Right off the bat, two disclaimers:
(1) I am not an elder nor a deacon and never have been, and
(2) I know that the title of this post is boring!
With that said, I love studying and trying to help with church leadership. If we are going to restore New Testament Christianity we need to be certain we know on an intellectual level and follow on a practical level what God has said concerning the organization of the church.
One of the stated roles of elders is that of “overseer” (Acts 20:28). I have heard that described–and I think well–as meaning that elders set and see to the general direction of a congregation. Elders are not meant to be micromanagers, nor are they to do everything, but they must have their finger on the pulse and direction of various programs and ministries, as well as they overall thrust of the congregation.
However, when it comes to their oversight of various programs, works, and ministries led by deacons, there can be a level of frustration. Sometimes, there is frustration on the part of the elders, because they feel as if deacons are not doing the assigned work or that there is no feedback.
Sometimes, the deacons are frustrated because they feel the elders are micromanaging, or that the elders are so “hands off” that it is as if they don’t care.
And, let’s be honest, when either elders or deacons are frustrated, both end up frustrated!
How can this be worked on? [Notice: I did not say “fixed.” The reason is that this is not something that will always remain fixed. It is a continual process to work on and improve.]
Here are some principles that might help. Some will take serious time on the front end, but could yield powerful long-term benefits if continually evaluated.
Set Clear, Definable Objectives. Elders do not need to put a man in place as a deacon and not have any objectives for him to reach toward. “Look after youth program” is not a clear nor definable objective. “Meet at least once each month with the youth minister and monitor any expenses over $1000” is. A man cannot know if he is doing what is expected unless he knows what is expected! (By the way, if a man is already serving as a deacon, I believe it would be best if he was included in coming up with these objectives instead of the elders suddenly “dumping” them on him.)
Have a Report Schedule. How often is a deacon supposed to share information with the elders? Is it always just “as needed?” Is it monthly? Also, how is he to report? Will it be in person? Through email? On the phone? This accomplishes a couple of things. First, it obviously helps deacons realize that the elders are interested in the progress and success of their work. But it also helps elders oversee the work! This may seem obvious, but elders cannot oversee what they never see!
Encourage Two-Way Communication. So far, everything has been dictated by the elders, but deacons need to be able to speak into their areas of service, too. Are the expectations realistic? Are there victories they would like to share? Are there challenges that need wisdom and prayer? These things may not take a “formal meeting,” but elders need to make it clear that they want to hear from deacons and that the deacons can be open and transparent.
Be Involved (without Being Overbearing). One of the coolest things that can happen is when a deacon actually incorporates an elder in the ministry or program, and it is not to head it up, but simply to get a feel for what is going on. What better way to oversee than to get your hands a little dirty!
This is not meant to be a full and complete list, but my prayer is that these simple suggestions help elders and deacons avoid those times of frustration that can paralyze much of the leadership of the church.
When elders are eldering and deacons are deacon-ing…great things happen!
AUTHOR: Adam Faughn