Pastoring Fellow Elders

Shepherding Fellow Leaders

As I read Eph 4:11-14, I conclude that pastors must act as if they have an appointment from God to serve in the local church; yet they can not be full of themselves. In the right sense they are gifts from God to the church. But, it is God’s church not the pastor’s. God gives whomever he wishes. This giving is for the church’s welfare not the pastor’s.
I am reminded that in Bill Gates’ book Business @ The Speed of Thought, he lays out 11 rules that students do not learn in high school or college, but should. I particularly like RULE 5- Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping; they called it opportunity.

A. Understanding the Leadership Team

Let’s start here. Are there different kinds or categories of elders? Is it appropriate to distinguish between elders? I believe so. The answer to this question turns on 1Timothy 5:17. (See The Church: Who’s in Charge?)
1. On the one hand, the distinction is not between “ruling elders” and “teaching elders”.
All elders are required to be able to teach - 1 Timothy 3:2. Therefore no such officer as a "ruling elder" (one who governs only) exists in the New Testament Church. All elders must at least occasionally utilize their required ability of teaching.

2. On the other hand, the distinction is between elders whose vocation is the eldership and elders who vocation is something else.
o The “labor” concept
Two descriptions of the group of elders Paul has in mind are given in this verse: those who rule well and those who labor at preaching and teaching.
If “especially” is the preferred translation of ma,lista as opposed to “in other words” then the “labor” phrase refers to two groups.
Apparently then, at this early date, there was already a distinction being drawn between those whom we commonly call "pastors" or full time pastor-teachers (Ephesians 4:11) and those who are commonly called "elders." However, both may be referred to by the terms, pastor, elder, or bishop. Perhaps an appropriate way to mark this distinction by terminology is to speak of vocational elders and non-vocational elders. This is seen by the fact that the present participle describing those who are especially worthy of double honor is oi` kopiw/ntej. The NAS renders it “those who work hard”. This term is from kopia,w meaning a beating or laborious trial and kopt,w meaning to strike or cut off; to beat one's breast. It has emphasis upon the fatigue that comes from straining all of one’s efforts and power into the task. A reasonable explanation is that the term refers here to the elder who pours his whole life into the task of preaching and teaching (evn lo,gw| kai. didaskali,a||) as opposed to those who have another vocation. Hence, the NIV translates “…those whose work is preaching and teaching.”
None-the-less, I struggle with the best way to designate individual elders by title.
o The first among equals concept
This distinction among elders says nothing about relative status. All elders, whether “full-time” or not, are to be viewed on equal footing.
Yet, it is apparent that there is a difference in leadership among the elders. That the vocational elder carries some added leadership responsibilities is clearly assumed by Timothy. This is also implied by virtue of the pastor/ teacher responsibility of Ephesians 4, the need for ordered function, the pattern Christ as the Chief Shepherd others who are Shepherds, as well as the historical evolution of church from the synagogue where a ruler of the synagogue was selected from among the elders.
Further, this should not surprise us given the relationship among the twelve disciples. Peter was always listed at the head of every list of the 12. He became the leader and spokesman for the group. Yet he was on equal terms with each of the others. James and John were also leaders among leaders.

So I conclude that “pastor” and elders are equals and that “pastor” is first among equals. (Note: I am not here dealing per se with the concept of a senior or lead pastor among vocational elders. That concept is for a separate study.)
You may be thinking, what does this have to do with Shepherding leaders? Well, this is of one piece with Peter and John as well. Note the connection. In 1 Pet 5:2 Peter urges elders to shepherd the flock (poima,nate to. evn u`mi/n poi,mnion). Previously, as recorded in John 21:15-17 Peter was admonished by the Lord to shepherd the flock. The play on the words “tend” and “shepherd” along with “lambs” and “sheep” show that the elder must shepherd the entire flock, including the mature ones, other elders (v 15 = Bo,ske ta. avrni,a mouÅ; v 16 = Poi,maine ta. pro,bata, mouÅ; v 17 = Bo,ske ta. pro,bata, mouÅ). Acts 20 :28 gives the same sense,
"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, (panti. tw/| poimni,w|) among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
So my simple observation is that elders must care for other elders in the flock. How then should a pastor-teacher relate to his fellow elders? If he has an obligation to shepherd them, how is he to do this?
Here are some thoughts on shepherding your fellow elders. I believe these concepts, if implemented, will result in good shepherding and will make the leadership team more effective.
This doesn’t mean that I do these things perfectly!

B. Foundational perspectives

1. The pastor is a member of a leadership team. If what I have said thus far is valid, then this is assumed. Thus I urge you to reject the one-man band mentality. Authority and responsibility should be shared.

2. Pastoral authority must be wisely wielded. Pastoral authority does have limits. In fact, pastoral authority is to a large degree a matter of leading, guiding and example. It is not high handed rule. (See Heb 13:17; 1 Tim 3:4,5; 5:17; 1 Pet 5:2). No pastor is ever above the ultimate authority of the congregation (Mat 18:15-17; 1 Tim 5:19-25). Further, it might be a surprise for some to learn that no one pastor is indispensible. God really can use others to accomplish his work, even those without formal training! Never convey the attitude that you are the only one capable of leading the flock.

