Learning from Previous Shepherds

what I see now, I wish I had known then

In one interim congregation, I met an unusual number of men who had served as elders. Some were still in the congregation. Others were in the community. Only two were in other cities.

As I was getting acquainted, I kept meeting men who told me, “I used to be an elder here.” Or someone else would point to a man as a former shepherd.

After several of these encounters early in my tenure, I said during an elders’ meeting, “I think every baptized man in this county has served as an elder of this church at one time or another.”

I wondered if we could gain some wisdom by talking with these men. The elders of the church I was serving gave me permission and encouragement, along with names and phone numbers. I was able to interview 26 of 27.

I called for appointments and visited each man. I assured his information would be confidential, not sharing names with specific answers. I was thrilled with the cooperation of former elders and the willingness of the present elders to meet for several hours and discuss these observations.

Questions I Asked

  1. How long were you an elder?
  2. How was your experience?
    Good?
    Unpleasant?
  3. While you were serving as an elder if you had had a magic wand, what would you have changed to make the eldership better?
  4. In what ways and how often did people express appreciation to you for your service?
  5. What appreciation did you receive when you resigned?
  6. Why did you leave the eldership: personal issues, good of the church, forced?
  7. Did you see alliances, division in the eldership?
  8. If so, how was this handled?
  9. What suggestions would you have for the present eldership?
[tweetthis]While you were serving if you had had a magic wand, what would you have changed to make the eldership better?[/tweetthis] [tweetthis]What suggestions do you have for the present eldership?[/tweetthis]

Observations from Former Elders

  1. Of 24 who answered this question, there was a total of 143.58 years of service. Average was 6 years.
  2. Good experiences: fellowship with fellow shepherds, better relationship with the congregation, able to know God and people better.
  3. Unpleasant experiences: doing the work of deacons, board of directors, some elders did not live up to their word, politicking.
  4. Ways to improve shepherd service: fewer decisions — more visiting, change focus from administration to spiritual matters, more shepherding — less firefighting, continue training of elders.
  5. What appreciation did you receive for your service?: 81% said they received regular and adequate appreciation while they were serving; 19% said they did not. When they resigned, 50% said they received appreciation, 50% said they did not.
  6. Why they left the eldership: moved, frustrated, asked to leave, personal and family issues, burned out, finished what I came to do.
  7. 84% said there were alliances and divisions in the eldership when they served. 16% said there were none.
  8. Most said alliances were not handled. Several reported there were meetings before meetings to decide what was going to be decided in the meetings.

Answers provided excellent insight gained from Bible study, prayer, experience, and time in reflection.

There were many good suggestions for the present eldership. I am not reporting those. To do so might reveal individuals commenting to some who are in that congregation.

For this process to be effective, the person asking questions and recording answers should do it for information only and not explain, prosecute, or defend present or former elderships.

Consider this, or a similar exercise, to tap the wisdom of men who have served, still love the Lord and His church, and can give good perspectives when asked.

What are some other ways to gain wisdom for shepherds?

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