Church Elder--Manager or Shepherd?


As I talk with pastors, staff members, everyday Christians, and elders themselves, everyone seems a little confused on answering the question, “What does a local church elder actually do?”

A few weeks ago I had lunch with every elder couple of a sweet church with a passion for reaching its community for the Lord Jesus. I asked each of them to describe what being an elder meant to them.

Each wonderfully godly couple spoke mostly in terms of managing the church budget, various programs, and some were teaching the Word of God in several contexts, including children (Good for them!).

Though we know a lot less than some would leave you to believe about how the early church actually operated, one job description of the office of elder seems most appropriate: Elders are shepherds (1 Peter 5:2).

Managers and shepherds are not the same.

Managers work to get the church to do what they did last week, last year, even (ugh) last decade, but a little more effectively and efficiently. And, when an elder is operating as a manager, that elder is usually so preoccupied with budget pressures that there will be some emphasis on doing what has always been done a little cheaper. Or maybe a lot cheaper.

Shepherds, on the other hand, lead the sheep. They know where they’d like to go, but understand that they can’t get there without loving and caring for the sheep. New Testament shepherds should live with a preoccupation for equipping others (Ephesians 4) for the work of the ministry and releasing them to their Ephesians 2:10 works.

Managers pursue authority and control. Shepherds take responsibility for their leadership, decision-making, care, and love of the flock.

We need both in the local church. However, we must carefully differentiate between the two. Managers are plentiful, but shepherds with the courage to lead in the way Jesus would lead are scarce.

This must have something to do with Paul telling his young charge Timothy to appoint elders with great caution and discernment (1 Timothy 5:22).

Question: How would you change an elder culture that viewed their role as managers to viewing themselves as shepherds?

By the way, if you need help answering that question, contact me. It’s what I do.