Elders and young preachers

I think one of the most important interactions in the church is the relationship between elders (by definition older men in the faith), and a young preacher. If this relationship is fostered well, the church will benefit for a lifetime. If the relationship fails, the church loses decades of fruitful ministry.

This is my message to young preachers:

  • Elders are smarter (and wiser) than you think: Yes, you have the degree in Bible, and you know Greek and Hebrew, but they have lived twice as long as you, have learned life’s lessons the hard way, and have reflected deeply on God’s word.
  • Credibility is not built in a day: When you come to a congregation, be patient. When they see you in their homes, at the hospital, hear your lessons, they will begin to see who you really are. Be cooperative, respectful and work hard. Earn their respect.
  • Preachers plan for the next year; elders for the next ten: In other words, you are the temporary item in this congregation. Even if yours is a long and distinguished ministry (let’s say ten years), they will still outlast you.
  • Listen to them when they talk congregational history: There are so many tangled situations in congregations, so much history that dated to long before you got there.
  • Thank the elders for their work privately and publically: Holding the elders up in the eyes of the congregation will endear you to them and make their work with the congregation more fruitful.
  • Maintain a sense of perspective about yourself: God was at work here before you arrived, he will continue to work while you are here, and will be working here when you leave.

This is my message to elders:

  • One mistake should not end a ministry: There are exceptions, but do what you can to preserve not only the young man’s ministry, but his long service for decades to come. Be compassionate when he makes a mistake.
  • Be shepherds: Allow the young man to prepare lessons, do ministry and preach. The young man does not qualify to be an elder, his slender shoulders cannot carry the load that is biblically on your shoulders. He should not be the church’s shepherd.
  • Protect his wife and children: More young preachers quit because their family was a target of unfair criticism than any other reason. No one would expect the doctor’s wife to dispense medicine or the lawyer’s wife to provide legal expertise. You are shepherds for the preacher’s family just as surely as you are shepherds for the rest of the congregation.
  • Help him to fill up his bucket: If he is dispensing messages several times a week, he will run out of material (the average seems to be 18 months). Does he need help to pay for graduate school? To attend a lectureship? Extra books and material? Provide material and emotional support for that.
  • Find ways to demonstrate your appreciation: Express your support beyond the obligatory “good sermon” in the foyer. An annual raise communicates a great deal. So does a $50.00 voucher with a note that says, “Take your wife out for dinner.”
  • Be willing to share him with other churches and institutions: You have no idea how encouraging it is to a young preacher to be asked to speak at a lectureship or gospel meeting. Within reason, of course, encourage him to accept these invitations.

Please be aware that we are speaking about nothing less than the future of God’s people. Nothing could be of greater urgency!

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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