Training officers (i.e. elders and deacons) is one of the most important things that pastors can do for the well-being of the local church. Keeping up healthy personal and spiritual relationships between officers is an equally important–yet often neglected–aspect of ministry. Too often, relationships between the pastor(s) and elders–as well as between the elders and deacons–denigrates into one of ministerial labors to the exclusion of spiritual relationship. Recently, in a discussion about inter-officer relations, a group of PCA pastors, with whom I meet regularly, shared the following advice about how each of us approach the need to foster spiritual relations and friendships among the various officers of our churches.
One of the first challenges pastors face with regard to fostering relations, in a non-professional way, is the realization that there are four different spheres in which these relations occur. There is the 1) session/pastor relationship, the 2) session/diaconate relationship, the 3) session/congregation relationship and the 4) pastor/congregation relationship. More often than not, ministers focus on keeping healthy, spiritual relations–to the best of their ability–within the fourth sphere (i.e. pastor/congregation relations) to the inadvertent neglect of the first three. So what can pastors do to help foster healthy, spiritual relations between themselves and the officers of the local church which they serve? Here is some of the combined wisdom from the ministers with whom I meet:
- Invite potential future elders and deacons to a Saturday morning breakfast. Have a breakfast and fellowship together prior to reading a book or working through some training material together. Build into the relationships the importance of friendship and spiritual relations prior to men become elders or deacons. If you set out with a spiritual brotherhood approach, it will be easier to keep it up or return to it when it starts to decline.
- Plan elder and deacon retreats yearly, if not bi-yearly. Make sure that you do fun things together, as well as having times of devotions and prayer. Our session goes to a farmhouse about two hours away at least once a year. We hunt, fish, eat good food, watch movies, etc while we are there. This is a way for us to spend time together unwinding, even as we plan and seek to help one another carry the burdens of ministry.
- Read a book together and discuss it during part of the session meeting. Working through theologically sound and spiritually rich books is one of the best ways to encourage spiritual–rather than merely ministerial–relations with other officers. Our session is currently working through a the section of Samuel Miller’s Thoughts on Public Prayer on “Frequent Faults in Public Prayers,” as well as various chapters in John Piper’s Brother’s We Are Not Professionals. There are many, many other books that officers can work through in order to grow spiritually and build relationships. Additionally, sharing articles and blog posts on spiritual growth and ministerial development can be very beneficial.
- Spend time sharing personal weaknesses. This can be done at retreats or in session meetings. Make time for elders and/or deacons to get on their knees and pray with and for one another. Prayer time is one of the best ways to encourage spiritual relationships. There is nothing sweeter than when brothers call on the living God together and for one another. Of course, officers should not feel as though they must share every sinful weakness or struggle with every other elder or deacon. It is usually in the best interest of an officer to have a fellow officer that they trust, with whom they can open up about their personal struggles.
- Spend informal and unplanned time with officers–as you would with staff members. This can come in the form of bowling, movies, sporting event, etc. Some of the best relationships are built around spontaneously doing something non-ministry related together.
- Plan meals with elders on a regular basis. Go to lunch or dinner with elders and/or deacons in order to spend time with them. Don’t necessarily talk about church related business. These meals should be relationship building times.
- Plan leadership meetings. This can be a time for elders and deacons to meet jointly together for a meal prior to meetings. Preliminary business can be discussed after dinner and prior to the elders and deacons break up to go to do their own respective meetings.
- Learn to lead from the bottom up. Thank your elders and deacons publicly. Acknowledge their wisdom and how you need their input. Admit when you have been wrong or impulsive. This is especially important when things get tense. Pastors must learn to encourage the gifts of the officers of the church and to praise them for their wisdom. w
- Four times a year, have a catered dinner for the elders and their wives. This can be a time for the elders to get to know the “better half” of the officers with whom they serve so regularly.
- Have a Christmas dinner for staff and elders. Our session and staff, together with spouses, rent a room at a nice restaurant. This is meant to help build relations between the session and the staff, as well as between individual members.
- Plan quarterly joint meetings for elders and deacons with a dinner and a speaker. This would be a time for training from a respected pastor or leader from outside of the church in which you serve. Often, the elders or deacons of a local church will listen more readily to the things said by someone from outside of the church.
- Make regular phone calls to elders and deacon. Make them personal. Ask how they and their families are doing. This is one of the more tangible ways to keep up relationships. It doesn’t take long to make a phone call to see how other officers are doing.
- Learn from other churches and pastors. Let’s be honest, we all have so much to learn with regard to this aspect of church leadership. I certainly do. In fact, I’m writing this post in order to share ideas with our elders of ways in which we can grow in the things in which we are not currently implementing. I am grateful for the wisdom and input shared by the brothers with whom I have the privilege of speaking regularly.