church. In fact, besides the gatherings of our whole church, the most important meeting I attend is our bi-weekly elders’ meeting. Every other Thursday night, we convene to pray for church members, discuss urgent shepherding matters, and oversee the affairs of the congregation.
What can we do to make these meetings excellent? The Bible offers no specific guidance on how to have a well-run elders’ meeting. However, here are ten encouragements—some principled, some pragmatic—that may be helpful as you start or tweak the elders’ meetings at your church.
Do remember: every church is different. An elders’ meeting with three elders will probably be a lot less formal than one with thirty! The church I serve is about in the middle. Whatever the size of your church or elder body, I pray these encouragements help you to organize meetings brothers love to attend.
1. Start with godly elders.
This is the most important ingredient in a well-run elders’ meeting. Brothers who love the Lord, put the interests of others first, care for the flock, and long to be an encouragement—such men are a delight to bring together and make meetings a joy.
2. Select an organized leader.
Give someone the responsibility to set the agenda, send it out in advance, convene the meeting, and steward the conversation. By “steward the conversation,” I mean soliciting input from elders where necessary, limiting discussion when it begins to drag, and even bringing the deliberations to an end by tabling discussion or calling for a vote. An organized leader is a unique blessing to an elder body.
3. Encourage thoughtful, robust, respectful conversation.
An elder who talks too much is a tax on the others. A brother who talks too little underestimates the importance of his contribution. Worst of all is an elder ill-prepared to engage the topic at hand. Good meetings are not just about accomplishing tasks but sharing wisdom—hearing from brothers raised up by the Spirit to shepherd the flock.
4. Make space for organized and organic prayer.
The well-being of the church rests in the hands of our sovereign God. We should implore him to bless the members and ministries of the church. Plan ahead to pray for select members and items (organized prayer). Be willing to interrupt an elders’ meeting to plead with God to intervene in a difficult situation (organic prayer). It’s unlikely you will ever pray too much. However, short petitions are not ungodly, and a wise elder knows how to keep his prayer brief (see Eccl. 5:1-3; Matt. 6:5).
5. Open the Bible often.
Answers to problems can’t always be proof-texted. But sometimes they can! And even when they can’t, there are certainly biblical implications we can consider. Therefore, elders should regularly ask, “Does the Bible have anything to say about what we’re discussing?” God is the Lord of his church, not the elders. We look to his Word for guidance.
6. Stay focused on spiritual matters.
Labor to prioritize issues that require the input of the men entrusted with the ministry of the Word. If the question-at-hand can be resolved by a deacon, it probably shouldn’t be discussed at the elders’ meeting. Hit a pinata, and you expect Tootsie Rolls and Smarties to cascade onto the ground. Hit an elders’ meeting, and discussions of discipleship, soul care, theology, and future leaders should burst forth.
7. Create a healthy dynamic between staff-elders and lay-elders.
Lay elders should respect the staff elders who have devoted themselves full-time to shepherding the local church. They surely take a significant weight off the shoulders of the elder body by organizing church ministries. It is wise for lay elders to give plenty of room for staff elders to make certain decisions without needing to run them by the entire board. Likewise, staff elders should respect the lay elders, who have equal authority and voices that need to be heard. Staff elders should lean into the wisdom of the lay elders when the elder body is gathered. Generally speaking, staff elders should be slower to speak, recognizing their voices often carry considerable weight.
8. Allow meetings to be brief.
A well-run elders’ meeting need not be extraordinarily long. Ours last from 7–9:30 p.m., and our chair works hard to end the meeting on time. This is never easy, and it is only a rule-of-thumb—sometimes pressing matters require we extend the time. However, if all the elders know when we plan to finish, they tend to speak only when necessary and be succinct when they do.
9. Keep substantial conversations to a minimum.
We handle “shepherding matters” and “business” at each elders’ meeting. Shepherding matters and prayer typically take more than an hour, leaving about an hour for other business—new elder nominations, mission opportunities, the church budget, etc. To accommodate this schedule, we try to limit business to two or three topics at most. If we need an extended period of time for a particular conversation, we’ll either spread it out among several gatherings, save it for an elders’ retreat, or hold off until we can have an elders’ meeting with that topic as the only agenda item.
10. Utilize elder sub-teams.
Even if our elders’ meetings went to 2 a.m., we still wouldn’t have the hours we need to get into the weeds as much as we should. Therefore, our chair regularly puts together small groups of elders to deliberate in separate meetings throughout the month before bringing a recommendation to the body as a whole. These groups may discuss prospective missionaries, the upcoming budget, revisions to our statement of faith, and diaconal ministry. They do not replace the elder body as a whole, but their labors grease the wheels for our deliberations and help our meetings run smoothly.
There is no silver-bullet to a well-run elders’ meeting. Still, this whole list has served our church well as we’ve operated with elders for over a dozen years. And I can’t emphasize enough the importance of godly elders and an organized leader. We are a work in progress, but our meetings are a joy because the work is good and the Christ we serve is glorious.
Pastors Talk, Ep. 158: On Chairing an Elders Meeting with Isaac Adams & Ken Barbic