In my last post, we talked about the first two check engine lights that will help your elders build a healthier culture, and in turn model a healthy culture for your church.
First, we looked at the Agreement Cylinder. Elders must be men who agree primarily on their devotion to Jesus through clarity on the gospel, but also on a deeper doctrinal level. Elders need not agree on everything, but they do need to be unified on essential doctrines. The church is a theological entity and therefore theological men united upon theological agreement must lead it.
Second, we looked at the Trust Cylinder. I pointed out that elders must trust each other through integrity and humility. This humility, purchased over time through men who suspect themselves and not others, becomes a rich oil that lubricates the relationships and powers the Trust Cylinder to help push the engine of plurality towards team ministry.
Now we turn to the other two cylinders: Care and Fit.
The Care Cylinder
(Indicator: Do we care for each other?)
By now you are probably beginning to see how each cylinder is connected to the others. How can a man be cared for by those he neither trusts nor seems to agree? The notion is unrealistic, and probably a little naïve. According to Jesus, it’s our love for one another, not our productivity and performance, that is supposed to mark our distinction (John 13:34-35). When elders love one another, the channels of care open wide and shepherds enjoys the blessings of being shepherded.
God loves elders and he wants their souls to be nurtured and tended. So he supplies sufficient grace to convert pluralities into teams. When a team identity begins to form, the care of each member becomes even more important.
In a world where almost anything can be professionalized and outsourced, it’s easy for pastors to farm out their care by finding the primary help for their soul outside of the eldership, sometimes even outside of the church. This is not a subtle attack on counseling, coaching, or para-church ministries. I serve on a para-church board and have benefitted from both counseling and coaching from outside of our pastoral team. But those services must always supplement the care from the local church, never replace it.
Lead pastors, think about this: One of the quickest ways to undermine the health of a plurality is by informing them, through your words or actions, that they are incompetent to care for the complexities of your position or your soul. The role you occupy does not come with a special “get-out-of-local-church-care-free” card to be slapped on the plurality table when ministry gets particularly difficult. Build your primary network of care from within and then enjoy the delight that comes from a “neighbor who is near” (Prov. 27:10b).
A wise elder understands this principle. We can’t preach the principle that people should receive care through their local church pastors, then exempt ourselves from the same kind of care. As I said earlier, as elders go, so goes the church. When applied to care, this means the manner in which pastors receive care is the very method and model they reinforce for the church.
This cylinder is powered by a culture of care. The culture comes as each elder commits himself to providing care for others. Note that I used the word “providing.” There’s a growing trend, particularly among younger leaders, to see care as primarily something I need rather than something I give. This means it’s defined more as personal need to be met in me rather than a ministry of love provided by me. In my travels I’m constantly bumping into elders starving for soul care; searching the world to scratch the itch without ever seeing or developing the potential within their own plurality.
Lead pastors, listen up.
Care is not first something that elders get, it’s something they give. Care is not typically a culture you inherit; it’s one you must build. A lead pastor can’t assume a culture of care nor simply wish hopefully for it to appear—it must be constructed. This culture develops as the lead pastor begins to “care for others the way he would want to be cared for by others” (adapted application of Luke 6:31).
Lead pastors, it starts with you. This doesn’t mean you need to do it all. You just need to accept the responsibility to help build the culture to ensure it gets done.
Elders, here are some questions that may help you assess how well your care cylinder is functioning:
• Is it clear to each of us that our state of soul matters to each other as much as (or more than!) our performance? (John 13:34-35)
• Are our conversations more likely to be filled with encouragement or critique? (Eph. 4:29)
• Can we point out specific times (not merely once) where we talk about our lives, families, struggles and/or temptations (something apart from ministry!)? (James 5:16)
• Does my feedback on your performance include encouragement? (1 Thess. 5:11)
• Does someone on this team know the temptations to which I am vulnerable? (Gal. 6:2)
• Would my wife feel free to call you if I was tanking? Why or why not?
The Fit Cylinder
(Indicator: Do we enjoy being with each other and know where we fit?)
A team that enjoys one another, unites around theological convictions, and models genuine love towards each other enjoys the fruit of trust, agreement, and care working together in harmony. But there’s one more thing. In fact this final cylinder is often overlooked, yet possesses the potential to shut down the other three when they are not operating together.
Elders need to know they fit. Tensions arise when a man desires a role to which he is not suited. A pastoral candidate whose personality does not mesh well with the team may dramatically shift the culture of the plurality and, indirectly, the entire church. ‘Fit’ is perhaps the most complicated cylinder to assess, but perhaps these categories and questions will supply a way to measure it.
