What Happens in Elders Meetings?
I attended a pastors conference last week called Together for the Gospel. I met new friends and encountered old friends, many of whom were serving in leadership roles in other places. One thing I appreciate about conferences like this is that it provides opportunities for pastors to interact with one another about life, ministry, and the churches in which we serve.
“What happens in your elder meetings?” was a question that several brothers would ask. Some wanted to know as a way to evaluate their own elder meeting agendas. Others asked as their church was just now transitioning to a plurality of elders, and they needed guidance as “first-timers.” In answering their question, I found myself wondering whether folks in our own congregation wondered the same thing, and whether answering such a question would also benefit those in our church who aspire to the office of elder in particular.
In that light, here was my answer to these other brothers at the conference. By no means do we pretend to have it all figured out. And I am sure that, because of his kindness to us, the Lord will continue helping us improve what we already practice. But here’s what we do right now. At this juncture, the elders meet once a week for three hours (sometimes longer), and our meetings generally break into the following thirds:
1. Care for One Another & Prayer
Believe it or not, we elders need a heap of care from one another. Far from “having arrived” in our Christian lives, we still sin. We still get confused with life and trials. We struggle in our desires. We get tired. We get discouraged. We get sad and worried and fearful. Sometimes, things are going very well for us, and we just need wisdom at home, for work, for study, for marriage, etc.
The first part of our meeting is spent giving care to one another. We share. We encourage. We rebuke if necessary. We open the Bible together. We follow up. We preach the gospel to each other. How will we be able to care for others as a team, if we’re not caring for one another? How will we guard against the enemies schemes, if we’re not working toward unity and love and righteousness together? So, we take the time to care for one another, to build each other up in Christ. I once heard a pastor define discipleship as “spiritual fellowship that’s rooted in God’s word, moving in a Christ-ward direction, over a long period of time, within the context of a local church.” For us, elders meetings begin here.
Then, once we’ve spoken God’s truth to one another, we pray. We pray for each other. We pray for the church. We praise the Father for his perfect provision of all things. We ask the Holy Spirit to settle our hearts and minds and tune them to hear faithfully the voice of our Lord Jesus Christ. We ask our Chief Shepherd to first shepherd our hearts, so that we might better shepherd the flock he has entrusted to us. We also look back over the week/months, and we remember God’s faithfulness to us. We thank him for all that he has done and is doing. And then we pray for his further work in the church. Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build labor in vein.
The second third of our meeting could be summarized as follows: Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbi dei. No, I didn’t just speak in tongues. It’s an old Latin expression from the late 1600s that means, “The church is reformed and always [in need of] being reformed according to the Word of God.” In the words of Ray Ortlund, “The most exciting pilgrimage a people can embark on is to seek to keep adjusting and readjusting to Christ and his firstness” (Priorities, 33).
As elders, our responsibility is not to choose whatever we want to do, cast whatever goal we want to cast, change whatever we want to change, keep whatever we want to keep, pacify every complaint we hear, implement whatever suggestion someone just blogged about, etc. Our chief responsibility is to understand what the Bible teaches for the church, and then, with compassion, patience, and wisdom, discern where we need to adjust as elders or as a church to better follow Christ in the mission he entrusted to us. Sometimes our members’ Bible-saturated questions and concerns also provide excellent contributions to our discussions, and for which we are thankful. Thus, each week we must prioritize, discuss, and act on various big-picture items (and the details involved), so that the church is not ultimately following our voice but the voice of the Chief Shepherd.
The last third of our meeting, we primarily talk about how we’re reaching out to the flock in discipleship and in specific care. If we’re not directly involved in the discipleship or care, then we also want to ensure that both are taking place through the ministry efforts of others too, such as care group leaders, deacons, ministry leaders, mature sisters, and so forth. Both discipleship and care of the members are necessary. We want to always be equipping others in the gospel (Matt 28:18-20; 1 Tim 2:2; Tit 2:2-4); and we want to be extending care to others who have specific needs (Acts 20:35; Jas 5:15-17).
Such reaching includes a host of things: exhortation and rebuke; teaching and correction; meeting and modeling; listening and counseling; giving and receiving; encouraging and helping; learning and discerning. We especially bring to each others’ attention which members are in need of more immediate and direct care, and how we’re reaching out to them. If one is not already in place, we also try to establish what a plan of care may look like on a case to case basis, and how other members can partner with us in such care. The goal is to lead his people in the wisdom of the word, the way of the cross, and the strength of his resurrection. The goal? That every member delight in God’s glory, and then from that overflow they increase in the work of gospel ministry among our neighbors and the nations.
Of course, none of our discussions and hopes for Christ to be glorified in our church will happen apart from God’s power and work in us. So we close our meetings with more prayer, asking for him to build his church, sustain his people, and empower every member for ministry. Perhaps, these three areas of our elders meetings will not just be educational for some of you, but will also fuel your prayers for us as we meet each week.
Serving together with you for your joy in Christ,