Churches of Christ Need to Fire The Chief Elder

At Glendale Road, we’re in the process of identifying additional men who might serve among our college of elders. Two days ago, I preached the second sermon on elders in preparation for this process. I decided to preach from Ezekiel 34:1–10 so that our current and likely incoming elders could learn from the mistakes of the elders of Israel.

One point that I made was that those elders had failed to protect the flock (Ezek 34:5–6). I then cross referenced this lack of protection with Paul’s admonition to the Ephesian elders found in Acts 20:29–30.

For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.

A part of this passage, “Also from among yourselves,” led me to stress how elders ought to shepherd their fellow elders. This, in turn, led me to declare that every congregation where I’ve served has had one elder who acted and behaved as if he were the chief elder. This particular man acted this way because he went unchecked by his fellow elders for whatever reason. Maybe seniority, personality, or another trait led the other elders to bow to this one man’s will on most things so that if he wanted or didn’t want something, then it happened or didn’t, depending on his desire. Any problem I’ve had with elders where I have served has had to do almost always with the self-appointed chief elder. Paul warned the Ephesian elders that some from among their own number would arise speaking perverse things, so elders ought not to shepherd the flock of God only, but they also ought to shepherd their fellow shepherds.

I’ve been talking with a friend recently who is in a dire situation. He had three elders where he serves, but one had to retire from the eldership because he has early onset dementia. Just a few weeks ago, one of the other elders sinned publicly, though the nature of his public sin is unknown to the congregation. However, authorities were involved. This friend is at a crossroads because the other elder won’t insist that the transgressing elder removes himself from leadership. To be fair, the transgressing elder has repented privately, and I’m grateful for such. However, were it to have been the preacher who did this thing, he would have been fired. In many cases, when the chief elder behaves as he tends to, he’s excused, but were it to have been the preacher who did the very same thing, he’d have been terminated. This is wholly unjust and unfair, and sometimes a man—elder or preacher—can behave in such a way that his effectiveness and influence can be damaged so he would need to remove himself for the good of the church.

When I interviewed with Glendale Road, this was a question I had—whether or not they had a chief elder. I’m tired of dealing with elderships who refuse to police among their own number while often the preacher or congregation suffers because of one man. It isn’t scriptural, and it isn’t godly. Moreover, such elders who behave in this way often disqualify themselves from serving in this role when one considers that they shouldn’t lord their position over the flock, among whom is even the preacher (1 Peter 5:1–4). Sadly, most preachers are transplants and aren’t regarded as members of the congregations they serve but hired hands who can be easily dispensed with and replaced.

After having preached this sermon on Sunday, I had a lady mention to me Sunday evening that she and her husband went home and wept after my sermon on Sunday morning. They are newer members of our body, and they left their former congregation because of the chief elder there. It brought back those memories, and they just cried but were grateful that I spoke against such. I’ve always felt that the preacher was the one who suffered the most at the hands of the chief elder, but that isn’t always so. These folks had suffered too, and when I mentioned what I write about here in my sermon, they knew precisely of what I spoke.

No one man is above the whole of any one congregation. Shepherds need to shepherd 11their fellow shepherds. Preachers must address and not ignore such blatant disregards from shepherds too. Many preachers remain silent because their livelihood depends on whether or not the elders would terminate their employment if they were to speak against them. After having suffered myself at the hands of a few chief shepherds, I no longer remain silent. I now speak up, because God’s ways are bigger than my employment. If I lose my job, then so be it, but I trust that God will provide. Fire the chief elder; otherwise, just call him what he really is, “Holy Father Pope.”

11 Comments on “Churches of Christ Need to Fire The Chief Elder

  1. Thanks for the insights – many of us have been through churches with similar leadership issues. It’s important to see it called out for what it is and then it’s important to advocate for reform, for its correction. Any advice for solutions? One I can think of is a little more transparency. Elders ARE the oversight, so it’s not exactly possible to appoint people over them – and if you did, you’d just have the same issues with the next rank up. But transparency can be required in a lot of ways. Just a thought. Elders, to borrow the catchphrase, are a body of governance notably ungoverned.


    • One solution would be good, biblical teaching followed by private admonition. I’ve found that most elders are really good men who want to do what’s right and please God, so if they’re shown the justification from the Scriptures, they are likely to want to change to be pleasing to Him.

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  2. Our elders divide up the list of members so that each member has at least one elder who especially checks in on them. The elders are members, so they also each have another elder to check in on them. They also rotate who is the point man from month to month. All of this structure helps spread out the power and authority. But the main thing is to select elders who understand that they are servant leaders, not CEOs.


  3. It is also important that the preacher or another staff member does not become the chief of the congregation. I detected a worrisome amount of bitterness in this essay, along with several comments that seemed to imply that the author feels preachers are always underappreciated. Preachers, like all Christians, are to be servants, and if this chafes, preaching may not be a good fit. “but were it to have been the preacher who did the very same thing, he’d have been terminated. This is wholly unjust and unfair” … seriously? Life is not fair. And if those of you who are preachers agree with the author that, “Sadly, most preachers are transplants and aren’t regarded as members of the congregations they serve but hired hands who can be easily dispensed with and replaced.” I have never been at a congregation in which this is the case. If it is for you, perhaps the problem really is that you are so worried about being abused that you are afraid to roll up your sleeves and pitch in alongside the members. The best way to become a part of a family is to work side by side with them, helping to bathe the elderly parent, weeding and sweeping, and giving rides to doctors’ appointments. You cannot become the only servant in the church, but the way to stop being an outsider is to do the work that the insiders do.


    • LB, no one person should ever be chief. I’d agree with you on that score. Is there a tinge of bitterness? Perhaps, but all I can say is that it wasn’t intended that way from the heart despite it appearing so to you in writing. If you are a preacher, I rejoice that you’ve not endured this sort of treatment as your comments seem to reflect. If you’re not a preacher, I would only offer that your comments lack empathy and insight. As a preacher who’s endured this treatment, and knowing several others who’ve endured it and left ministry because of it, your comments, while well intended, lack perspective from the inside. You also arbitrarily make connections that are not focused on the content of the article. The outsider treatment is usually how the chief elder, or elders, treat the ministers. Each congregation I’ve served has been a blessing, but the problems have always been with leadership whenever there were problems. Hence the focus of this being about the elders.


    • “Fire” was more of a figure of speech. However, to answer your question, I’d rather give God’s expectations from the Scriptures with the hope that said elder would reform and become better at leading rather than eliminate them from leadership altogether. As people, we all grow, and the best way to “fire” the chief elder is to eliminate the idea that one should behave in such a way.


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