Things I’ve Seen and Heard — When Pastors Gather
When the leadership of your church gathers, what typically happens? If your church is like most, coffee is secured along with a comfortable chair, a couple of announcements are issued by the chairman of the meeting and then he asks Brother Blogs to “open us up in prayer.” Brother Blogs dutifully responds by asking God (in all sincerity) to “lead, guide and direct us.” He finishes in under a minute. The word “Amen” at the end of the prayer functions as a starting gun for the business to begin – the reason the leaders have gathered. Finances are then carefully reviewed along with building projects, usher assignments, and (if your church is really on the ball) hospital visitation will be discussed. The meeting is finally closed in prayer thanking God for “His presence.”
Does all of this really do justice to the great call of shepherding Christ’s church? When we spend our time discussing (even effectively) such a narrow scope of issues, does that really cover the depth and breadth of the issues modern churches truly face? Does the lack of intimate relationships among leaders and knowledge of each other’s lives really capture the Biblical idea of unity? Is the spiritual health of an individual or the entire congregation ever discussed? Do you think this is how the Apostle Paul would have instructed young Timothy to watch over his flock?
We know from 1 Timothy 4 and 5 that Paul was concerned particularly for the role of leaders in a church and so instructed Timothy on the public reading of scripture as well as preaching and teaching. More personally he told Timothy to “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16). Of other leaders in that church he said this: “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.”
Surely you must agree, biblically speaking, that being a leader in a church is far more than “counting numbers and noses.” Whether you call your church leadership by the name of elders, deacons, or church council, the role of church leader according to scripture is a great calling that bears great burdens. Consider just three New Testament references:
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Acts 20:28
“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” James 3:1
“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.” Hebrews 13:17
The implications are staggering. Consider these questions from the verses listed above:
- Do you keep watch over yourself? How is your “life and doctrine”?
- Do you keep watch over the flock you are charged to shepherd? How are the lives and doctrine of your people?
- Are you shepherding the church of God or the finances of the church? Are you shepherding the church of God or your own career?
- Have you wrongly presumed to be a teacher? Are you prepared for the stricter judgment Scripture promises for teachers?
- Are you ready to stand before God and give an account for the lives of each person you’ve been charged to shepherd?
When the leadership of your church gathers, consider changing the tone of your meetings from tasks to relationships, from business to shepherding. Consider trying the following:
- Take time to go around the table and ask each individual about his life. How’s your time with the Lord? How’s your family? How’s work? How are your discipleship relationships going? How can we pray for you? You can learn a lot about a man’s life, doctrine, and present trials in a brief period of time by asking these kinds of questions. Also, this practice breeds compassion, love, empathy, and respect. When the meeting begins then you are no longer strangers brought together only by your affiliation in membership to a particular church.
- Pray for each other – right there in the meeting! Have the person sitting to the right of the one who just spoke about his life pray for him – immediately! This breeds humility as we recognize our weaknesses publicly and turn to God as our only help. You have to admit that you can’t have too much humility in a church leaders meeting!
- Pray for your flock, those you’ve been called to shepherd. At my church we have about 350 members. We maintain an updated membership directory where each person’s name, address and picture are listed. This directory doesn’t merely function as a telephone directory, but itemizes person by person those who we as leaders are called to shepherd, names (people) for whom we will one day “give an account.” My church’s six elders gather every two to three weeks and spend about 30 minutes in conversation and prayer for each other and about 60 to 90 minutes in prayer for the membership. Not all, but many of the members are prayed over. We’re commanded to do this for the flock’s sake. But it serves as a wonderful, subtle reminder that the “business” we are about to discuss is for the benefit of this flock, and God is glorified as we rightly show our dependence on him.
- Consider issuing a week in advance a packet of information to all those individuals who will participate in a leaders meeting. In it you could include the previous meeting’s minutes, an agenda for the upcoming meeting, and brief memos on topics to be discussed. This advance packet will save meeting time as each member is briefed going into the meeting; this will allow for more time to pray. The packet will allow members to be prayerful and careful as they approach a meeting. I say “careful” because I’ve seen too often how a meeting participant can be caught off guard by an agenda item and not properly prepare his heart for what to him may be a difficult issue. Finally, the packet allows leaders who are not in the employ of the church to be informed about the issues that staff leaders deal with on a daily basis, thereby allowing them to be a significant part of the decision-making process. This avoids seconding decision-making to only those who are paid by the church.
I have been encouraged by my own experience in witnessing first-hand the ideas listed above. As each leader understands and owns his responsibility before God, a seriousness and carefulness pervades the entire body. I’ve seen where the need to be political is virtually absent as each leader grows to trust all the others at the table, thereby eliminating the need to “work the phones” and “line up support” for his side. I’ve seen the flock respond with trust as the leadership models godliness, confidence in the scriptures, and humility before God and the congregation.
I recently saw a display at the American History Museum in Washington, DC where the United States presidency was described as “A Glorious Burden.” To me it seemed even a more appropriate description for the faithful undershepherds of God’s people, the ones Scripture calls pastor, elder, bishop and overseer.