The Table Podcast

What Makes a Good Elder Board?

In this episode, Bill Hendricks and Dr. Gary Brandenburg discuss selecting good elder board and developing leaders in the church.

Timecodes
00:15
Brandenburg’s background in pastoral ministry
02:17
What is an elder-led church?
10:19
What are the qualifications of an elder?
19:15
Is there an age requirement for elders?
24:00
Developing young leaders in the local church
27:04
Utilizing giftedness in the local church
34:48
Creating healthy relationships between pastors and elders
40:57
Building culture in the local church
Transcript
Bill Hendricks
Hi, my name is Bill Hendricks. I’m the Executive Director for Christian Leadership at the Hendricks Center, and I wanna welcome you to The Table Podcast, where we deal with issues of God and culture. We often deal with a lot of issues that are current in our daily culture, and particularly the thorniest of those issues. Today, however, we wanna get back to what I like to call some basic blocking and tackling relative to the local church, and with us today is Dr. Gary Brandenburg, and Gary, up until September, you were the Senior Teaching Pastor at Fellowship Bible Church here in town, and then you’ve transitioned into a new role there that you’re called Pastor at Large, right?
Gary Brandenburg
Right.
Bill Hendricks
And so you’re still involved very much with the church, but this new role, what does that allow you to do?
Gary Brandenburg
Well, it goes back aways to where I was passionate about mentoring and working with young, up and coming pastors. So that was my intention when I came to Dallas 15 years ago, was to do that to the best of my ability. And then I got to a place where I realized because of being senior pastor or lead pastor my time was limited to do that. So I felt like because of my age – I’m 66 – or as my 4-year-old granddaughter would say, 66 and a half. That’s important when you’re 4 … 4 and a half.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
So I realized with my age and while I was still feeling good, I really wanted to devote my attention to the mentoring piece. So I stepped aside and went through a process of succession. So now I’m out of the way for a little while so my successor can kinda establish himself.
Bill Hendricks
Succeed.
Gary Brandenburg
Yeah, that’s right. That’s how you measure it, right? Success by successor. So I’m gonna be out of the way for a while, then come back on as pastor at large, which I’ll be on the teaching team, and then I’ll be able to do a lot of leadership training, leadership development; that kind of thing.
Bill Hendricks
Excellent. Well, leadership is the topic that we wanna focus in on today, and particularly oftentimes people think of the leader in the church, and the use the singular for that team – the leader is the pastor, and certainly pastors should and often do exercise leadership, but in many churches, the real leadership is not by just one person. It’s by a group of people, a number of whom are known as elders, and that of course is actually a term out of the New Testament. So we’ll talk about some of the New Testament passages, but as one who’s been in a church that’s what we call an elder-led church, what does that function mean in an elder-led church?
Gary Brandenburg
Well, I think first of all it’s the realization that leadership is plural in the New Testament. I think there’s a lot of room – polity is pretty flexible there in the early years in the New Testament, but I think one thing that we can conclude is that leadership is plural. Peter, for example, 1 Peter 5 calls himself a “fellow elder.” So I think what’s sad is that in my experience I’ve found that most churches are more familiar with a democratic style of government than they are with a Biblical form of government, and by that I mean the senior pastor’s the President, and then he usually has a Cabinet, which are his associate pastors, and then there’s the Senate, which is the elders, or in a Baptist church, the deacons, and then there’s the House of Representatives, which would be either the deacons or the trustees. So oftentimes church polity sort of resembles that rather than what I feel like the Bible presents to us.
Bill Hendricks
And in that form of church governance, quite often the congregation itself is like the Electorate. Other words, they vote somebody in or out, as the case may be.
Gary Brandenburg
Sure. That’s right. Yeah, and then you have various degrees to which they’re involved. What can they vote on?
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
And that all has to be determined by every local church.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
But I feel very strongly that leadership is plural. I feel like in my role as a pastor I am one of the elders. In fact, I never stand up and say “I’m Gary Branden – I’m lead pastor.” I always stand up and say “I’m one of the elders here at Fellowship.”
Bill Hendricks
And “I happen to teach.”
Gary Brandenburg
“And my particular role is the oversite of the church on a day-to-day basis. I’m set apart for that.” There is that principle of first among equals, which you see, for example, even with James in the New Testament. But I just really feel strongly that leadership needs to be plural, and that’s why I’ve always been involved in a church that operates with elders.
Bill Hendricks
And so if you’re in that first among equals, the person who’s been responsible for teaching, or one of the teachers, what do the other elders do?
Gary Brandenburg
Well, that’s a good question, ’cause I’ve been in a church with 3 elders, I’ve been in a church with 20 elders, and currently now I’m in a church that has 11 elders.
Bill Hendricks
Is that partly a function of church size?
