On Being Elders

Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to walk with many elder groups as they have reflected on their roles and work. In nearly every situation – no matter the size or location of the church – elders feel overworked and overwhelmed with the tasks at hand and the dilemma of serving well. In recent months, while helping a church prepare for “onboarding” a new group of shepherds, many of the things that I have been learning from and with elders began to converge. Let me share some of that with you.

In seeking to find the essence of what it means to be an elder for a local congregation, it is helpful to focus on three things – being, doing and process – framed in the three questions I explore below.

Who are we? One challenge for elders comes with the rush to be faithful and responsible for congregational life. In that rush, elders and church leaders can neglect or avoid a fundamental reality: before anyone becomes an elder, they are a disciple of Jesus Christ. Being a disciple, a humble follower, does not go away when one is identified as a shepherd. Rather, discipleship takes on a deeper and more profound reality for those called shepherds. David Benner says it well of leaders: “The single most important lesson for the leader to learn is that he/she is first a sheep and not a shepherd; first a child and not a father or mother; first an imitator, not a model.”

What do we do? If leaders understand discipleship as their foundational identity, then it begins to shape the practice of leadership. What we do grows out of who we are. As persons committed to following Jesus, the practices of leadership needed in congregations and communities fall into three broad activities. First, leaders are persons who pay attention to what God is doing. Often language about vision and mission emerge in discussions about leadership – and rightfully so. Such conversation requires persons who have the capacity to read and reflect on Scripture, culture and contexts. Such persons pray and listen for God’s voice because the church needs persons who are paying attention to the True Leader. Second, leaders are persons who care for and nurture others. The word shepherd is apt – shepherds make sure their flocks are fed a healthy diet, and they provide care so sheep mature well. Third, leaders are persons who provide oversight and monitoring to make sure the community is moving toward God’s mission. Let’s be clear here. I’m not talking about “making decisions” – though often there are decisions to be made. What I am saying is that leaders are paying attention to God’s agenda and are ensuring that initiatives adequately serve that mission.

How do we do it? Shared leadership is not easy. However, the wisdom of communal leadership, rooted in the witness of Scripture, demonstrates its value as leaders with differing gifts come together to discern God’s work and to share the burden of that work. Determining how to do the work is a deeply contextual thing. There are healthy models in play (see this collection of governance models), and those of us at the Siburt Institute are happy to serve as guides – don’t hesitate to reach out to us. But we encourage you to work toward a process of shared leadership that allows elders to do what no else can do and allows ministers to do what they are best equipped to do. The principle plays out well in the early church when the apostles claimed, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables” (Acts 6:2, NRSV). Pursue ways of working together that allow for leaders to pay attention to God, pastor and care for people, and provide necessary monitoring for the sake of mission.

May God bless you – first and foremost as disciples and then in your practices of leadership!

Carson

NEWS

Save the date: Summer Seminar with Randy Harris, Aug. 3-4

Join Randy Harris, ACU Bible instructor and spiritual director for the College of Biblical Studies and the Siburt Institute, for this year’s Summer Seminar, Aug. 3-4. Harris will examine the challenging topic, “The Gospel and Culture: What’s a Christian to Do?” and will provide thoughtful ways to approach life and society as a Christ follower in our rapidly changing contemporary context.

The seminar will take place in ACU’s Hunter Welcome Center from 1:30 p.m., Aug. 3, to noon, Aug. 4. The cost of the seminar is $60, which covers meals, snacks and handout materials. Registration opens April 1. Visit our website between April 1 and July 26 to sign up.

Registration is open for ElderLink Midwest 2018


Join us next month for ElderLink Midwest, April 20-21. We have a great lineup of breakout speakers: (from left) Jon Mullican, Dr. Carson Reed, Judy Siburt and Dr. David Wray. Our breakout sessions allow for more interaction and discussion on a focused topic in a small-group setting. Topics include church culture, eldering 101, church leader spouses and soul-care for spiritual leaders.

Visit our registration and event page to learn more and to take advantage of the early bird discount.

Learning to Dream

What is the difference between envying and dreaming? Whether comparing one’s church or leadership gifts with someone else’s – or with an unattainable ideal that cannot exist – it can be tempting to cross over from dreaming and vision-casting into envy, which robs our joy. Daniel McGraw, senior minister at the West University Church of Christ in Houston, explores the distinction and suggests specific practices for leaning into the healthy side of dreaming.

Join the conversation by commenting on McGraw’s “Learning to Dream” CHARIS post, then read his new three-part series, “Without Vision, Ministry Perishes.”

Final call for 2018 Ministers’ Salary Survey participants

The deadline to take the 2018 Ministers’ Salary Survey has been extended to April 2! Ministers within the Churches of Christ are invited to complete the survey. Results will be published on our website by May 1.

Summit attendees encouraged to read Jacobs’ How to Think

Summit attendees are invited to join the staff and faculty of ACU in reading a book selected by the Summit team to prepare for this year’s event. The team chose Alan Jacobs’ How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. Jacobs wrote the book as he struggled to connect the people he loved with the beliefs he held. On every side of the political spectrum, in religion and in academia, people are torn apart by the beliefs that identify them. Jacobs believes that these differences divide us because we do not approach each other correctly.

Jacobs describes positive modes of thought that allow us to communicate effectively and love each other through our differences. Key themes include the dangers of thinking against others, the need to find the best people to think with, the error of believing that we can think for ourselves, the conflict between thinking and belonging and the dangers of words that do our thinking for us.

Jacobs is a distinguished professor of humanities in the Honors Program of Baylor University, and taught for many years at Wheaton College in Illinois. He has written five other books and frequently writes for different magazines.

Jacobs will speak on campus several times in September and will present at Summit at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 17, in Cullen Auditorium. Don’t miss this opportunity to find new ways to think together at Summit 2018: Wholeness in a Broken World.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS

THOUGHTS TO PONDER

A vital part of the legacy of the late Dr. Charles Siburt, for whom the Siburt Institute is named, are his “Charlie-isms” – sayings he liked to repeat. Some are original to him, while others are adaptations of others’ brilliance, insight and wit in the sometimes bewildering world of church ministry. From time to time, we revisit our supply of Siburt’s sayings and share them with you. Here are several of his popular “Charlie-isms”:

  • “Anything that is mentionable is manageable. It’s the stuff we won’t talk about that gets us.”

  • “Telling people the truth is part of loving them.”

  • “You have a choice: you can manage the problem or you can be managed by the problem.”

  • “The greatest point of leverage you have in ministry is to become a healthier self.”

  • “There is no way to modulate the human voice so as to make whining an acceptable sound.”