When Elders Are Jerks

I trust this is not true of all churches, but I have discovered that elder meetings can have an unexpectedly difficult social dynamic. There you sit at the table with a number of godly men. You are hashing out this or that issue. And somehow the room feels tense, even political!

“Why is he contradicting me?”

“Is he just posturing?”

“Why did he say it like that?”

“What a jerk!”

Truth be told, you can see my own small-heartedness and sin in such responses. But I am confident I am not alone.

The Biggest Lesson

Here’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned about the social dynamic of elder meetings: fear of man sometimes keeps us from saying the things we should say, and fear of man sometimes provokes us to say things we shouldn’t.

That is, sometimes we fail to say what we should say because we are afraid of saying something different, something wrong.

But sometimes we speak more than we should, or harsher than we should, because we are afraid of losing control or losing the argument. We think persuading the brothers depends upon us. So we push too hard. We clutch our ideas too tightly, because we are afraid of losing face. And that is just another form of fear of man.

Different sized elder boards, no doubt, have different social dynamics. I remember sitting on a small elder board, where all the men had good relationships. So it was easy for us to trust one another, but it was also easy for us to fall into group think.

Larger boards can fall into group think, too, but there are more personalities to challenge it. Indeed, factions can form which challenge it, but then factions are problematic for other reasons.

I remember when I first became an elder at my present church, everybody told me not to talk much for a while, but just listen and learn. And in general, that is very good advice. So I decided to speak only when I thought the elders were heading in a bad direction, and they really “needed” my input.

Well, there are a couple things wrong with that approach, one of which is that you only talk in order to disagree. Second, when those moments come, you will probably push too hard because, by the nature of the moment, you are already convinced the guns of others didn’t work so it is time to bring your bombs.

How to Speak in Elder Meetings

So when should you speak in an elder meeting? What is a useful attitude to adopt toward the other brothers?

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Jonathan is the director of communications for 9Marks. He first joined Capitol Hill Baptist Church in 1996. After a stint in journalism, he felt called to ministry in 2001. Since then he has completed one seminary degree, is working on another, and has served as interim pastor in two churches. Jonathan is absolutely amazed that God has saved him, in spite of all the reasons he has given him not to. He’s also amazed that he has a wonderful wife, Shannon, and two young daughters, Emma and Hannah.

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