Gary Brandenburg
I think so. It’s a function of church size and also it is a function of what you determine the role of the elders to be, and that has to be negotiated. So for example, where I am right now, it’s a policy governance model. The elders really have no day-to-day responsibilities other than to oversee the vision of the church, oversee the finances, and oversee in general the health of the church. But I was at another church which really followed more of a Presbyterian model.
Bill Hendricks
Which means?
Gary Brandenburg
Which would mean you would have ruling elders and teaching elders, but in this case it was not a Presbyterian church, so what they had was what I would I guess refer to as executive elders and shepherding elders. So there were 20 elders; 7 of them were the ones that met more regularly to handle the details of the finances and the legal matters of the church, and then you had 13 other elders who, along with those 7, had shepherding responsibilities. So if there was a marriage that was in trouble, one of the elders would be involved in that way. So it worked well in some ways, but because there were so many elders, it was really a bit top heavy in making sure everybody was on the same page.
Bill Hendricks
Well, then I wanted to ask you about that; making sure everybody was on the same page. I will not name names, but I am familiar with a person who’s quite well-known in church planting circles and in church government circles who had planted a church that turned out to be a very successful church, and many churches have been birthed out of that church, but in the early goings I think at one point they had like 60 elders, and what made it difficult – I mean, aside from 60 elders – that’s a lot of voices to be in one room – they tried to operate on what they called the principle of unanimity. In other words, the only way we can move forward is if all 60 elders agree.
Gary Brandenburg
Yeah, good luck.
Bill Hendricks
Well, that meant that oftentimes there were elder meetings meeting until close to 2:00 in the morning, and finally you get everybody to agree, but it’s because somebody’s just like “Look, I’m tired. I wanna go home. Fine, whatever” and they cave. It wasn’t because they really were “on the same page.” So is unanimity an ideal that’s not an ideal?
Gary Brandenburg
Well, no I think it’s an ideal. It’s a good ideal. I mean, you want unanimity as much as that’s possible. But as you say, there are a lot of horror stories. I was at a church where before I got there there was one particular elder who was oppositional and didn’t like some decisions that had been made, and he knew that because they had to be unanimous on every decision. All he had to do was vote “no” and he could hold up everything. It was really a tragic situation because they were trying, and now how do you deal with that? So I think there needs to be a process laid out to where you say “Alright, first time through this, let’s see where everybody is, and if we’re unanimous, great.” If we’re not unanimous at our church, what we do is we say “If we can’t be unanimous with 11 people, let’s put this on hold and seek the Lord on this. Let’s pray about this, and then we’ll come back together and we’ll continue to work on it.” So you know, hopefully you’ve got a decision that’s a pretty wise decision that everybody sees the wisdom of it.

If not, then you can delay it, but then in my case I would go along to the – if it’s one elder – and I would wanna hear. There may be some real reasons for why that person’s holding out. But I wouldn’t wanna move forward until – if it was not unanimous, at least that individual would say –

Bill Hendricks
Was heard.
Gary Brandenburg
“You know, I’m not gonna oppose this.”
Bill Hendricks
So maybe the better principle’s one of consensus.
Gary Brandenburg
It is consensus. Yeah. And I don’t think you’d ever wanna go – you know, in our case, I don’t think you wanna do something based on a 6:5 vote.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
But I do think there should be something laid out that says – honestly, I didn’t look it up, but I think ours is once the decision is made, I think if there’s one descending vote then we can still move forward. But I think, man, you gotta work on that, because depending on how strongly that person feels, that could be radioactive.
Bill Hendricks
Well yeah, and this kinda brings us to who should be elders and the selection, and there’s two basic core passages in the New Testament; 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and it gives the qualifications for being an elder, and when you add them all up, this is pretty daunting, ’cause it’s 21 – it’s probably more than 21. Let me just read thought this list.
Gary Brandenburg
Sure.
Bill Hendricks
Blameless as a steward of God, above reproach; that sounds like a pretty high bar. Faithful husband to his wife, temperate, sober, vigilant – sober-minded – prudent, of good behavior, orderly, respectable, given to hospitality, able to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not pugnacious, which means –
Gary Brandenburg
I love that word.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah, it means ready to pick a fight.
Gary Brandenburg
Yeah, that’s right.
Bill Hendricks
Patient, moderate, forbearing, gentle, uncontentious, not soon angry or quick-tempered, not covetous, not a lover of money, rules his own house well, his children are faithful, not accused of rebellion to God, not a novice or a new convert, a new believer, has a good report or reputation with – the word is outsiders.
Gary Brandenburg
Outsiders, yeah.
Bill Hendricks
Which I presume means those who are not part of the church.
Gary Brandenburg
Mm-hmm.
Bill Hendricks
Not self-willed, a lover of what is good, just, fair, holy, devout, self-controlled, holds firmly to the faithful message as it has been taught. Where do we find such a person?
