Ephesians 2:14-17 describes Jesus as a unifier who broke down walls of separation and brought us all near to God. One of the most amazing things about being a Christian is that we share equality in the eyes of our creator (Gal.3:28). Still, in our human imperfection, we have built all sorts of divisions that fly in the face of the unity that we should share as God’s children. This is the third in a series of posts about “bridging the gaps” between us with the goal of figuring out how to achieve the unity that Jesus himself prayed for before he was crucified (John 17:20-21).
Last week we examined the case for divine authority being given to shepherds that guide churches in the way they should go. You can read that discussion here – Elders and Authority.
This week, it is my prayer that we can bridge the gaps between members and elders by figuring out how to improve what is naturally a strained relationship. Whether we admit it or not, all of us tend to be critical of others in leadership positions. We must remember that even though God has given elders the task of making decisions, it is our job to communicate our concerns in a loving way because we are all working towards the same objectives!
Here are five ways that I believe we can improve the relationships with our spiritual shepherds:
1) Don’t Complain
One of the most disruptive things we can do is constantly complain about every decision made by our elders. Just as Jesus was a peacemaker, we should strive to support our leaders and unify our brethren. Notice what Paul says about complaining in Philippians 2:14-16:
“Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.”
2) Don’t Confuse
Another problem area between elders and members is unclear communication. As members, we often tell our shepherds what we think they want to hear instead of what we actually feel. Then, after a decision has been made, we publicly or privately disagree with it. Almost all elders ask for feedback from the members, and we should honestly and lovingly give it to them at every opportunity to avoid any confusion.
3) Don’t Cut Yourself Off
Perhaps the most devastating thing that members can do is cut themselves off from the eldership. It is incredibly dangerous to have members of a church who feel they have no relationship with its leaders. This is disruptive to unity and detrimental to growth. Even in times of frustration, it remains imperative that members and elders maintain an open line of communication.
4) Don’t Take Things Personally
Point number four is arguably the most difficult to apply as it pertains to relationship building and communication. Often elders make decisions that are unpopular because they feel those decisions are best. When this happens, the good of the church must come before the satisfaction of the individual. If the shepherds make a decision, it must be understood that they are not seeking to harm any single person or group within the Lord’s body – they are always looking out for the greater good. Pride and selfishness are dangerous, and Paul, among others, gives instructions on how to stay united in the face of dispute in Philippians 2:1-4:
“Therefore, if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
5) Don’t Make an Enemy Where God Has Made Allies
Speaking of unity, we should never make enemies where God has made allies. It boggles the mind to think of Christians worshipping and praising God together while they have animosity in their hearts towards the elders or other members sitting just a few seats away. God’s family is only able to accomplish its goals if each person does their part (Eph. 2:14-16). The dynamic between elders and members is certainly a difficult one, but a loving attitude and obedience to the Word demand that we respect our shepherds and that they guide us according to the precepts of God!