I have seen a few things going around the inter-webs lately criticizing the way Church of Christ elders have abused and misused their positions as leaders. Rather than humbly becoming the servant of all, in the way of Christ, some have gotten on power trips and hurt a lot of people. They can cling to tradition and the past at the expense of the church. They micromanage and mistreat ministers. I affirm a lot of what I’m reading, and I have seen it happen in my short 33 years in church. However, I want to take a moment and defend our Shepherds as well. Certainly there are a lot of bad ones out there, but a lot of these folks are REALLY good-hearted people seeking to follow Jesus, and seeking to faithfully serve a church.
For every elder group that is unhealthy and hard to work with, there seems to also be a minister that is arrogant and bull-headed. And let’s face it, sometimes we ministers can be hard to work with, too. Sometimes rather than seeing our shepherds as our teammates in ministry, we have turned them into our opposition. And rather than listening to how the Spirit is speaking to them, we look down condescendingly at their understandings of Scripture and the Church, as if we have cornered the market on how to read the Bible with our theology degrees and training.
We ministers get to go to conferences that boost our faith, renew our love for ministry, grow in our understanding of Scripture, and train us more deeply in how to do our jobs well. We get to stand on the stage often and preach the sermons and receive the accolades (of course with criticisms). But often our shepherds JUST hear the criticisms (I say this as someone who has been on the “member” side of things giving the criticisms, unfortunately), pour themselves out for their flock, and then go work 50 hours a week to earn a living too. They rarely go to these conferences with us, they rarely get a break, they carry heavy burdens for people they love, they care deeply for their church families, and sacrifice much for the flock they serve. It is not a flashy “job”, it is a call to selfless leadership, and it ain’t for the faint of heart. As one of my preacher mentors once said when talking with me through a difficult situation our church was going through and giving advice to our leaders, “Do you ever ask yourself why anyone would be an elder?!” It’s a hard task!
Being a minister is a hard job too. It is hard to explain it if you haven’t walked in those shoes. They often get mistreated by churches and unhealthy elderships putting unrealistic burdens on them. I love my fellow ministers and feel honored to be a part of this brotherhood and sisterhood. I deeply respect these men and women who have also sacrificed much for this call. A lot of churches DO need to do a better job supporting and taking care of their ministers.
However, being a shepherd is no walk in the park either. Do we need to do a better job in Churches of Christ learning how ministers and elders work together? Absolutely. I think all denominations do. But I also don’t want to pin it all on the guys who often tirelessly serve a church and receive very little in return.
And with that, I want to publicly thank my elders and remind the Hunter Hills Church how blessed we are to be served by these men and their wives. Are they perfect? No way, no one is. But, I can’t think of many other people I’d want to be on my team, and that is one of the things I love about them most, is that I AM a part of their team and they have let me know they value and love me! I want to say this publicly because I don’t think you hear it enough.
To Keith and Angela, showing us how to faithfully suffer through hard times in life, thank you (and we keep praying for you!);
To Vernon and Lisa for showing us the same, for their kind hearts, and for their selflessness and generosity, thank you;
To Barry and Tracey showing us what a steady and unwavering faith looks like;
To Randy and Jendia, showing us how to follow Jesus while raising a teenager (and we know that’s not easy!) and making a living;
To Don and Marilyn, for giving so much of your life and time to this church family and community, for faithfully serving so many years, and mentoring those coming behind you;
To Ron & Alita, Lanar & Wilma, Daryl & Cindy, and Bob & Teresa who have paved the trail for the above with your faithful service and wonderful examples;
Thank you! Thank you for loving this church so well, and for loving my family and me so well. We’re honored to serve with you. And thank you for being an example to other churches of a group who strives to healthily lead a church and work with their ministers. I love and appreciate each of you.
And to ALL of you who serve in this often thankless role of Shepherds, I thank you for loving the Church and seeking to faithfully follow Jesus.
Are there some bad apples in the bunch? Absolutely. But I’m confident there is a bright future of learning from our past mistakes, and seeking a better way forward.