Gary Brandenburg
It’s a good question because I believe strongly on all of those things, obviously. They’re biblical, and then I remember after I had been critical of a lot of churches, ’cause I was in seminary at the time.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
And that’s what you do when you’re in seminary, ’cause you know everything.
Bill Hendricks
You know everything.
Gary Brandenburg
And then God pulled a trick on me and I planted a church. And in the process of that church planting effort, I had to find leaders, and I had to find elders.
Bill Hendricks
So what’d you do?
Gary Brandenburg
Well, what I did was – I’m thankful. It was a very good process for me because I went to through the scriptures, and I said “Okay, what are the requirements?” 1 Timothy and Titus, the ones that you’re referring to, to me is just one of what I came up for qualities, for characteristics, and that is just the character qualities. So I would see that list as a list of character qualities. Now, like you say, it still doesn’t easily settle it because if it says “Have your children under control” how under control do your children have to be? And if you have three children, do all of them have to be – or is two out of three good enough?
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
So there are a lot of subjective standards there that I think the principle – and you see it in Acts 6; the principle was “Who do you choose to serve in the church? Those who are full of the Spirit and wisdom.” So I think that goes a long way to help answer some of those questions. But I found character qualities just to be kinda magnetic North on the compass, because there are three other qualifications. One of them you mentioned there, that comes up in 1 Timothy 3, and that’s the ability to communicate the gospel.
Bill Hendricks
To teach.
Gary Brandenburg
Yeah. Apt to teach. It’s a difficult word – didactikon – I don’t know that it means really skilled at teaching. It means one that is inclined that way, and I think it really in some ways might mean one inclined to study the word of God and who wants to share that learning with others. So I think you have to someone – and it doesn’t mean they have to be able to keep 1000 people spellbound.
Bill Hendricks
They may not have a gift for teaching.
Gary Brandenburg
That’s right. That’s exactly right. But they know how to communicate the gospel, and frankly in Titus it says “and refute those who contradict” which is oftentimes just as important.
Bill Hendricks
Right. Mm-hmm.
Gary Brandenburg
There’s that teaching aspect, but then there’s also what I call the catalytic component. The word for leadership oftentimes in New Testament is prohistemi, the idea to stand before. It’s not to go behind. It’s not to stand in the middle and put your finger in the air and say “Which way should we go?” or that famous statement “There go my people and I must follow them for I am their leader.”
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
But it’s the idea of a person who takes initiative. Far too often I find that those that get on the church board – they somehow see themselves as representatives, and being a representative is way different than being a leader.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
So they wanna represent all the segments – so oftentimes they’ll bring complaints to the table. That’s not how you wanna run a church. That’s not leadership. So there’s that catalytic component that I think is important in the people that you’re looking at and trying to decide whether they belong on the elder board. And then the last one would be the compassion or the pastoral aspect. Does this person really care about people? So we ask four questions. When we’re looking at the next possible group of individuals we want to put on the elder board, we say “Number one, is this person an example?” and that’s character. “Number two, does this person take the initiative, or do they just come on a regular basis saying ‘You know what the church needs to do?'” I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that.
Gary Brandenburg
But is this somebody that’s actually gone out and solved the problem?
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
So that’s the catalytic part. Then the question is do they care about people? And that church plant I was talking about, I had a man on my elder board; wonderful guy. He was an accountant, so we just assumed he’d be great with the numbers. The problem was once I really got to know him – so we laid hands on him too quickly. Once I really got to know him, he just didn’t like people.
Bill Hendricks
He liked numbers, but not people.
Gary Brandenburg
He loved numbers.
Bill Hendricks
He was good with numbers.
Gary Brandenburg
He was great with numbers.
Bill Hendricks
Not so much with people.
Gary Brandenburg
And he was a servant of God, he really was, but he would come to church, and tolerate it, and be the first one out the door, and go home and pull the curtains ’cause he just was very much an introvert, and didn’t really want to be –
Bill Hendricks
You’re not saying there’s anything wrong with introverts per say.
Gary Brandenburg
No, no, no. But if you’re intimidated by people –
Bill Hendricks
That’s probably not a good role for you.
Gary Brandenburg
It’s probably not a good role for you, and then that last one would be “Can this person communicate the gospel?” So in our interviewing with these individuals, we would ask them “Tell us how you came to Christ, and tell us how you’d lead someone else to Christ” and see if they can communicate the gospel clearly and competently. So those are the four qualities we use at our church, and I think those serve pretty well to – now again, a lot of those things are very subjective. You know, how well do they need to be able to communicate? I mean, there’s no hard and fast rule. You can’t plug everything into some kind of matrix, but if you use those four things as your guide, you’ll find out pretty well whether this person will serve on the board and do a good job.
Bill Hendricks
Well, these sound very different from the qualifications that I too often perceive in churches, which are “Has this person got some money? Does this person have some leadership responsibility where they work? Does this person look like somebody who will be on my side?”
