I recently heard the complaint that our elders are “yes men” to my desires. Perhaps it is because our pastors are relatively young in age. Perhaps it is because two of our pastors came through our pastoral residency prior to becoming elders at our church. I gave an immediate rebuttal to this complaint but spent some extended time considering the possibility in the following week. The two questions I wanted to answer were: 1) Are our elders “yes men?” and 2) If not, what is the culture that we have established to protect ourselves from this becoming the case?
The first question was easily answered with a “no.” To answer the second question, I came up with 5 ways our church is protected against “yes men” elders. These are ways in which, I, as the one who fills the role many consider a “lead pastor,” have helped protect our church and myself form “yes men.”
Embrace a Form of Congregationalism
At Emmaus, our congregation votes on a handful of issues, one of which is elders. In other words, our elders cannot appoint another elder without the congregation approving said elder. This is the first layer of protection in our church from our elders installing “yes men”. The congregation must approve our pastors.
Only Consider Men of Conviction
In order for a man to be considered as an elder, he must be a man of conviction. Our elders must be men of doctrinal integrity, theological clarity, and philosophical conviction. By bringing men onto the eldership who have well researched and established thoughts in each of these areas, we protect our church from “yes men”. This does not mean that an elder cannot grow, mature, and even change in his thoughts, but that must not be a quick decision. If a man is easily swayed, we are slow to consider him as an elder.
Let the elders speak to decisions before I do
My consistent practice in discussions about doctrine, pastoral care, and philosophy of ministry is to lay the discussion on the table, and let all of the other elders speak first. By doing this, I assure that they are not swayed by my opinion and feel free to speak openly. I often learn from this practice and even find myself being the one who must consider other viewpoints.
Practice true plurality with equal vote
I have one vote. My vote does not weigh more than the votes of the other elders. Our elders recently voted on a doctrinal stance with grand implications for pastoral care. Each of us brought our vote to the meeting. Had the other three voted differently than I did, my vote would not have outweighed theirs because of the nature of my position. By having equal votes, the elders are encouraged and empowered to speak up about their opinions and positions even if they do not agree with mine.
Humbly submit when outvoted
There have been times that I have been outvoted. This is the beauty of the point above. However, if I do not humbly submit to the other elders when this takes place, then I will either stifle the honesty of their positions, devalue their votes, or sow disunity within the team. Granted, there are certain issues that If I was outvoted on, it may be best for me to remove myself from the eldership of the church. If so, that step should be taken with great humility, gentleness, and pastoral love for the church and its unity.