Admittedly, this is a niche scenario.
However, this is my scenario. So let me just encourage you from the outset of this final entry in my series, to adapt any underlying principles you might glean and apply them to whatever your setting might be.
With me, as well as becoming a Congregational Leader, I was recognised as an Elder too. The two didn’t go hand in hand in my context. You don’t need to be one to be the other. For me though, they both simultaneously happened. And so how I led the congregation and its team was overseen by our Elder Team.
Here was an environment new to me, and one that I had not spoken into before. As expected I suppose my voice was slower to speak, less authoritative than was welcomed, hesitant and unsure really.
Thankfully over time I can trace the lessons learnt and am still learning as I’ve heard my voice develop in this context and found it emerging among my fellow Elders. So let me reflect one last time on what has happened.
Being a respectful voice
As a young man who from the age of sixteen received a call to serve God in His local church (particularly in preaching, pastoring and leading), to finally have that call recognised and be ordained to function in those capacities as an Elder was an incredible privilege. As such, in some ways, it was easy to feel let loose and have the reins cast off. Not in a chaotic and disruptive way. Rather, in a subtly undermining way that could foster disrespect.
Here’s this young buck. Full of himself. Ready to throw his weight around with his opinions and views. I’m pleased to report that this wasn’t the case for me, at least I like think not! Hopefully the process taken by Elders and a church involves observations on character and attitude, and so they’re confident the above wouldn’t be a reality. However, it can seem such a small thing to speak in a way that doesn’t honour those who have come before you.
Harnessing a respectful voice was something I was mindful of. Three of the four current Elders are much older than I and have been shepherding the church for decades before me. They have scars from battles fought. A bond of friendship melded together in the furnace of hard ministry. They had experienced the highs and lows together, the public and private situations that no one else is aware of.
Having a respectful voice towards these men was important to me. Inwardly, my sense of honour demanded it. Although I was seen as equal, with no hint of inferiority from them, my youth and inexperience demanded that I be slow to speak and quick to listen. Although I sat among them, I still chose to sit at their proverbial feet and receive.
What can a respectful voice look like? For me it looked like…
- Being the last to speak
- Quick to listen and pay attention
- Being the most flexible in my responses
- Asking clarifying questions
Being a secure voice
Now to make this an even more niche situation, let me add that as well as being a young and inexperienced Elder among decades older men, one of them is my father-in-law. In addition to that, he’s the Lead Elder. I won’t go into the obvious reasons why this can be a bit of an odd dynamic, use your imagination…However, it did afford me an opportunity to cultivate my voice into one that spoke securely.
While acknowledging one’s youth and inexperience can be a mark of respect, lingering in that place isn’t healthy. Eventually, your voice needs to be established and firmly secured. Secured in what? In your calling, anointing, and recognition.
Over time, as you bond with each other, pray together, be vulnerable with one another, and do the hard work of eldering, security will come easier. Yet, coming to a place where you are confident in your calling, are embracing your anointing, and have confirmation through the recognition of others, will secure your identity.
Speaking frankly, it was awkward to be in Elders meetings overseen by my father-in-law. Here was an environment where we would upon occasion share personally, where we may express disagreements about a particular direction being taken, where correction and reproof might be given to each other, or perhaps where I might find myself wanting to challenge a decision or raise a question. Needless to say, it could be uncomfortable to embody the above. It could be difficult to be myself.
What I’ve found has helped me to overcome this is growing in the security of my God-given mandate. I really began to be confident that God has called me. Not men. But God. I embraced my anointing and clearly observed how I’d been gifted. I took comfort in the recognition of others, while not resting in their approval. The Lord has positioned me to serve in this capacity for this season with these spiritual fathers. How can I not be secure knowing my Father is orchestrating this for His purposes?
Why not reflect if you are a secure leader in your context?
- Are you confident that you have been called by God?
- Do you see any anointing in character and gifting for where you serve?
- Is the above recognised by your church, Elders, or if appropriate, apostolic friends?
If so, be secure! You are doing what you are doing where you are doing it in the sovereign plan of God. Speak as one who is secure in that revelation – even if you’re married to the daughter of one of the Elders!
Being a flexible voice
Equally important to me was my intention to be flexible.
Elders’ meetings are environments where weighty matters can be discussed. Varying views and opinions can be expressed. You’ll all have particular personalities and quirks, some of which may rub you up the wrong way periodically. It can be a mixed bag of gifts, passions and emphases. All together there can be the possibility of erupting like a powder keg. The spark can often be the youthful inexperience of a new elder, such as myself.
So developing a flexible voice will help dismantle any potential bombs.
Whether it’s a practical decision, a pastoral discussion, or a doctrinal conversation, learning to be flexible and not rigid will help. There’s a person in our church, a pillar among us in terms of his longevity in the church and his faithful service. He’s expressed a desire many times to serve as an Elder. Unfortunately, he’s just too black and white. There’s little leeway with him. Compromise isn’t an easy word to enter his vocabulary. That creates friction in a team dynamic.
Of course, that’s not to say one’s convictions and perspectives should be ignored. You must decide in yourself what you will be stronger on and what you won’t. We must never violate our consciences. But that doesn’t mean we should allow our consciences to be rock hard on everything. In some things we must be softer, understanding, willing to compromise, and flexible on.
If like me you can struggle with this, perhaps you’re a particularly zealous person, why not learn to do an internal triage:
- What’s something you just can’t negotiate on as it violates your orthodox doctrine for example?
- What’s personally important to you but not enough to cause a bit of a rift, such as a cultural value?
- What’s simply a generic preference and can be easily discarded in favour of someone else’s thoughts?
Being a united voice
In conclusion, I end with a pivotal aim in finding your voice among your Elders, unity. Be a united voice. Never give up on seeking the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Fight ferociously to guard your togetherness. Paradoxically, violently maintain your peace with each other.
We recently had an Elders Away Day where we invited a prophet from among our ranks to prophesy into our next season together. Part of his input included a prophetic action he had us perform in which us five Elders stood side by side and linked arms. A simple demonstration in some ways, but a powerful reminder that in all we do we must hold tightly to one another.
Avoid seeing the team and the brothers who make it up as something to easily cast away or detach from or willingly be at odds with. Instead, walk together in harmony and grow into such a brotherhood that you all, like Paul and the Ephesian Elders, could even cry with each other and over one another.
Be a voice that promotes and defends that unity. A voice that speaks from a heart knitted together in love.