By Ron Halbrook
Elders must be good communicators. This is necessary in order to be “apt to teach” and able ” to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:9). Some are especially gifted and given to public preaching and teaching-laboring “in the word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:17). Not only must an elder be sound in the faith, but also he must be able to speak and teach clearly and effectively. But his leadership is not limited to public teaching.
If he is to pastor and oversee the church, he must be a leader of men with the ability to communicate clearly and effectively in setting goals, in expressing mature judgment on a wide range of matters, and in generally giving direction, encouragement, and counsel. That lesson can be learned from the terms which define the essence of the office: elder, pastor (or shepherd), and bishop (or overseer). This is essential if elders are to “take care of the church of God,” 94rule well,” and “watch for . . . souls” (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 5:17; Heb, 13:17).
There are some men in the church with hearts of gold, but who cannot communicate with others in the public teaching of the word. Such men cannot scriptually serve as elders and yet they can find other ways to serve the cause of Christ. They are no less vital to the Lord’s work, and no less due our love and respect, than are elders. Other men can prepare and teach a public lesson, but do not have the ability to express themselves clearly so as to be able to lead in matters of direction, judgment, and counsel. Some do not have the patience to consider different options in decision making, or else are not sufficiently decisive and firm in reaching a decision. In such cases, real guidance and leadership will be missing if such men are appointed elders. It is a sign of maturity for such a man to find other ways to serve and glorify God, rather than aspiring to a work for which he is not suited.
Sometimes men who are fully and truly qualified are appointed as elders, but they do not fully utilize their opportunities or do not fully develop their potential for leading the church. They may even do an excellent job in teaching the word. Their failure to provide strong leadership may be in the area of communicating with the church in matters of direction, judgment, and counsel.
Neglect in this area can lead to stagnation in the church’s program of work – evangelism, edification, or benevolence. Another result may be that some person or persons in the church with strong opinions and dominant personalities will in effect steal away the reins of leadership from the elders. When elders conduct all of their work “behind closed doors” and neglect avenues of open communication with the church, they cut themselves off from the help of good brethren and stunt their growth while also giving some Diotrephes plausible grounds upon which to lead a rebellion. Elders everywhere need to be convinced of the importance of good communication with the church.
It has been my good fortune through the years to work with elders who wanted to improve their work and who were open to suggestions in the area of communication. There are many means and methods by which elders can properly communicate with their brethren, No one plan of procedure is final and absolute. As the result of discussing this matter with the elders here about six years ago, we outlined “A Plan of Communication Between Elders and other Brethren” and distributed it to the church. It provides for a flow of communication through several avenues and in both directions – i.e. elders toward the brethren and vice versa. The plan has worked well for us and it is submitted here in the hope that other brethren will consider making similar efforts.
It should be noted that this plan is not designed to replace the divine pattern for oversight and rule by elders with some form of democratic government government. This is purely a matter of communicating as elders, To give our readers further ideas on “Elders and Communication,” we will publish soon three letters prepared at the direction of the elders to illustrate “Gathering Information for a Decision,” “Setting Higher Goals,” and “Evaluating a Program.” We welcome additional thoughts and ideas from any of our readers.
A Plan of Communication Between Elders and Other Brethren
1. General Oversight
2. Decision Making
All Other Brethren
The Elders Want to Keep the Following Avenues of Communication Open:
1. Regular Announcements. By making the regular announcements most of the time, the elders can have most direct communication with brethren. People who have announcements which need to be made will know to bring them to one of the elders. This will also give the elders regular opportunities to offer to the church exhortation and encouragement.
2. Meetings with the men. These meetings will be planned on a quarterly basis. Each meeting will be announced in advance. The elders will give reports and exhortations, then open the floor to suggestions and discussion. To help the elders in planning profitable meetings, brethren who want to discuss some point would be wise to write it out briefly and hand the written note to one of the elders well in advance of the meeting. This will help the elders to have any needed information on hand.
These meetings will be planned and conducted in such a manner as to cultivate communication in both directions, from the elders to the men and from the men to the elders. The elders wil not shirk their duty to make final decisions nor will they try to settle matters by having a vote taken, The meetings are designed for communication and not for decision making.
3. Elders Meetings. The elders are meeting at least once a month and more often when needed in order to oversee the work of the church on a constant basis. If the elders need to meet with someone or if someone wants to meet with them, the elders will always be ready to arrange such meetings. Anyone is free to make suggestions to the elders at any time.
4. Elders and deacons to meet. The elders plan monthly meetings with the deacons in order to work with them as closely as possible.
5. Elders and teachers to meet. The elders plan quarterly meetings to encourage the teachers and to share communication with them.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 17, pp. 522-523
September 6, 1990