Gary Brandenburg
That’s correct. “Are they successful?” And not just do they have money, but do they tithe? So they can have money, but you gotta make sure that they’re –
Bill Hendricks
They’re giving it.
Gary Brandenburg
And frankly, churches I’ve been at too, I’ve actually heard the conversation “Well, we probably need a lawyer on the board.” So they’ll even go by “We probably need an accountant.” I was persuaded to do that when I planted the church. “This guy, oh, we need him on the board because he’s good with the books.”
Bill Hendricks
And the church needs good lawyers and good accountants, you’re saying.
Gary Brandenburg
No question.
Bill Hendricks
Just not necessarily on the board.
Gary Brandenburg
And they may be good board members and have those skills. But you don’t put them on there just because they have those skills. There are other factors. That’s why those four factors are important.
Bill Hendricks
So a church is a different organism than just, let’s say, any other nonprofit.
Gary Brandenburg
Yeah, let’s hope so. Yeah, and you left out a couple other things that oftentimes are considered when considering – how long have they been at the church? It’s their turn.
Bill Hendricks
Oh, yes. It’s their turn.
Gary Brandenburg
They’ve been here all this time, or who are they related to? You know, are they related to big money and we want to hold them close? I mean, those are bad characteristics.
Bill Hendricks
They’re definitely looking at the church through the lens of human eyes, not God’s eyes.
Gary Brandenburg
Sure. Sure.
Bill Hendricks
You mentioned somebody who had been with the church a long time. Just by virtue of the word as its translated, elders, and I actually – was interesting – that term, elders, or at least that English word as it’s translated goes all the way back into the Old Testament, and then all the way into the Gospels. And you remember throughout the Gospels it talks about the chief priests and the elders, and these are the enemies of Jesus. And into the books of Acts, and it talks about Stephen and how the she priests and the elders and the other leaders got together and ended up condemning him, and he was stoned, an then there’s a shift in Acts 11 where a church gets planted in Antioch, and a prophet prophesies there’s gonna be a famine, and it says the church in Antioch collected some money, and sent it by Barnabas to the elders down in Jerusalem. And suddenly that word shifts over into use in the church. You’ve noticed that yourself.
Gary Brandenburg
I have, and it’s the subject of some debate we’ve had even on our elder board, because every once in a while on of our elders says “You know, guys, we’re getting long in the tooth. We need to get some young men on the board.” And I will always say “Okay, I understand. I’m sympathetic with the desire. We need to always be cultivating new leadership. However, let’s not forget that regardless of what else you think an elder is, the word itself depicts someone that has some age.”
Bill Hendricks
And hopefully through that some experience, some maturity. They’ve been tested. Their character’s been tested.
Gary Brandenburg
Well, as you know, with age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes all by itself.
Bill Hendricks
Right. I know that all too well.
Gary Brandenburg
But ideally with age comes a certain degree of life experience and wisdom. So I think we’ve got to be careful. I understand people are sympathetic and say “Well, we need somebody on here that’s got kids in our children’s program, so let’s get a 25-year-old.” However, I would also say this, Bill, that when you look at the New Testament, and you pointed to a good example, the elders in Jerusalem are going to be far more experienced than the elders in Crete.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
Because it says “Don’t put a novice in the role.” Well, I mean, in some situations you’ve got people that just haven’t been Christians for very long.
Bill Hendricks
Well, and in that particular context, somebody who had been there in Jerusalem and had been raised in the Jewish faith would have had deep background in the Old Testament.
Gary Brandenburg
Right.
Bill Hendricks
And not only in the Old Testament, but in Hebrew, okay?
Gary Brandenburg
Right.
Bill Hendricks
And so when they are, as you say, able to teach, they can open the Old Testament scriptures and teach.
Gary Brandenburg
Mm-hmm.
Bill Hendricks
Imagine somebody who’s grown up in Crete, and they’re in a Greco-Roman world; they don’t know Hebrew, which probably means they’ve never read the Old Testament.
Gary Brandenburg
Yeah, and even what they know is fairly new to them.
Bill Hendricks
But nonetheless, it says that elders were appointed there.
Gary Brandenburg
So much so that in Titus, it says that the church is not even established until elders – I mean, he says that in order the things and namely appoint elders in every city. And elders is always plural. It doesn’t say appoint an elder or find a senior pastor. It says appoint elders, plural, in every place.
Bill Hendricks
So if I understand what you’re saying correctly, you would tend to find your elders among the more elderly, the older folks in a congregation, hopefully. But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for startup churches that, say, have a prominence in millennials.
Gary Brandenburg
Not at all.
Bill Hendricks
‘Cause there’s a lot of those now.
Gary Brandenburg
That’s right.
Bill Hendricks
They can still have elders.
