Elder Leadership Series

This series offers guidance on different aspects of church leadership for elders.

Elder Leadership Series

This series offers guidance on different aspects of church leadership for elders.

In Reformed churches, the work of elders involves ministry to the minister(s) of the church, including both oversight and care for minister(s). Here’s how elders can minister to pastors well.

Most elders have neither studied the Bible in its original languages nor attended seminary. You expect your pastor to know more about the Scriptures than you do, and rightly so. But effective preaching and teaching always connects the truth of God’s Word to human lives, needs, and challenges here and now. Elders can apply the test of relevance. If preaching falls short, the constructive counsel of elders may help a pastor move from what the Bible said to what it says as a living Word for today.

The minister’s conduct is also the elders’ concern. Most pastors are highly dedicated, hard-working people. Their sincere desire is to preach powerfully and helpfully, to serve the people gracefully, and to lead the church in mission effectively. People rely on their pastor in times of crisis and stress. Many confidences must be kept. The burdens are often heavy, and the ministry can be a lonely calling. Pastors are also people with families, personal emergencies, and human frailties.

Pastors need the same care and spiritual nurture we all do. Elders, who work closely with the pastor in the ministry of the church, are in a good position to provide that nurture. At least one elders’ meeting each year should be devoted solely to the counsel, encouragement, and care of the pastor. A kind word, a listening ear, or a pat on the back are both welcome and needed.

When elders are pastors to their pastor, good ministers grow to be even better preachers, teachers, shepherds, and leaders. The best caregivers are pastors who are cared for in their own inevitable moments of crisis and vulnerability. At these times, let the elders take care!

When visiting those who are sick or dying, the important thing is how you listen, rather than what you say. If we are truly to be Christ’s presence, then it is important for you to make the needs and suffering of the hospitalized person your focus, rather than your own needs and agendas. Therefore, it is crucial to allow those who are sick to establish the tone and theme of any visit. If a person is not yet ready to struggle with his or her illness and what it may mean to that individual and his or her family, probing questions will alienate rather than comfort.

However, you will discover that more often you will be far less ready to struggle with issues of illness, dying, and death than the person you have gone to visit. It is easier to ignore tough questions or to try to comfort people with spiritual platitudes or a quick prayer. What people who lie in hospital beds want is what all of us need: not easy answers to difficult questions but someone willing to share the pain of the struggle.

There are simple ways to help you listen to and love those who are sick. Long before you enter a hospital room, remember in prayer those who are sick, both in the public prayers of the church and your personal prayers. Before you enter a hospital room, try to pause for a moment to clear your mind and spirit so you can be as open as possible to the mood and concerns of the one who is sick. Try to sit with, rather than stand over, the person, and remember that the warmth of a held hand often speaks far more eloquently of our love and caring presence than our feeble attempts to answer impossible questions.

Finally, work hard at listening closely to what is being said. Often the big questions regarding dying and death are glimpsed through comments or questions that seem almost innocuous, like, “The pain seems a little worse today” or, “I wonder what I’ll be doing at this time next year.” A perceptive visitor will encourage the one who is sick to open up these comments to the questions and struggles that may lie hidden within them. It is a listening ear and a loving heart, rather than a nimble tongue, that can turn a hospital visit into a pastoral call