Elders that are jerks


I’m an elder.

And I’m a jerk.

So this article resonated with me.  It’s by Jonathan Leeman and discusses attitudes of elders during meetings.  Jonathan writes:

I trust this is not true of all churches, but I have discovered that elder meetings can have an unexpectedly difficult social dynamic. There you sit at the table with a number of godly men. You are hashing out this or that issue. And somehow the room feels tense, even political!

“Why is he contradicting me?” “Is he just posturing?” “Why did he say it like that?” “What a jerk!”

Truth be told, you can see my own small-heartedness and sin in such responses. But I am confident I am not alone.

Here’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned about the social dynamic of elder meetings: fear of man sometimes keeps us from saying the things we should say, and fear of man sometimes provokes us to say things we shouldn’t.

That is, sometimes we fail to say what we should say because we are afraid of saying something different, something wrong.

But sometimes we speak more than we should, or harsher than we should, because we are afraid of losing control or losing the argument. We think persuading the brothers depends upon us. So we push too hard. We clutch our ideas too tightly, because we are afraid of losing face. And that is just another form of fear of man.

He then gives 9 things to consider when speaking up in an elder meeting.  Good stuff… check it out here…

Todd Subscribe to me on YouTube




  • James January 10, 2013 Reply

    Truth be known, unless your church politey is different than mine, and some definately are, is that we as pastors don’t often have the luxury of choosing our boards.
    And the board members don’t have a choice choosing whom they will serve with.
    SO that is a receipe for disaster, conflict, long-learning process, compromise, negotiations, inter-personal relatinship building or conflict, dumbing down of real issues, or long drawn out heated discussions. Of course there are more variables than that.
    Too many years I’ve spent in conflict, negotiations and the dumbing down of dealing with real issues in a sane, contemplative, spiritual manner and environment.
    Having said all that, it is a miracle anything gets done in the church.
    I for one DO NOT believe in boards, committees or such. I do believe in people joined with similar passions, like-minded and like-hearted, compassionate, intelligent, thinkers not followers, and people willing to roll up their sleeves and get a job done.
    The alternative? Spiritual advisory staff and community forums. The advisory staff are volunteers, but are made staff members ex-officio who take seriously their position. When issues have arisen, they are brought to the congregation as a town hall meeting not as a group of lumps on a log who merely endorse and rubber stamp decisions already made. They wrestle with a decision. If unity is a value of the scripture (of which it is of high value) then no decision is a slam dunk deal. Majority rules doesn’t work, because the minority group always leaves less than supportive, not all, but many hold grudges, withhold service and many simply leave the church.
    This is not a simple discussion, nor are the solutions simple. They weren’t meant to be. But if scripture is to rule, then the significance of unity, (not comformity)must be practiced with transparency, safety and diligence. If there is a time line looming over the heads of a congregation, then the time line must change, not the ram-roding tactics of expediency over sound wisdom and true wrestling with issues.
    Thanks for this very sensitive but very important area.

  • Pat January 14, 2013 Reply

    Good advice. As a woman, I served for 2.5 years on an all-male elder board. The first year to year and a half there was good camaraderie and mutual respect. As the elder of spiritual life, I often offered pushback on many topics, but in a respectful, gentle way. We also would enjoy spirited debate but at the end of the meeting, there were no hard feelings. That all ended during the second year in which two former elders were re-appointed and the dynamic of the group changed. These two had many years under their belt at this particular church and had served under a former pastor who was quite dogmatic. They criticized almost everything that was done, as if their tenure in the church gave them the knowledge on how everything was to be done and openness to new ways of doing things were usually opposed or questioned. In one meeting, one of them turned to me and said, “You do good work”, commending me on my work with the search committee. In a matter of weeks, he was slandering me in an e-mail to a church member because I did something he didn’t agree with. Meetings were increasingly tense and I made it a point to pray before the meetings because I didn’t want to contribute any more than I already had to the level of contention. Unfortunately, it seemed as if nothing worked and at the end, a contingent worked against having women elders and I decided at that time to resign and leave the church. I just felt like I had done all I could and I needed to draw a line for my own sanity and emotional health.

    • James January 14, 2013 Reply

      Hello Pat;
      I’m truly sorry for your experience. I’ve felt this, heard this, been a part of these types of dynamics for years. Having been a Sr. Pastor, Assoc. Pastor, and lay-pastor, I’ve seen and to my disappointment and shame I’ve allowed these types of dynamics to be a part of a meeting.
      In my later years of experience I worked at reshaping the “typical” dynamics of Elders/Board meetings. Reshaping in the sense that there is an atmosphere of mutual trust, love, working together, respect, safety and care for one another. To my, again, disappointment, only one church I served with, was able to overcome the “dumbing, numbing” down affect of “meetings”.
      Thank you Pat for sharing, I’m sure is was distasteful and very disheartening to experience the tension and lack of mutual respect toward the end.
      Having Elder’s meetings that integrate the values I mentioned: Trust, respect, openness, transparency, love, and safety is not only NOT easy, but sometimes impossible.
      I’m reminded often from scripture that Jesus dealt with issues more on the “how” than the “why” or even content of those issues. Somehow we get that backwards. We think that the issues are of uttmost importance (and often they are very serious and important), but forget that there is a learning, experiencing process going on as well. It’s called UNITY of faith and love. It’s called forbearance, patience, kindness, goodness, faith etc.
      Those who think there’s no politics/pride/arrogance in the church haven’t lived long enough or been on an Elder board to see and live through the tension of trying knock some sense into grown-ups who act more like children, and practice less the heart of Jesus.
      Enough said. Just wanted to let Pat know she’s not alone, but I’m sorry for your experience, but grateful for you sharing with the faith community.
      I pray that where your at is encouraging, loving and your can use your gifts freely and passionately

      • Pat January 14, 2013 Reply

        Thanks, James. You are so right about people not knowing the politics that are involved. Many think we just sing kumbaya and everything just works together, but oh, how I wish that were so. I tell you one thing I learned (among many), to really get to know people, serve on a committee or board. That’s where the true colors come out.

        But I am comforted and after I had been gone from this church for a while, I was able to fully appreciate the rejection that Jesus faced and knew that I was not alone nor unloved even though it sure felt like it.

  • Steve Miller January 14, 2013 Reply

    Don’t worry Todd, we are all jerks!

    I sat on an elder board which even though divided God used to greatly increase my maturity. I believe God will use the “jerks” in our churches to confront and reveal our own weak expressions of love. It is difficult to love those who disagree with you, especially when you are right and they are wrong. Being correct in your theology and having a good game plan does not mean you will be well received. Conflict will arise on elder boards even when you are doing what God wants you to do and when you are pushing for the local church to be obedient. It may be even a bigger temptation to become a jerk when your motives are right but your attitudes are still rooted in the flesh. In many instances, I had to rely on God to avoid becoming smug or bitter and learn how to love and honor those brothers and sisters who were immature or disobedient to His calling. We don’t show respect to difficult fellow Christians based on their own good performance (all men will fail), but we choose to exercise grace and humility so that we might show our brother Christ-like love even if they are incapable of reciprocating or if they are in error.

    I am so grateful for how God patiently and lovingly corrects me and puts up with my own shortcomings; the proof will be how I interact with my fellow brothers and sisters.

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