Gary Brandenburg
Absolutely, because that’s who they’ve got in their congregation.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
So that’s why if you use those four characteristics I mentioned, you can apply those to anyone. It doesn’t matter their age. Is this a person of solid character? Is this a person that has a certain degree of communication, ability of the gospel? Is this a person that really cares about people and has demonstrated that? Is this a person who takes the initiative and helps solve problems and doesn’t just bring them to the church leadership? You can find that in a lot of young men and women.
Bill Hendricks
Well I’m glad you said that, because I’m aware that in certainly many large, large churches that have been around for a while, all the leadership spots in terms of elders and other leadership roles in the church are kind of spoken for, and when younger adults come in and they marry and they start to have families, you know, and they’re in their 30s, they look at the positions of leadership, and they’re going – “There’s no real future for me here unless I hang around for 30 more years.”
Gary Brandenburg
Yeah.
Bill Hendricks
And so then that gets discouraging, and of course if they’re in a big city like Dallas, then they end up going to other churches sometimes. But you’re saying we need to pay attention to the fact that they are up and coming, and what can we do to help them become elders at some point?
Gary Brandenburg
Yeah, I think that’s one of the huge issues confronting most churches today, ’cause I hear it in conferences and I see it in literature, the whole issue of the leadership pipeline.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah, talk to us about that.
Gary Brandenburg
How do you develop leadership in your church? And I wouldn’t say that we’ve been tremendously successful at that. Although, I think the key there is that you just keep your eyes open and your ears open for people that demonstrate a certain level of leadership, and then you try to help them – you know this full well. Help them with their giftedness. Find out where they’re gifted and help them – I think where we really struggle as a church is that we get some really gifted people, and these are people out there – let’s say for example they’re out there building businesses. Then they come in the church and we hand them a stack of bulletins and have them stand at the door and –

And I have never solved this problem, but there’s got to be a way to put them to work in meaningful ways. So I think that’s the best idea, is find out who these – if we’re talking about younger people, then find out who they are that show some upside in terms of leadership, and then get to know them, take them to lunch, talk to them, put them in a role. It could be leading a home group.

Bill Hendricks
A small group, right.
Gary Brandenburg
It could be teaching a training experience. It could be leading an initiative that the church is gonna take – take them on a missions strip. Somehow give them opportunities to where they can lead. That’s the issue is don’t ask them to follow your lead all the time without at least giving them something where they can demonstrate their leadership. But most pastors – and I think this is a weakness in all organizations – we tend to lead down. We find it more comfortable to deal with people who are less qualified than we are. We don’t lead up because we’re a little threatened by somebody that’s actually better at things than I am. So I think that’s really important.
Bill Hendricks
Well, I remember years ago the pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church here in Dallas was Clayton Bell, and he preached a sermon once in which – I don’t have the exact numbers, but they had done some research, and they tried to identify all of the particular positions, including volunteer positions, within the four walls of the church. So yeah, you’ve got your elders, and you’ve got your deacons, and your trustees, and then you’ve got your Sunday school superintendents, and then you’ve got your Sunday school teachers, and your nursery school teachers, and then you’ve got the assistants, and you’ve got the administrators, and you’ve got the people that carry the juice for the kids, and all the way down. And if you totaled all those up in a church of his size, it was something like 1,253 of those positions they had identified for the church at that time. Well, the church at that time had something like 6,500.
Gary Brandenburg
Yeah, you don’t have enough jobs.
Bill Hendricks
That was his point, and he said “There’s not enough jobs within the church for all the people that are in the church.” His only conclusion was that means that for the majority of God’s people, we need to arm them for serving God outside the four walls of the church. Well, that obviously means the workplace. It also means what you’re describing in terms of home groups, in terms of projects out in the community, in terms of leadership in the community. But actually seeing those as an extension of the body of Christ out in the world.
Gary Brandenburg
Right. Yeah, and that’s one of the ways you change a culture. You change a culture by changing the heroes of that culture.
Bill Hendricks
Mm-hmm.
Gary Brandenburg
If the heroes are always the staff of the church, you’re never gonna change that culture. But if you can make heroes – for example, at our church –
Bill Hendricks
I know you’ve been proactive at your church to do that.
Gary Brandenburg
Yeah, one of the finest OB/GYNs in the city of Dallas goes to our church, and the ministry that that woman has to the women that walk into her office is – it’s – I – my influence pales in comparison to the influence that she has in that medical office. So you have to celebrate that. So I get her up on the stage. She hates it.
Bill Hendricks
I’ll bet.
Gary Brandenburg
But I’ll get a panel of 5 or 6 people and talk about what they do. So you help people envision what that would be like. One of our most recent elders – I’ve had my eye on him for ten years, and I was so impressed with him. Notre Dame grad, went to medical school but decided he wanted to teach, so he ends up teaching in DISD, and becomes a very effective teacher in DISD, so much so that they gave him a chance to build a school. It was a whole new concept in schools where they had some competition where – “Put in your idea of what you’d like to see done differently” and he did, and he won, and so now he just started this year a school that’s based on giftedness.
