The first leader of Israel on the march was God's minister. God planned it that way. And right down through Bible times the ministry was expected to lead the church.
Today we find a similar situation. The leaders of the General Conference are ordained ministers, as are almost all the committee members. Such is also the case on division, union, and local conference levels. God intends that the ministry shall lead.
In Moses' day, close alongside him one finds the elders. And most certainly elders were close to the ministry in the church that Christ founded and that His apostles later built up for Him.
Christ's true church has not changed. Today's elders associate with the pastors in our churches. They are an honorable group among us. They verily stand at the side of the ministry. Relationships affect work. The best work is usually done where the relations are the best. Poor work is often the by-product of poor relationships.
Five Important Questions
1. What are the relationships between pastors and elders? They are, first and foremost, brothers and sisters. Organizational relationships can never be properly worked out until the relationship of bloodbought brothers and sisters is understood. We are all brothers in Christ Jesus. That strengthens our relations. But, having Adam as our common father, we also are brothers and sisters in Adam. That could tend to weaken our relations, for we thus all have weaknesses and failings.
Brothers and sisters in Christ and brothers and sisters in Adam: to forget this is fatal. To remember the spiritual relationship only and thus forget the carnal connection between us all can be almost as fatal. The reality of the situation is simply that as developing Christians we are all strong in Christ and weak in Adam. We must never forget that, either of ourselves or of our associates.
We come now to the tasks we do for God in the local church. We have three alternatives: dictatorship, confusion, or harmonious competency. Wise pastors and wise elders strive for the last-named state, harmonious competency. It is ever their goal, and this goal is frequently attained, but not by mere chance. There must be understanding. Remember, understanding is not a nebulous thing it is real! It is there because the parties concerned went to the trouble of putting it there, and usually when it is missing, it is missing because little, if any, intelligent, sustained effort has been made to bring about understanding.
Strained relations, when investigated, will frequently result in somebody's admitting something like this: "All along I had a question on that point." Doubtless we have all discovered this to be the case. Then let us pose a few questions on the relationships between church pastors and elders. Asking questions promptly at the right time may help to lessen the deadly peril of having them asked only in the gloomy echo of some wounded heart. When that happens, good relations are in grave danger.
2. Because a church has a pastor, are the elders thereby relieved of the work of visiting members of the flock in their homes'?
No is the answer. But unplanned visiting will never accomplish a tithe of what planned visitation will do. This is particularly true in working for the backslider or near-backslider. It is always wise for elders to discuss their visiting plans with the pastor. Of course, unswerving loyalty must prevail on the occasion of every visit. Loyalty pays all ways and always.
3. Who should prepare the agenda for church board meetings—pastor or elder?
Because the pastor is the ranking officer, you may be inclined to say that he should do it. Technically that may be correct. But our answer is both pastor and elders. We have found that an elders' meeting, called by the pastor for the purpose of together building the board agenda, is a very good arrangement, which usually results in smooth-running and efficient board meetings.
4. Who should convene church board and/or business meetings?
Again you will probably say the pastor, for he is the ranking officer of the church. Naturally that is the correct procedure. But though it is obvious that the pastor should initiate the call for such meetings, it is nevertheless desirable that, as a general practice, the dates and times for these gatherings be discussed in the elders' meeting. Of course it hardly need be mentioned that board and/or business meetings are never convened without the pastor's being aware of them.
5. When a member has a matter he wishes the board to consider, to whom should he go—the pastor or the elder?
We suggest either, provided the elders' meeting plan is working in the church, for then all the elders and the pastor are acquainted with agenda items.
"If in doubt, ask." This would be a good slogan for elders and pastors. Let questions such as we have suggested be wholesomely discussed when the pastor convenes his elders' meetings, rather than have such queries pop up in a wider circle. Where such meetings are held, relationships will be steered away from either a dictatorship or a muddle, and toward our mutual goal, harmonious competency.
W. A. Townend writes from Cooranbong, Australia.