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 their 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.”