Bill Hendricks
Excellent.
Gary Brandenburg
So he’s teaching children to find their giftedness, and to exploit their gifts, and he’s now the principal of that school, and –
Bill Hendricks
He sounds like somebody I need to do a podcast with.
Gary Brandenburg
He – I totally – you’d love doing a podcast with him. We’re so proud of him, and I’m just so excited –
Bill Hendricks
You celebrate him.
Gary Brandenburg
We celebrated that, and now he’s an elder because he has shown in everything that he’s done.
Bill Hendricks
He’s got the qualities you’re looking for.
Gary Brandenburg
He’s got those qualities. So you know, don’t just look at what they do in the church. Have they poured the communion every month faithfully – which is, boy, you better have somebody that can pour the communion faithfully every month.
Bill Hendricks
Right. You need the volunteers.
Gary Brandenburg
You definitely need that, and these are people that often have gifts of service or help, so that kind of a thing.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
But when you see someone like that that’s an initiator, and he’s out there solving a problem, and you say “Wow, there’s a characteristic. I already knew he was a man of character.” I had made fun of him for years just jokingly ’cause he went to Notre Dame, and I remember the first time he and I talked. I said “Wow, I’ll bet that was pretty exciting there on Saturdays at football games” and he goes “I don’t know, I was in the library every Saturday.” I said “Man, you’ve gotta be the only guy I’ve never known that’s in the library during a Notre Dame football game.”
Bill Hendricks
Yeah, you wouldn’t have thought of skipping a football game.
Gary Brandenburg
No way. Yeah, so I think that’s part of our job as pastors is that we really are HR people and we’re looking for good human resources. When we stand before God, I’ve always felt – and I say this to my elders sometimes – you know, we always think we’re gonna have to give an account for – I say “You know, whatever accounting there is, I don’t think the question’s gonna be ‘What did you do with the millions of dollars I gave you?'” Certainly we’ve got to be responsible with that, but I’m more concerned about the question “What did you do with all of those people I gave you?”
Bill Hendricks
Mmm.
Gary Brandenburg
As each one has received a special gift, 1 Peter 4:10, a charismata, a manifestation of grace – as each one has received – each one of us are a manifestation of grace – employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. And so I say to my elders, the stewardship sermon shouldn’t be about money first.
Bill Hendricks
Right. Right.
Gary Brandenburg
It should be about “What are we doing with that human capital that we have in our midst?” That’s a big deal. So we’re talking about elders, and not everybody’s gonna be an elder. You don’t need everybody to be an elder, and that’s one of the issues every church has to decide. “How many elders do we need? Do we need 3? Do we need 11? Do we need 20? 60?” I can’t imagine that. But those are some of the issues I think that need to be looked at.
Bill Hendricks
Well then, let’s ask the question how long should somebody be an elder? Like once an elder, always an elder, or do you have a term, you rotate off, how does that work?
Gary Brandenburg
Well, in our case the congregation doesn’t vote for elders. They affirm elders. We base that on the Scripture that says that these individuals have been appointed to the church. So we have to confirm their appointment. So what we do when elders have decided, “Okay, this individual qualifies. We’d like to bring him on” then we go to the congregation, and we put his picture in the worship guide, and put his picture up on the screen, and we say “In case you don’t know who this is, we are unanimously presenting this individual before you for elder. You have a three week time period; if there’s any reason why you question this decision, if there’s anything you know about this person that we need to know, our request is that first you go to him one on one and talk about it, and then you can come to us and let us know.” So then at the end of three weeks then they’re confirmed and they come on the elder board.
Bill Hendricks
So again even though the congregation isn’t voting, there’s a sense of consensus and blessing.
Gary Brandenburg
Yes, absolutely. It’s called the consent of the governed.
Bill Hendricks
Okay, yeah, well –
Gary Brandenburg
You know, it’s kind of an important principle there, but yeah, so that’s how we would do that process.
Bill Hendricks
Gary, one of the unfortunate realities of working at the seminary and working particularly at the Hendricks Center is that we frequently will get phone calls which are kind of like help calls, SOS calls from particularly pastors, graduates, and they’re in a church, and they’re sideways with their elders, and you start to look into the situation, and you discover a lot of toxicity in that elder board that’s been there frankly often for generations or close to it. Thinking of churches where a handful of families have kind of run that church for a while, and they’ve kinda set up how this is gonna go, and then they hire somebody as their pastor to kinda do their bidding, but they keep that person under their thumb, which for a recent seminary graduate who may have some school debt to pay off and so forth, that’s a tough place to be when your livelihood is under the thumb of some people that hired you, and when you came in to candidate, they were all smiles and “Oh, this is gonna be great” and then you get there and you start to find all kinds of problems.
