What Every Pastor Secretly Wishes from their Elder Board

What Every Pastor Secretly Wishes from their Elder Board
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read

I spent 18 years on staff at elder-led churches, 10 of those as the Lead Pastor.  

I wish every pastor could have elders like I had.

What did they do that rates them so highly in my book?  

They kept their priority as: Protecting the church from the pastor, and the pastor from the church.  

Now, if you google that phrase, you will find all kinds of websites spouting off about how horrible that priority is. But if led right, it can keep the focus of the elders on the biggest factor impacting the church: a healthy pastor.    

Let me unpack this phrase and challenge your Board to adopt it as your focus.

1.  Protect the church from the pastor

The podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill was a fascinating study in failed leadership.  I appreciated that the storyline was not, “one man really blew up his leadership,” but rather, “we have a systemic problem in North American churches: our unhealthy relationship with Lead Pastors."

All pastors are human.  And while their job is no more important than the stay at home mom, front-line healthcare worker, or sheriff's deputy, their role is unique.  A recent Lifeway study states that 90% of pastors feel pressure to preserve their image in ministry.  Whenever you make a living impressing other people and you feel like you are only one bad sermon away from failure you have a recipe for guaranteed isolation.   

I was grateful for clear by-laws and policies in place, such as theological position papers or spending limits.  If an air conditioning unit broke, I didn't have to call an elder meeting to get it fixed.  But if I wanted to spend over a certain amount for a ministry idea that was not in the budget, I needed their approval.

And I liked it that way.

I liked that I had some covering to protect me from a bad decision.  While I rarely got told “no,” One time I had a brilliant idea to increase giving: A “Money Back Tithe.”  People would tithe for three moths, and if they didn't see God bless them, we would return their money.

The elders said no.  And they were right.

I wasn’t upset that my idea was shot down.  I was grateful that I had some limits, some boundaries, some lines that helped keep me in check.

When no one can tell you no, you have ceased to be a pastor.  You have ceased to abide by a plurality of elders.

One of the most comforting things a church can hear their pastor say is Matthew 8:9, “For I myself am a man under authority.”    

2. Protect the pastor from the church 

You may have heard, “Ministry is easy; it's the people that make it hard.”  The reality is that dealing with people day in-and day out is a challenge.  

My friend Reggie McNeal describes this challenge,

“The senior pastor of a multiple-hundred-member congregation now must be manager of the corporate culture, head-hunter, personnel manager, strategic planner, fundraiser, expert communicator, chief vision developer and caster, ministry entrepreneur, spiritual guru, architectural consultant, plus whatever particular assistance or role the congregation needs at any given time.”--Reggie McNeal

When you have this many roles, you need protection from getting overworked and burned out.

My elder Board created policies for staff sabbaticals, to allow regular season of restoration.  They paid attention to my use of vacation time–that I was using all of it. They gave me yearly evaluations and 360's.  They provided space for me to attend a retreat center when I was dealing with burnout.  They helped me navigate theological issues and nail down policies so it wasn’t just “what I thought.”

Some of the most powerful protections I ever felt was when elders stepped into conflicts that were dragging me down.  I once had a staff member who had been sitting on two years of grievances, and decided to unleash them all at once.  His accusations were based on half-truths, misunderstandings, and rooted in disagreement with the direction.  Dealing with this situation began to drain me emotionally.  Normally, staff issues were under my purview, not the elders, but in this case, the elders saw the sensitive nature of this problem and offered to step in and mediate.  

I will never forget driving home from church one evening, knowing that this staff member was going to meet with some elders–without me having to be there.  Knowing the elders were going to handle it FOR me...and FOR the church. It was like a huge rock had rolled off my back.  Sadly, the staff member ended up resigning, and made sure to take some potshots on his way out that required a year to rebuild trust with some people.  But the elders had our back.

Protecting the church from the pastor and protecting the pastor from the church can be a clear directive for an Elder Board–if kept in balance.  And the time to lay the foundation for this is now, before the crisis hits.

Action Step:  Create a discussion around these two purposes.  

  1.  What are some areas where our church could need protection from a pastor?  What guardrails do we have in place for those?
  2. What are some areas where the pastor could need protection from the congregation?  What conversations do we need to have regularly with the pastor to insure their health and sustainability?

Elder Boards, keep your pastor protected from themselves and protected from their job, and you will help them steer clear of the crises that derail their lives and ministry.

I'd love to talk with you more about this. Shoot me an email and let's start investing in your Elder Board today.

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
Connect with Thomas
© 2022-2023 Thompson Leadership. All right reserved.
Privacy Policy