By Denver Niemeier
“They never tell us anything.” Me don’t know what is going on.” ‘They never ask what we think about things concerning the affairs of the church.” “We don’t know where the money is being used.” “There is no communication between the elders and the rest of us.” “We try to talk to them but they act as if they don’t want to know what we think.” “They only tell us about things after they have reached a decision.” These and other similar statements are too often made concerning elders by those who are under their oversight.
I have been asked to write concerning the need of elders to say in communication with the membership and to give some suggestions on how to keep communication open between elders and the membership. It will be to this end that I will offer the following from things that I am convinced contribute to the good communication that exists between those of us who serve as elders and the members of the Traders Point church. In addition I will relate from past experience other lessons and observations that have been helpful to me as an elder.
Communication is defined as, “the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions” (The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary). To be able to keep good communications, there first of all has to be the establishing of such. This has not been accomplished in many cases between elders and the members. To achieve this, elders need to impress the members that the elders want communication to exist. Some elders come across in such a way that the impression is given to the members that the elders don’t want to hear from them. Information needs to flow both ways; elders need to open up to the church and the members should find elders who will listen to them and take under consideration what they have to say.
We are told in 1 Peter 5:3 that elders are not to be as lords over God’s heritage. W.E. Vine (The Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words) makes the comment in reference to what Peter says as, “the evil of elders lording it over the saints under their spiritual care.” The word “lord” as used in this passage means to domineer or to rule with arbitrary or despotic sway. In Barnes Notes on the New Testament, the following comment is made, “Their dominion is not to be that of temporal lordship, it is to be that of love and truth.” I am impressed from what Peter says, that good communication is to exist between elders and the membership. I am also convinced that, when elders reach a decision having communicated with the flock concerning that matter, the flock will accept that decision. With this communication existing, many problems can be stopped before they develop.
A preacher who worked with us some years ago, told me after he had moved from us that the only criticism that he had concerning the elders was that he felt we left him out while he was with us. This along with many other areas I have endeavored to improve in. We now include the preacher in many more discussions that we have and have developed other times where we are associated more. So many times preachers and elders seem to end up in a so-called power struggle. When good communications exist between them, things will progress and not be hindered. Preachers and elders should sit down and discuss things concerning the work.
Toward the goal of good communications we have set aside the first Friday evening of the month for the preacher and his wife, the elders and their wives, and the deacons and their wives to get together for a period of time. This’ enables all to get to know each other better and at the same time presents opportunity for discussion in an informal way of those things we are all interested in. These meetings are usually held in the homes on a rotating basis with the hostess serving a meal, snacks, dessert or whatever she chooses. These times of being together builds good communications between those involved.
A little over a year after I obeyed the gospel, I was appointed a deacon where I was a member. I can recall the many and good things I learned as the result of the elders making it possible on a regular basis for the deacons to be present to observe, listen, and contribute their input as they would discuss the affairs before them.
We practice this in a somewhat different way, by inviting not only the deacons but any other men who want to come to be present on the first Lord’s day afternoon at 5:00, to meet with us. At this time with one of the elders in charge of the meeting, a financial report is given for the past month, thoughts and plans are presented by the elders concerning the affairs of the church. Comments, criticism, ideas, suggestions and questions are requested from the men present. A permanent record of these meeting is kept and also entered into this record are whatever decisions have been made by the elders since the last meeting. Someone once said that a business meeting is where minutes are kept and hours wasted. Not so in our case. We meet at 5:00 and the meeting is dismissed at 5:45, giving all 15 minutes to prepare for the evening service. At the conclusion of the service that evening the elder who was in charge will highlight that afternoon’s meeting for the benefit of the members who were not present that afternoon. This informs everyone concerning that discussion. Therefore no one can say he did not have the opportunity of knowing what is going on. This gives all members the opportunity to express their thoughts to the elders.
At the same time the men are in this meeting mentioned above, the women have a class elsewhere in the building. The class is taught by one of the elder’s wives or the preacher’s wife on a rotating basis. Some of the mothers in this ladies class take turns conducting a class for the children. These classes also dismiss at 5:45.
As matters arise that the elders do not want to wait until the monthly meeting mentioned, they will go before the congregation, inform them of the matter and ask the members to express their thoughts after the services to the elders on an individual basis. We let the members know that we want to hear from them, then we make our decision; when that decision is made, even though it may not agree with what every member had to say about it, they realize they had an opportunity to express themselves.
From time to time we (elders) will visit the members in their homes. We usually allow about 45 minutes for each visit and sometimes will make two or three in a night, having arranged ahead of time with the members what time and day we will be at their home. We do this until we have been in the homes and have visited with every member. We ask the members to make any comment they desire about us and our work, the preacher and his work, or things in general. We encourage them to be free in their criticism or whatever they have to say. I have found that people at times will speak out in their own homes who will never speak their thoughts to us at the meeting place. Again we use this opportunity ,to impress the members that we want to hear from them anytime they want to discuss some matter with us. My personal thinking is that these visits should be made yearly or every eighteen months.
Elders should keep the members informed concerning money matters. I can remember a church where the elders only presented to the church once a year a record of the financial report. As I have already mentioned, we do this on a monthly basis as well as issuing a yearly statement. We also keep reminding the members that the books of the church are open at any time to any member who wants to examine them. Keep everything open and not in a corner.
Elders should also seek out advice and counsel from those members who possess knowledge in fields where the knowledge of the elders is not as great. I am one elder who does not know it all and I am willing to listen to what others have to, say who are more knowledgeable than. I am. I remember a friend of mine years ago, who served as an elder, telling me how he sought much advice; he said, “When I want advice about financial matters I go talk with. . .,” then he named a brother in the church who was very successful in the business world. Then he said, “If I need instruction concerning the Scriptures I go talk with. . ____, “and he then named two men in the church who were very well informed in the Bible. What he was teaching me was that there is knowledge and experience among the members which he needed. Elder& seek that out, weigh it and then make their decision.
One of the bulletins I get has the following statement in every issue. “The elders are at the building each Monday night at 7:30 for any question you might have.” This tells me that these men are interested in what the members have to say. This is a very good idea.
When good communications exist the members will seek out the elders to discuss their problems and thoughts. Members should be made to feel free to approach the elders and understand that the elders will listen to what they have to say. To accomplish this elders, listen to, talk to, seek comments from and be available to members.
Open up to them and they will open up to you. Keep the church informed.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 1, pp. 14-15
January 5, 1989