Gary Brandenburg
Yep. Beware of the person who greets you at the airport, right?
Bill Hendricks
Yeah, we do a lot, I think, to intervene for the vocational Christian workers – the pastors, the church leaders – at the Hendricks Center. What do we do for elder boards, and the training of elder boards, and the health of elder boards? What can the church do for them?
Gary Brandenburg
Well first of all, in the situation you bring up, I think it’s just as easy. You can find as many violations on the elder side as you can on the pastor side. I think you’ll find those situations both sides are at fault many times in what’s happened in a bad situation. But I think one of the things that I would – and I try to explain this to my younger staff members, and I try to explain it when I’m talking to a young pastor, but I think there’s a pretty significant gulf between the way a pastor is viewing the church, and the way an elder’s viewing the church for a real simple reason. Your elders did not choose to go to seminary.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
Your elders decided that they would impact the world in a different kind of a way. So they don’t sit around thinking about the church 24/7.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
This is what oftentimes your young pastors don’t understand. Young pastors, they come out thinking, “Oh, I’m gonna have elders that are mature, and they’re wise, and this is gonna be awesome” and they get out there – and this actually happened to me here in Dallas. You know, one of the first weeks I came to a Bible church – I hadn’t pastored a Bible church before. I had pastored a Baptist church, I’d pastored a formerly Evangelical Methodist church that went nondenominational, and now I’m at a Bible church. So I’m thinking “Well, these people are gonna be pretty up on the Bible.”
Bill Hendricks
Bible means Bible.
Gary Brandenburg
Yeah. And I was so shocked one of the first weeks. One I was told “Hey, by the way, people out there – you’re mentioning the Scriptures. They don’t have Bibles” which was a surprise to me. I thought “That’s – okay.”
Bill Hendricks
In a Bible church.
Gary Brandenburg
I didn’t know that a Bible church you didn’t have Bibles. And then between services – I’ll never forget this – one of the elders, who was giving announcements that day, he had heard my first message – it was something to do with Paul and Timothy – and the second message we’re sitting here, and before he gets up, you know, we’re having our music, whatever, he turns to me and says “Hey, let me ask you a question.” He says “Now, was Timothy really Paul’s son?”
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
I mean, he thought –
Bill Hendricks
This is an elder you’re talking about.
Gary Brandenburg
This is an elder who didn’t know that Timothy was not Paul’s biological son, and so I think a lot of pastors experience that. They get out there and find out “Wow, these guys – how come they don’t –” Well, they didn’t go to seminary, and sometimes I’ll tell a young pastor, “You better lighten up. First of all, you better love these guys ’cause they don’t have to do – you’re getting paid to do what you do.”
Bill Hendricks
They’re doing it for volunteer.
Gary Brandenburg
“And they’re putting in hours, and they don’t have to do this. The other thing I want you to remember is that guy on your board who’s a veterinarian, all week long he’s just looking at the insides of a dog.”
Gary Brandenburg
“You know, he’s not thinking about ‘What are the statistics on how churches reach out and –'”
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
“He’s just not thinking about –” so you have to be gracious. You have to build relationships well. You have to love these guys well. Many times you have to defer to these guys, because some of them oftentimes they’re older and smarter than you in certain areas. So I think it’s just about building a good relationship, and clearly some situations are so toxic. I get calls sometimes. Someone say “Hey, can you help? This is what’s happening” and you know, every once in a while I’ll say “You know, you just need to get out of there.”
Bill Hendricks
‘Cause it’s just a broke situation.
Gary Brandenburg
It’s broken, and particularly like you say, if there’s either a founding family or a group of people, and this is the – what’s happened is they’ve just hired a chaplain and they didn’t hire a pastor.
Bill Hendricks
Mm-hmm.
Gary Brandenburg
They just wanted somebody to come in and hatch them, match them, and dispatch them.
Gary Brandenburg
I mean, there’s your job description. You’re just hatch them, match them, and dispatch them, and we’ll be happy. And here’s what they’ll say, and there’ some truth to this – and they may not say it verbally, but the thought is “We were here when you got here. We’ll be here when you leave.”
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
And frankly most of the time they’re right about that.
Bill Hendricks
That’s true, right.
Gary Brandenburg
‘Cause pastors are staying, what, an average of eight years? So you know, you can understand why these people – takes them a little while to trust because they know that this guy’s just an interim.
Bill Hendricks
But it sounds to me that that raises an issue of the pastor’s role that if a pastor, statistically speaking knows, “Yeah, I’m probably here for 8 or 10 years.” I mean, realistically.
Gary Brandenburg
That’s right.
Bill Hendricks
Then a significant part of my job needs to be to build into the lives of these elders, to build not only Christlikeness into them, but to help them think through and prayerfully think through “What has God called this church to?”
Gary Brandenburg
Yeah.
