The scene is a far too familiar one: the regularly scheduled elders’ meeting begins with a brief, but generalized, time of prayer. It is then followed by the usual routine of going around the table, asking each elder what he would like to discuss. The suggestions usually range from the urgent to the trivial – and everything in between. The discussion may be punctuated with a passionate exchange of differing opinions, or it may simply proceed in the typical, unexciting “business as usual” format. A few important items may be discussed at length, but by the end of the meeting, it resembles more of an administrative task force than a spiritual, strategic planning and implementation think tank. Unfortunately, the minutia of assembly life often wins the day – the withering details that cause the heads and hands to droop even lower than when the meeting first began —and it comes to a rushed and nebulous conclusion.
If this has been your experience in the meetings in which you serve as an elder, take heart – you are not alone! Too many elders’ meetings are characterized by such a routine, a routine that needs to be adjusted, if not radically overhauled, if the local church is to make a difference in the world. Considering the gravity of the present decline in our culture, it is incumbent upon all elders to maximize their time, sharpen their focus, and identify and address the significant spiritual issues affecting congregational life. True, there will always be minor “housekeeping” details that need to be addressed, but to exclude the more serious issues that require deeper spiritual dredging should never be neglected. These issues need to be brought up for discussion, prayerfully examined, and properly dealt with. The vitality and well-being of the congregation is at stake, a condition for which the elders will have to one day give an account ( Heb. 13:17). If the elders don’t do the job, who will? With this in mind, I would like to suggest some helpful reminders to revitalize and improve the elders’ meetings.
Prepare Your Heart
Prior to the elders’ meeting, each elder should privately commit this meeting to the Lord in prayer. As under-shepherds of God’s heritage, prayer for everything affecting the local assembly should be the regular exercise of every elder. Since this position was one that was desired (1 Tim 3:1), there should be a readiness to bathe their responsibility in prayer and an eagerness to do so. Done regularly, this can only help to elevate the tone of the meeting and steer it away from the mundane. In so doing, elders can practically demonstrate what Paul exhorted the Philippians to do, to “approve the things that are excellent” (Phil. 1:10).
Establish an Agenda
Another helpful reminder for effective elder’s meetings is to be prepared with an agenda ahead of time—not your agenda, but the elders! The temptation can arise to come to this meeting without adequate preparation and simply react to the items that are put on the table. Without proper forethought on the part of each elder, effective elder’s meetings will struggle to stay afloat. To facilitate this, elders in some fellowships arrange in advance to collect agenda items in order to assemble and prioritize a master list. This can be done through emails or phone calls to a designated elder, who collects all agenda items. This will help keep the meeting on track and effectively move it along at an even pace. Each elder should certainly be encouraged to keep an ongoing list between meetings so that there is not a frantic last-minute attempt to assemble such a list.
Budget Your Time
Another important element of effective elders’ meetings and a must if they are to be revitalized, is to adequately budget the time allotted. The length of the meetings may vary among local congregations, but one thing is usually the same— items brought up first on the agenda have the luxury of being given a lot more consideration time, while items that come up at the end are time-deprived. This is accentuated when the typical order is routinely followed, and the elder who unfortunately is last in line has only minutes to talk about the items on his list. This is why a pre-arranged and prioritized list is so important—it avoids a lopsided agenda and keeps the discussion balanced. If this is the format followed, try switching it up and changing the order. In the same vein, try also alternating who leads the discussion each month, quarter, or year. It will go a long way in keeping things fresh.
Stay on Track
Staying on track is also an imperative for effective elders’ meetings. We have all experienced the curse of getting off course. The question is asked: “How is brother so-and-so doing after his surgery?” “Well, he’s fine. He is out of rehab, but his car is in the shop”. To which another elder replies: “Maybe we need to arrange rides for him. By the way, have we serviced the church van lately?” Another elder replies, “No, not lately. Who is responsible anyway for servicing the van and why don’t we get a maintenance schedule established? This is a problem and we need to fix it”. And off the discussion goes into orbit, requiring a lasso a mile long to bring it back. A simple question of asking how a person in the assembly is doing ends up going in a completely different direction. And we wonder why we run out of time by the end of the meeting! If we are to accomplish what really needs to be accomplished, it will require disciplined thinking, planning, and the ability to bring the discussion back into focus. That is not easy to do, but it is critical! It is standard operating procedure in the business world; why not do it even better in the house of God, which is the “pillar and ground of truth”? (1 Tim. 3:15)
Keep Good Notes
Finally, there is a need to record items discussed and decisions rendered if we are to have effective elders’ meetings. We so easily forget and need our memories jogged as to the details surrounding certain decisions, especially in the months afterwards. Notes should be taken, duplicated, and stored for easy retrieval. Copies should be promptly provided to each of the elders. A collective “To Do” list which would include specifics and dates for which items on the list are to be accomplished should be assembled. Furthermore, efforts should be taken to employ every elder for the tasks at hand. This helps avoid the “armchair elder” syndrome that can characterize many elders’ meetings – a lot of talk, but little or no action.
Effective elders’ meetings are definitely needed if we are to make any spiritual headway for Christ. These are just a few suggestions for elders to help things run more smoothly in a job that receives very little thanks. Regardless, it is a position that should emote from every member of the local church an attitude of acknowledgement, submission, and loving respect for those who serve the Lord in this way (Heb.13:7, 17, 24). Anything that can be done to make elders’ meetings more efficient and more effective will help foster appreciation for the challenging work in which elders are engaged.