By Irvin Himmel
If you have ever tried to talk to someone on the telephone when there was a bad connection, you know the frustration of poor communication. If you have ever felt “left out” due to not knowing something that you were entitled to know but the information was withheld, you can appreciate the need for communication.
It is imperative that the overseers of the local church communicate with the members of the congregation. Serious problems arise when there is a breakdown in communication.
What Elders Need To Communicate
1. God’s word. Qualified elders are teachers. “Apt to teach” is listed along with other qualifications (1 Tim. 3:2). “Apt” means equipped or prepared. A bishop (overseer) is to hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught, “that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers” (Tit. 1:9). One who is apt or able to teach must have ability to communicate. To teach is to impart knowledge. Whether an elder is teaching privately, in a class setting, or publicly, he is in the role of transmitting or conveying divine truth. He must be able to express his thoughts. He must communicate.
2. Love and concern. Elders should be caring men. A shepherd is expected to be attentive to the flock. The prophet Ezekiel rebuked the shepherds of Israel for feeding themselves and neglecting the flock (Ezek. 34:2-6). Both Paul and Peter emphasized that elders are to feed or tend the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). Good elders look for ways of expressing to the flock their love, interest, and regard. When members of a congregation get this message they feel disposed to go to the elders with their spiritual problems.
3. Warnings and admonitions. Elders are spiritual watchmen (Acts 20:32; Heb. 13:17). They must warn of dangers. There are occasions when they must rebuke, expose error, and stop the mouths of vain talkers and deceivers (Tit. 1:10, 11). Churches have drifted into digression because elders sat in silence rather than speak out. A brother or sister who has fallen into sin needs admonition. Elders have a grave responsibility to communicate warnings.
4. Plans, programs, changes. The elders ought to keep the flock informed about such things as gospel meetings, special classes, changes in the teaching program, changes in support of preachers (by dropping some that have been assisted or adding others for partial or full support), providing help for needy saints, the financial contributions and expenditures, and other items of general interest to the members. A steady flow of information will keep down distrust and friction. The local church is like a team. All who are on the team need understanding of objectives, procedures, arrangements, and who is expected to do what. The “oversight” of the flock (1 Pet. 5:2) requires careful and constant communication from the overseers.
Ways In Which Elders May Communicate
1. By personal contact. People can be contacted directly about specific assignments and duties. Much of the teaching and admonishing which is done by the elders may be through their personal associations with members. There are occasions when elders need to go to certain people and talk about their spiritual condition. The closer the relation- ship between the shepherds and the sheep, the easier it is to communicate in person.
2. By public announcements. Matters that pertain to the whole congregation may be communicated by public statements. Announcements that dispatch information from the elders to the church may be made in the bulletin, from the pulpit in the assemblies, by letter, or by means of a bulletin board. Items of grave importance may need to be announced in the assemblies by one of the elders. An announcement may be for the purpose of soliciting input from the congregation. How the matter is publicized depends on a variety of circumstances.
3. By discussion sessions. There are times when a general meeting may be called to present some matter to the brethren for open discussion. Whether this is referred to as a “business meeting” or is otherwise described, it should be orderly and the elders should make sure it does not turn into a wrangle. Sessions for talking about the work or some particular aspect of the work should be not only for information from the elders but for suggestions to the elders. Frequent meetings with the deacons are essential for good communication between the bishops and the deacons. Occasionally, some brother will insist that there be a general meeting of all the men to discuss some matter when such a meeting, in the judgment of the elders, is not the best method of communication relative to the case at hand. Wise elders know how to “head off’ factionalism and efforts to create dissension and strife.
Why There Are Failures In Communication
1. An ego problem. Although it would not be fair to say they want to “lord it over the flock,” some elders come across as having a bit of conceit. They view themselves as a “privileged class.” They do not make the efforts necessary to communicate freely with the church. Their attitude is, “If anyone wants to know more about this matter, he can come to us and ask.” But why should others have to take the initiative in finding out what they are entitled to know? Elders who have an “elitist attitude” are not the kind of men they should be. Elders must be humble. They must not be lifted up with pride or a feeling of self-importance (1 Tim. 3:6). They do indeed have an exalted privilege as overseers of the flock, but they must be “ensamples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3).
2. Private people. Some men who are chosen to be elders are very private people. In their own affairs they keep things to themselves. They never discuss with others their finances, their work, their problems, their health, or their preferences. In the eldership they tend to keep everything to themselves. The result is an isolated or detached eldership. Other men who are chosen to be elders are very open. They talk about their own lives very freely. It is hard for them to keep anything confidential. Obviously, there are some things that elders need to keep to themselves. When they have been working with people on private problems, family situations, or personal matters that bear on their spirituality, such affairs need to be kept confidential. Competent elders know how to hold in confidence things that are in fact private. All of this means that elders need the wisdom to know when to communicate and when to keep quiet.
3. Neglect. It is this writer’s judgment that in most cases poor communication by the elders results from neglect. Elders may be good men who make some very good decisions then fail to realize the importance of informing the congregation. If the church knows why the elders have reached a certain conclusion, they may be in full agreement. But if the facts are not laid out, it may be assumed by some that the elders have gone off the deep end. After the elders have freely discussed a matter among themselves and have made a determination, it is easy to forget that others are in the dark about this matter until informed. Before closing an elders’ meeting, the overseers need to address this question: What have we discussed that needs to be communicated to the congregation or to some particular individual, and how and when will the information be made known? Do not adjourn without thought and attention to communication.
Good communication between the shepherds and the flock contributes to unity, peace, love, understanding, and effectiveness in work. Poor communication keeps the church from reaching its full potential. The failure to communicate produces mixed signals, loss of interest, suspicions, rumors, unrest, and the circulation of misinformation. Elders must learn to communicate.