You are convinced that biblical eldership (BE) is right, but either the pastor or the board does not agree. This is an extremely difficult situation to be in—to have a conviction about biblical teaching that is at odds with those in leadership at your church. We can offer a few ideas that may help you work through this, but we want to emphasize that you should be committed to the unity of the church and, as much as it is within you, to respect and submit to the leadership of your church. That doesn’t mean you should not attempt to share your conviction with the leadership, but it should affect how you do it.
If a pastor is involved, BE represents a huge impact on him, his ministry and his role in leadership at the church. His pastoral ministry has been his life, his passion and his sacrifice. It is a lonely “job,” often thankless and with high expectations placed on him. He has given his life in service of the church. He is to be honored for all that he has done. In approaching him about your conviction of BE, you need to do so with a spirit of humility and appreciation for his leadership. At the most basic human level, the pastor’s livelihood is also at stake.
You must make it clear in all your interactions that your desire for BE is not a personal indictment against his leadership. Rather, it arises from a conviction based on Scripture that BE is God’s design for the church and your desire to honor God in how your church does leadership.
Approaching the board
In some situations, it may be more appropriate to approach the board, for example, when the church is “in-between” pastors. If that is the case, consider ahead of time how the board members may take it when you tell them about BE. They have sacrificed greatly in leading the church. Few know the pressures of serving in that role, carrying the weight of the problems and decisions of the church. In many cases, they put in long hours, sacrificing much personal and family time.
A Few Pointers
As you can imagine, the pastor may see BE through a different set of eyes than you. Here are a few pointers for helping him see BE through the Lord’s eyes.
- Read our article on why Why People Resist Change. This may give you some helpful insights.
- Ask the board and/or pastor to pray about the disagreement about BE.
- Ask the Lord for discernment for whether there is any conflict or personal issues that may be hindering your efforts to influence the church leadership to consider BE.
- Give a copy of the Biblical Eldership Pamphlet to the pastor. Ask for a time when you can discuss the pamphlet with him. Listen carefully to objections and concerns.
- Where appropriate, encourage him to read the full book, “Biblical Eldership.”
- Make available to him testimonies of churches that have transitioned to BE. Particularly effective will be testimonies of churches in your denomination or like yours. Contact us as we may be able to put you in contact with some similar churches.
- Pray the Holy Spirit would work in his heart.
- Ask the Lord to give you a submissive attitude.
- Ask God to give you grace, patience and a submissive attitude.
- You may want to pay special attention to those who are most resistant. It is possible they are simply the most vocal and verbalizing what others may also be concerned about. This could be a blessing in disguise as it may force you to patiently listen to and work through legitimate concerns.
Understand Other Factors at Work
Your goal should not be a “takeover” or “ecclesiastical” coup, that results from a power struggle of leadership. The only worthy goal in pursuing BE for your church is to honor God and help his church be all he designed it to be. There is no place for personal pride and ambition.
Where there is a traditional pastor involved, every effort therefore should be made to avoid the appearance of a power struggle or an ecclesiastical coup.
“All things must be done properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Cor. 14:40).
If the move to BE is seen as a “hostile takeover,” conflict and disunity will result. Tread carefully so as to avoid suspicions of spiritual insubordination or lack of appreciation for past service.
Keep in mind that the pastor has invested his life in ministry, and should be given kind consideration so as not to be dismissed with superficial accusations or judgments. He may be defensive, but he may just need time to process a different way of thinking about church government. Some pastors have had negative experiences in working with elders and are therefore understandably hesitant. On the other hand, some pastors will find biblical eldership a huge relief because it means they will no longer have to shoulder the entire ministry load themselves.
Reasons why a pastor might resist:
- Unconvinced of biblical basis for BE
- Lack of good examples or testimonies of BE in action
- Fear of being irrelevant
- Fear of the unknown
- Loss of control
- Fear that he will lose his livelihood
- Peer pressure from fellow pastors
- Enjoys the current prominence that comes with the position.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- If there is a growing consensus for BE in your church (or among the board members), but the pastor is still resistant, we would encourage you to address these issues with him directly, and if need be, have a group of godly men approach him about these things.
- A change to BE would mean a change of the pastor’s “job description.” It therefore represents a huge impact on the ministry the church originally invited him to do.
- As much as possible, work within the existing governing board and work for unity.
If Resistance Continues
We recommend patience. You may have been studying the subject of BE for a long time, maybe a few months or years. It is reasonable to allow others time to absorb, think, and pray about it. To push and agitate for quick responses would be a demonstration of insubordination and lack of honor those who are over you.
You will need discernment into knowing how frequently to bring up the issue without being annoying or showing a contentious attitude. We know of one church where the people waited 20 years for the right timing to implement BE! But, it finally came and the church remained intact.
If the pastor has come to agree with BE, then we recommend that he take the lead, becoming the catalyst for implementation. For this he would begin at the “Pastor” Scenario (or see the menu).
If there is no pastor and the board comes to agreement, we recommend that they take the lead, with one of them becoming the catalyst for implementation. For this they would begin at the “Board” Scenario (or see the menu).
If the pastor or board continues to resist, you will have to decide, with much prayer and discernment, how long you should remain patient and supportive of the leadership. If there comes a point where you feel you cannot remain in the church, we recommend that you explain to the pastor and/or board as graciously and clearly as possible why you are leaving, and then quietly go without causing any division or further conflict. However, we recommend not giving up too quickly. Someone has defined “patience” as giving God ample opportunity to work!