Suggestion: If You’re a New Elder, Don’t Read that Letter Alone! — If You’re a New (or Old) Preacher, Don’t Read that Letter Alone!

I heard the story many times. Each retelling brought back the pain of the day.

A brother had recently been appointed an elder. The elders decided to release their preacher. Their preacher was a gentle man. He was well-loved by many in the church. He had several losing seasons (the church was declining). They thought it was time for a new coach.

After they drafted a letter to read to the congregation, one of the elders said to this newly ordained shepherd, “We’ve all signed the letter. You read it. You read better than we do.”

As my friend would retell the story of disillusionment as a leader, he would repeat, “Jerrie, I thought everyone would remember all the elders signed the letter. But what they remembered was who read the letter.” It continued to be a heartache of a brother who wanted to be of service and was attacked soon after his appointment.

I learned the principle early in my public ministry. The elders decided to ask the church to withdraw from a brother. The elders prepared and signed a letter. On the appointed Sunday, the elders asked me to read the letter because I read better than they did.

I was surprised when his wife came out the door with hurt in her expression toward me because of what I did to her husband.

Questions to Discuss When Making Painful Announcements

  • Have we discussed this? Have we talked about the advantages and disadvantages of this decision? Have we evaluated different ways of approaching this issue?
  • Have we worked through every objection someone could give to our plan and how we will answer them?
  • Have we exhausted different solutions to the problem? Jesus gave a plan to deal with people who sin against us (miss the mark). He gave three steps (Matthew 18:15-17). I don’t think this is three strikes and you’re out. Jesus is giving a process to gain a brother. Rarely have I seen the “tell it to the church” step used in an effective way. It’s often used as a checklist before (or while) reading a letter of intent to withdraw fellowship. See the best approach I’ve seen — Church Discipline: “Tell It to the Church”
  • Have we individually thought and expressed how we’re applying the Golden Rule to this decision? If I were in his place and he was in mine, how would I want him to treat me?

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets Matthew 7:12, NKJV).

  • Suggestion: if you have a difficult letter to read, find a time when visitors aren’t present. Announce, “We’re going to give five to seven minutes to greet visitors. Afterward, we’re asking all our members to stay for a few minutes. We have a family matter we need to discuss with this church.”

  • Consider having all elders come forward and read a paragraph. Or have an elder introduce the topic. Express the seriousness of the discussion. Another elder tells as much as helpful about the process of coming to this decision including the amount of time they’ve deliberated. Another elder reads the letter. Another elder has a prayer for all involved.

If you’ve ever been the “good reader,” you may have a similar wish to mine. People discuss who they want to talk to in heaven. There are names mentioned often: Jesus, Peter, Paul, Mary. I want to get with Uriah the Hittite and ask him how he felt when he was placed in the forefront of the battle, and everybody left him.

Have you been put in a difficult place and everyone left you alone? How have you dealt with it? What did you learn?

Please comment below.

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Jerrie Barber
Disciple of Jesus, husband, grandfather, preacher, barefoot runner, ventriloquist

2 Responses to “Suggestion: If You’re a New Elder, Don’t Read that Letter Alone! — If You’re a New (or Old) Preacher, Don’t Read that Letter Alone!

  • John T. Ferguson
    2 years ago

    Very wise approach to a serious matter, I’ve had to address these issues over my near 40-year ministry!

  • Steve McCall
    2 years ago

    I had to deal with this in a situation with a church secretary. An elder unilaterally hired a secretary to replace an excellent secretary who had resigned to take another position, This new secretary was not able to do the job and all the complaints came to me. I took these to the elders, who had made several questionable decisions, that led the congregation to ask them to step down. After the eldership dissolved, the men’s first order of business was to replace the secretary and it fell to me to tell her because “I was in the office when she was.” At least one of the other men volunteered to approach the secretary with me to break the news. It was still told that the preacher fired the secretary even though it was a decision of the men.