3. The pastor’s primary task is to equip the flock by means of accurate teaching and avid protection. In addition to Eph 4:11 (pastor-teacher), generally the “shepherd” (poimai,nw) command in 1 Pet 5:2 means he must be with them whether by leading and guiding them (be out front), or by herding them (that is prod them along) or just by being present with them. He must protect them and nourish them. Broadly it means to take care of them.

C. Practical suggestions

How does this play out among fellow elders? How does this shape the way a pastor shepherds his fellow elders and/or other leaders of the flock? Here some thoughts.

1. Insist that only Biblically qualified men serve as church officers. Never select leaders for the sake of filling a position. This is key to everything that follows.
2. Encourage genuine evaluation of your ministry by your fellow leaders. You must accept criticism and be willing to identify your blind spots. Perhaps you could ask your fellow elders to “Cite one criticism of my preaching (what is the weakest element)?” Or, “Please share one of my personal blind spots to which I need to give attention.” Furthermore, always seek clarification when confronted with negative criticism. Never react defensively.
3. Clearly admit it when you are wrong. Assume that you will make mistakes and poor decisions. Don’t be afraid to publicly admit your error.
4. Exhibit a learner’s spirit before your fellow leaders. All leaders should know that you do not think you have all the answers. If you are secure, you will be able to hear, accept, and implement ideas that are contrary to your own. You must listen. You must be transparent. You must be human.
5. Solve conflicts with your fellow leaders biblically. Always follow Matt 18 when applicable. Confront individuals privately rather than from the pulpit or in other public settings. When confronting, always seek clarification, give the benefit of the doubt, be patient, and seek to cover the offense if possible (Prov 17:9). Do not allow conflicts to remain unresolved (Eph 4:26).
Have you heard about the man in a hot air balloon who realized he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below. He descended a bit more and shouted, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am." The woman below replied, "You’re in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You’re between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude." "You must be an engineer," said the balloonist. "I am," replied the woman, "How did you know?" "Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is, technically correct, but I’ve no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I’m still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help at all. If anything, you’ve delayed my trip." The woman below responded, "You must be in Management." "I am," replied the balloonist, "but how did you know?" "Well," said the woman, "you don’t know where you are or where you’re going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise, which you’ve no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it’s my fault." (source unknown).

6. Take genuine interest in the personal lives of fellow elders. You want to cultivate a family atmosphere among your elders. Thus you must take an active interest in their family members, their jobs, and their leisure.
7. Expect unity among your fellow leaders but not uniformity or even unanimous agreement. You must allow for liberty and various preferences. Affirm a fellow elder’s right to hold a view different than yours. But unity must be prized.
8. Encourage independent thinking by your fellow leaders. It is a mistake to surround yourself with “yes” men. Grappling with differing opinions often produces balance, strength, and maturity. So always welcome and value the opinions of those who see things differently. Did I mention that you should cultivate an openness to change? Change is good.
9. Develop an atmosphere of mutual confidence and trust. Keys might be openness and transparency; full discussion; listen to suggestions; be open to change; no hidden agendas; preserve confidentiality.
10. Give credit to your fellow elders as appropriate. In fact, go out of the way to insure that someone other than you gets credit for successful endeavors. Your goal should be to make your fellow leaders look good before the congregation and help them be successful. Publicly support them. Speak positively of their character and ministry. Too often people make the “spotlight” only when things go badly.
11. Capitalize on the abilities and talents of your fellow leaders and minimize their weakness. They are skilled in a variety of areas. This is what makes the team concept so valuable. Do not deprive the church of the care of these men. They also possess a passion for the church’s welfare that is at least equal to yours.
12. Give your fellow elders appropriate ministries and then stay out of their way. Allow them to function without interference. This is part of the larger concept that you must allow others to accomplish secondary, yet significant, tasks.
13. Be alert to overlooking or overworking your fellow leaders. On the one hand, make sure all leaders are meaningfully engaged in ministry. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to eliminate programs, if those programs must be staffed by overworked leaders.
14. Establish mutually agreed upon goals that frame your common function and relationship. For instance, “we will offer criticisms that are solution oriented”; or “we will tangibly demonstrate love to our wives”; or “we will faithfully attend the stated services of our church”; or “we will engage in spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible reading.”
15. Create occasions for teaching your fellow elders. Begin with an elder-mentor training program. Plan off-site gatherings for the purpose of planning and training. Include mini-instruction segments in regular elder meetings. Seize unplanned teaching moments.


§ Pastors must be about the business of preparing God’s people to serve Christ and his church. Among other things, his teaching must not be theoretical only. And he will be handicapped if he is unable to delegate to others, to share ministry opportunities, to defer to others, or to effectively organize his ministry and life.
§ Pastors must gauge their success, in part, by whether they diligently work hard at nurturing the church in which they serve toward Christ likeness
§ I love the church. I have the best job in the world.

© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2016. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.