Endowment. This idea remembers that as created beings, we are hardwired with certain strengths, talents, and proclivities. These are endowed by God. By following the path of endowment, we find the kinds of roles and service, and even people, with whom we best fit. The path leads us into vineyards where we will find the largest fruit from our labors.
Some questions to evaluate endowment are:
• Though each elder is distinct, does my personality appear to mesh with these men?
• Are we able to work together in ways that deepen our relationships rather than strain them?
• Does our time together (or with a potential elder) incite greater joy and creativity in my role or frustration and discouragement?
• How well do we understand the gifts God has given each of us and how well are our responsibilities aligned with those gifts? (Rom. 12:6)
Next comes Expectations. Healthy pluralities spring from defined roles and clarity on the hopes and expectations of the role. Questions to ask could include:
• Do I know my role and what is expected of me? (Acts 6:1-7)
• Do I have a written job description?
• Do I know to whom I report?
• Is my commitment to serve the church thorough enough to support a change of roles? (Mark 10:45)
This cylinder’s operation requires that we dispense with the faux-spirituality that resists defining our hopes for a role or ministry. We must always define faith in a way that encourages us to be open, clear and bold with our expectations. As servants of Christ committed to the best for his church, we realize that sometimes our expectations or roles need to change to best serve the church. Maturity matters. This important principle is as old as the New Testament church.
In Acts 6, each widow had the daily attention of the apostles. It was a beautiful, organic, relational picture of a wonderful phase of the Jerusalem church. But growth happened and the organism had to organize. This meant the apostle’s roles needed to change. The delivery of care to the widows would now come through different hands as the apostles needed to give their attention to more strategic service, namely, “prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).
Each day the apostles served in a particular, perhaps predictable way. They were among the people serving those with desperate needs. The expectations were clear. But growth happened and their roles and expectations had to change. Sometimes it is for the better where we move on to things we enjoy more. Other times it is service, where we empty ourselves and take the lower seat (Phil. 2:5-11; Luke 14:10). For the Jerusalem church, the result was even greater fruit as “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
The point? Finding the fit and defining the expectations led to a healthier church and a people more satisfied in their service. Organizational discipline and adaptation becomes important for any church moving on toward health.
Last comes Evaluation. To arrive at different roles, the leaders of the church had to engage in some touchy, seemingly dispassionate examination. Should the roles of those serving the widows be changed? This question was dangerous—widows were among the most vulnerable people in the land. God himself joins the discussion when the care of widows is being evaluated (Ps. 68:5; Jer. 49:11; James 1:27). Nevertheless, these leaders engaged in a difficult assessment of their roles, their daily to-do lists, their responsibilities, and their gifts. From this Spirit-led evaluation came fruit and growth.
When one reads the requirements for elders or deacons, it’s clear that ‘evaluation’ is a doorway to ministry. When Paul tells Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching” (1 Tim. 4:16), it’s clear that evaluation doesn’t end at the front door.
Here are some questions that will help elderships inspect the place evaluation presently plays within their culture:
• Have we clearly defined how we will evaluate one another and what determines success?
• Am I aware of the specific and regular contexts where we will evaluate our fruitfulness as a team?
• Have we clarified the process by which I can share concerns about how I am being handled or assessed? (Titus 1:3-9)
Inspections and Progress
Central to all of this is the gospel with its God-preeminent, church-sacrificing, flesh-killing claims. A healthy elder team won’t happen overnight. You won’t walk into the perfect situation, and you won’t luck into it. It’ll take hard work and dedication. Pride will be crucified, fears pushed down and promises pulled forward. But in the end the fruit is sweet. The gospel works gloriously in your team and into the hearts of your congregation.
In the state where I grew up, cars had to be inspected once a year. Sure, it was a hassle, but through the inspection you often learned about parts that needed attention or replacement. As a new driver, you learned that inspections help maintain the car, keep you safe, and keep the car moving forward.
We should build (and join) an eldership with the same expectation. Starting with these four cylinders (agreement, trust, care, fit) should help. Inspect them immediately, inspect them regularly. Remember, finding a problem is not an indictment on the leadership or the quality of the church. Where there are pluralities, there are problems. The wise team is the one who minimizes these problems through regular inspections. It keeps the four cylinders running smoothly and powers the engine of plurality in the direction of team ministry.
(This post was originally posted on the Sojourn Network).