Being an elder in a multi-church district can be a real challenge. In some cases, you may share your pastor with two, three, or more congregations. I’ve heard of pastors in other parts of the world having 27 churches to attend. How often do you guess those churches see their pastors? Strangely enough, many of those cases (where pastors are at churches maybe one or twice a year) see explosive growth!
How is this possible?
In my opinion, in order to be part of a multi-church district and still be a part of a growing and dynamic church, you have to do things differently than usual (or at least different than what you would normally expect in many small churches). I decided to conduct an unscientific survey to a group of pastors from around the North American Division and asked them the following question:
What kind of support do you need from your elders as you minister in your multi-church district?
I looked at the responses, summarized the findings, and compared it to other literature that focuses on growing churches. I shared the results this past weekend in a seminar at the Carolina Conference elders retreat. I believe the principles can be applied to any size church, really.
Overall, the responses were primarily focused around the following three areas:
1. Be A Leader
The italicized responses are summaries of the main responses under this category.
Believe in God’s calling to you and your church.
As an elder, you shouldn’t see yourself as simply “the one who holds the fort down while the pastor is away”. The doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers teaches us that every member has a role to play in the development of a healthy and growing church. Ellen White specifically states that when members attend church, remain minimally involved, and see the salaried minister as the “primary spiritual care-givers” in the congregation, it weakens the entire church!
God has not given His ministers the work of setting the churches right. No sooner is this work done, apparently, than it has to be done over again. Church members that are thus looked after and labored for become religious weaklings. If nine tenths of the effort that has been put forth for those who know the truth had been put forth for those who have never heard the truth, how much greater would have been the advancement made! God has withheld His blessings because His people have not worked in harmony with His directions. 7T 18.2
The greatest help that can be given our people is to teach them to work for God, and to depend on Him, not on the ministers. Let them learn to work as Christ worked. Let them join His army of workers and do faithful service for Him. 7T 19.1
There are times when it is fitting for our ministers to give on the Sabbath, in our churches, short discourses, full of the life and love of Christ. But the church members are not to expect a sermon every Sabbath. 7T 19.2
So, in many ways, your role as an elder is key to train and build up the church! In reality, elders potentially have a greater positive or negative general impact on the long-term health of the church than the pastor.
Be a vision caster, not a vision killer.
In my opinion, one of the traits that holds a church back from reaching its full potential (and one of my personal pet peeves) is the “grasshopper complex” among the leaders in the church (see Numbers 13 for the background of this). It is imperative to understand that your church will only rise as far as your vision for it. If you accept your church only as it is, you will make it worse; however, if you see it and treat it as what you believe it is capable of, you can help it become just that.
Develop yourself and raise up leaders around you.
Although some people may be born with characteristics of good leaders, great leaders are developed over time, not born. Begin by developing your leadership abilities. The best book that I can recommend on this subject is John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. On the importance raising up other leaders, Maxwell cites this as an important law of leadership. Notice his words:
The Law of Empowerment – Only Secure Leaders Give Power to Others
If you want to be successful, you have to be willing to empower others. Theodore Roosevelt once said: “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” When leaders fail to empower others, it is usually due to three main reasons:
A) Desire for Job Security – The number one enemy of empowerment is the fear of losing what we have. Weak leaders worry that if they help subordinates, they themselves will become dispensable. Rather they should realize that if the teams they lead always seem to succeed, people will figure out that they are leading them well.
B) Resistance to Change – Most people don’t like change. As a leader, you must train yourself to embrace change, to desire it, to make a way for it. Effective leaders are not only willing to change; they become change agents.
C) Lack of Self-Worth – Self-conscious people are rarely good leaders. They focus on themselves, worrying how they look, what others think, whether they are liked. They can’t give power to others because they feel that they have no power themselves. The best leaders have a strong self-worth. They believe in themselves, their mission and their people. Strange as it sounds, great leaders gain authority by giving it away. If you aspire to be a great leader, you must live by the Law of Empowerment.
2. Be A Support
Have clear but realistic expectations for your pastor.
Remember, being part of a multi-church district means that if your pastor is not at your church one Sabbath, he isn’t out on the beach; he is at the other church(es). It’s important that you not only understand this, but help your church members to set healthy expectations of the pastor.
One way to head off potential misunderstandings is to share with your pastor what these expectations are. Understand, however, that this is not to be a list of demands. Hopefully, your pastor will share his expectations of you as well, and you can arrive at an agreement where everyone wins. It’s also important to understand that all relationships have cycles:
Have your pastors back.
Understand that your pastor isn’t perfect. He faces the challenge of having to balance the expectations not only from you and your church, but also the other churches, God, his family, the Conference, his conscience, etc. A few actual responses from pastors in this area were the following:
- Genuinely pray for your pastor.
- Understand that your current pastor is not your previous pastor and never will be.
- Love your pastor as you love yourself, accepting his strengths and weaknesses.
- Help your pastor take his day off and respect it.
- Model appreciation for the pastor and his family (e.g. engage in pastor appreciation month).
3. Be A Team Player
Be an active participant in the overseeing and administration of you church.
In one of my churches, my elders and I work together on the preaching calendar for the quarter. In the other, we share overseeing responsibilities in different ways. In one church, we have four elders and have divided the administration of the church this way:
|Deacons & Deaconesses
Taste & See
Each elder serves as an adviser in their respective area. So when a need arises, the leaders know they have someone to turn to in case they need a second opinion. This helps everyone to bear a part of the load so that no one has to carry everything on their own.
Every month at our elders meeting, we discuss any areas of concern and celebrate the things that are going well.
If there are issues to address, address them personally, privately, and promptly.
Part of what makes an effective team is the ability to come together and honestly express views and opinions (even differing ones), while still remaining faithful to the overall mission of the organization. If there is ever a disagreement or a problem between you and your pastor or a fellow elder, your first responsibility and priority is to speak with that individual. One pastor highlighted it this way:
“If there is something you have a problem with, talk to the pastor first. I need to hear exactly what you’re thinking, especially when you disagree with me, behind the closed doors of the elder’s meeting; but when the group makes a decision, support it publicly and privately, even if it didn’t go your way. That’s the no. 1 thing I expect from elders.”
Another pastor gave this helpful piece of advice that applies to most cases where there is disagreement:
“If you haven’t prayed about it, don’t complain, argue, or discuss it.”
At the end of the day, no team is perfect which is why it’s important to practice grace with each other, just as God gives us grace.
JUSTICE is when we get what we deserve.
MERCY is when we don’t get what we deserve.
GRACE is when we get what we don’t deserve.
None of us deserve what God has given us. So it’s important to remember that all of us are servants who minister for a season with the goal of blessing others. With these principles in mind, you can help support your pastor in a multi-church district!
Have any other ideas or suggestions? Leave them below!