In our last blog post, we talked about how VitalChurch Ministry can come in to help a struggling elder board in a church in crisis, or in one without a permanent pastor, and that post got us thinking about the role of an elder board.
In our many combined years of ministry, the interim pastors at VitalChurch have seen many different types of elder boards. Some are intimately involved with every decision being made in the church (even having the final say on the type of carpet being installed in the church nursery), while others have little to no involvement in the direction of the church at all and allow the lead pastor or the staff to make decisions for the church.
The role of an elder will differ from church to church, and from denomination to denomination, but there are certain primary tasks that we believe an elder board should undertake.
Protecting the Church’s Doctrinal Stance
Every church should have a clear doctrinal stance, and it is the role of the elder board to guard it and make sure it is being adhered to in the church’s teaching and ministry. They must firmly protect the essentials of the faith, such as the Deity of Christ, and also the non-essentials that, while not necessary for salvation, can be important issues in the church (a church’s stance on infant or believer’s baptism, for example).
Direction of the Church
The vision of the church is another area that should be spearheaded by the elder board, with appropriate input from church staff. The elder board should then empower the lead pastor to carry out and oversee that vision, and hold him accountable through regular reports and evaluations.
Probably the most unpopular role of an elder is having to discipline church members who are engaging in habitual sin, but this is a clear responsibility of church elders, according to Matthew 18: 15-19.
Should Church Staff Members Be Elders?
This is a question we get quite frequently, and there isn’t a definite “right” or “wrong” answer. Generally, however, we recommend that only the lead pastor be a member of an elder board, if any is to be on the elder board at all. In the case of a church without a permanent lead pastor in place, like many of the ones in which we serve as interim pastors, we would advise that vocational staff not serve as elders. VitalChurch interim pastor Gregg Caruso, had this to say on that subject: “When a church is in transition with the aim of calling a ‘Permanent Pastor’, it’s generally wise to not have any vocational staff as elders. When a permanent pastor comes on the scene, it can be awkward and confusing for the permanent pastor to be the (new) supervisor of the staff members at work but be a co-equal in an elder’s meeting.”
As we stated in the beginning, every church has its own view of what an elder board should look like, how it should operate, and for what it is responsible. There is certainly a lot of flexibility in this area. If your church is part of a denomination that clearly outlines the roles and responsibilities of an elder, an interim pastor from VitalChurch certainly isn’t going to ask you to change them, but we will work closely with your elder board to make sure they are doing their job in the most effective way possible.
As we always say, our interim pastors don’t come to churches just to fill the pulpit and maintain the status quo. We are interested in seeing true revitalization in struggling churches, and sometimes, that revitalization starts with the board of elders.