Bill Hendricks
I guess what I’m suggesting in a sense is that the – we talk about the vision of the church – that the elders would be the custodians of the vision of the church, because they and their families are gonna be there long-term.
Gary Brandenburg
That’s correct.
Bill Hendricks
And then they hire a pastor to help them accomplish that vision. It’s not like the pastor doesn’t come with some visionary thoughts, but that’s a very different model from what I’ve seen too often, which is “We hire a pastor, the pastor comes in, he’s got a big vision” and it almost always involved a building campaign. So here’s a building –
Gary Brandenburg
Or his own success.
Bill Hendricks
Or his own – or both. And, you know, having done that for some reason he then moves on, and another guy comes, and now he’s got a vision. So we build another building, and I could take you to campus and show you the different buildings, and there’s no unity of even the layout of the church campus for that reason. It looks like a hodge podge of buildings, and also in the history of that church there wasn’t a continuity, I guess you’d say, of the elders over time, and their commitment to a unified vision over time, over decades.
Gary Brandenburg
Yeah. Well, part of that, Bill, is we’re victims of the system we’ve created. I mean, if you think about it just on its face, it’s pretty silly. We have a church. This is the body of Christ. This is the most important entity on the planet, and yet we go out and get some total stranger who has a diploma, and we say, “You come and be our leader.”
Bill Hendricks
Doesn’t make sense.
Gary Brandenburg
So I do think – for example, my successor, he’s been at that church longer than I have ’cause he was a businessman when I got there. He’d already been there five or six years.
Bill Hendricks
So that sounds like a real advantage.
Gary Brandenburg
So he’s homegrown, yeah, that’s right. So he’s homegrown, he’s known, he knows the –
Bill Hendricks
The values.
Gary Brandenburg
He knows the vision. He’s been through the various –
Bill Hendricks
Layers.
Gary Brandenburg
– variations of the vision, and so I think that’s why he was chosen, as opposed to bringing in someone that doesn’t know the city, doesn’t know the congregation. How long’s that gonna take?
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
Well, 5 to 7 years is what I would suggest before you’ll even be respected enough to be listened to. I mean, when I came here, I really think it took 5 to 7 years before people looked at me as –
Bill Hendricks
You were one of them.
Gary Brandenburg
Yeah, because at first you’re the new guy, and you’re the new guy for several years.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Gary Brandenburg
Particularly if the guy before you was there 25 years, you’re the new guy.
Bill Hendricks
Yes.
Gary Brandenburg
So it takes patience, it takes some painful experiences, but you’re gonna have to shape the culture. You know, managers manage culture. Leaders build culture.
Bill Hendricks
Build culture.
Gary Brandenburg
And the culture is simply a sum total of shared experience. So with every funeral, with every wedding, with every hospital call, you know, you’re becoming the pastor, but you also have to be careful with that and not become so important that the church can’t get along without you. You always have to be prepared that – “I’ve gotta prepare this place for the next person” ’cause every pastor is an interim pastor.
Bill Hendricks
So in a way from the very beginning you’re already thinking about succession.
Gary Brandenburg
Right. And every elder board needs to have a succession plan. They need to be thinking about that. An emergency succession plan; what happens if the plane –
Bill Hendricks
Yeah, the guy drops dead.
Gary Brandenburg
Yeah, the truck story, or whatever. There needs to be something in place. Who’s gonna lead and how are we gonna do it? I’ve been very blessed here. I’m telling you, I got the best group of elders in the world because they’re not just guys that lead the church. They’re friends. They watch for my soul. I can go ask them anything. They’ll ask me stuff, personal things, and I’m just blessed to have individuals either mature, they’re not intimidated, you can talk to them about anything.
Bill Hendricks
Well Gary, that’s why we had you here today because you have had that positive experience, and we wanted somebody who could speak from a positive experience about the role of pastors and elders together.
Gary Brandenburg
Well, thanks for inviting me. It’s great.
Bill Hendricks
You’re welcome.
Gary Brandenburg
Good to be here.
Bill Hendricks
And I wanna thank you for joining us on The Table Podcast today where we deal with issues of God and culture. Please visit our website for The Table at the Hendricks Center, and you’ll find many other topics related to God and culture. For the Hendricks Center, I’m Bill Hendricks.
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Bill Hendricks
Bill Hendricks is Executive Director for Christian Leadership at the Center and President of The Giftedness Center, where he serves individuals making key life and career decisions. A graduate of Harvard, Boston University, and DTS, Bill has authored or co-authored twenty-two books, including “The Person Called YOU: Why You’re Here, Why You Matter & What You Should Do With Your Life.” He sits on the Steering Committee for The Theology of Work Project.
Gary Brandenburg
Gary Brandenburg is the Lead Pastor at Fellowship Bible Church Dallas since 2004. He received his Master of Divinity degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago and his Doctor of Ministry degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston.
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