One of the images used in the New Testament to describe the role of an elder is shepherd. The elder is to “shepherd the flock of God” willingly, eagerly, and faithfully (1 Peter 5:1-4). In response to this leadership, the flock is challenged to “submit yourselves to your elders” (vs. 5). The shepherd leads the sheep, and the sheep follow the shepherd. It is a simple concept to understand, but it is a difficult concept to practice. Why? Because the sheep don’t always want to follow the shepherd!
In spite of the difficulty, it is clear the church is supposed to honor and follow the leadership God has established. The elders (or staff members) have been placed in their position by God, and those in the church should respect them and support them. In a multi-staff model or an elder-led model with a leading elder, the other pastors/elders also have a responsibility to respect the senior pastor/lead elder (this is not the place for an in-depth discussion of church polity and the strengths and weaknesses of the traditional multi-staff model vs. the elder-led model; whatever leadership model a church employs, the requirement to honor those in leadership stands). I want to point out several simple ways church members and those who serve in a secondary leadership position can support the senior pastor/lead elder.
1. Pray for Them
The first thing you can do is pray for those in a position of leadership. Paul asked the church of Ephesus to pray “for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:19-20). He valued the prayers of those within the church, and your pastor/elder will value your prayer as well.
2. Encourage Them
Another way to support your leader is by encouraging them. Let them know you appreciate them and everything they do for the body of Christ. When they excel, let them know you noticed. When they struggle or fail, show them grace and encourage them to do better in the future.
3. Speak Positively about Them to Others
One of the simplest things you can do is speak positively about your leader. Use your words to let the people in your church and in your family know you value and respect the pastor/elder. Avoid speaking negatively about him, and if you have an issue, go talk to him about it.
4. Let the Small Stuff Slide
There will be personality differences and small disagreements between staff members or elders, but you need to learn to let the small things slide. Some things have no spiritual significance and should not lead to division and conflict. I know guys who have left churches due to conflict over disagreements about service times and transportation schedules. Don’t let non-doctrinal and non-moral issues cause division or conflict.
5. Communicate with Them
Communication is essential between staff members/elders. Those in a secondary leadership position should communicate with the senior pastor/lead elder to let them know what is going on in their area of ministry and to get direction and feedback from the leader. Always have an open door of communication!
6. Support their Decisions
Sometimes decisions will be made with which you disagree. Don’t throw a fit or pout like a baby! Voice your opinion in staff/elder meetings and privately when you have the chance, but when the decision is made, support it! Besides, they will be the one held responsible for the decision, not you.
When You Shouldn’t Support Your Senior Pastor/Lead Elder
While church members and staff members/elders should generally support the senior pastor/lead elder, there are two exceptions: moral failure and false teaching.
1. Moral Failure
Scripture is very clear about the moral requirements of those who serve as pastors/elders. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 both contain a list of moral characteristics preachers are called to display. These are non-negotiables, and pastors who disqualify themselves must be lovingly confronted.
2. False Teaching
It is also extremely important that pastors/elders hold to and teach sound doctrine. Paul told Titus elders should “hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). Paul repeatedly told Timothy to guard his doctrine and teach sound doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3, 10; 4:1, 6, 13, 16; 5:17; 6:1, 3; 2 Timothy 3:10, 16; 4:3). Pastors/elders who fall into doctrinal error must also be confronted and challenged.