by Doug Peters
The New Testament uses a variety of terms to describe those that carry out roles and functions of leadership and ministry in the earliest church. Many read the various texts with an eye toward an “Organizational Chart” often found in business, government or the military, and emphasize authority and position. Viewed purely through these lenses, elder/overseer/shepherd groups become standing boards at the top of the pyramid where the proverbial “buck stops” and paid preachers/evangelists/ministers become the hired hands to carry out necessary functions as prescribed by the board. In this model, congregational servants/deacons (diakonos)/ministry leaders, directors, coordinators, secretaries/assistants and “regular members” fill out the base of the pyramid.
However, the New Testament picture is much more fluid. Yes, there is a “head” of the church, and his name is King Jesus the Christ! And yes, there are other leaders that serve by giftedness and calling. But the New Testament picture is more like an organism than an organization – less like a board and more like a body (1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4).
With that perspective in mind, we continue our series on Useful Understandings for a Leadership Team by considering how elder groups relate with preachers, congregational servants (deacons) and others in the congregation.
Elder Group Relationship with Preachers/Ministers
- Will Preachers / Ministers have a signed Employment Agreement or Letter of Agreement for Clear Understanding?
Agreements generally cover such matters as: Ministry Role/Title, Job Description/Responsibilities, Intended Philosophy of Leadership Team Relationships, Desired Philosophy of Ministry, Supervisory Responsibilities, Evaluation Practices, Ministry Resources/“Tools” Provided, Days Off, Vacation Policy, Annual Office Holidays, Notice Policy, Termination Clause, Expense Account/Reimbursement Plan, Continuing Education, Seminars/Lectureships/Conferences, Speaking Opportunity Policy, Sundays Away Policy, Base Salary, Housing Allowance Acknowledgement, and Benefits (Insurance Options: Health, Disability, Life, etc.; Retirement, Reimbursements, etc.).
- Will there be an agreed upon and signed Job/Role Description?
- Will it be mutually evaluated on an annual basis?
- How will evaluations take place?
- Will all elders be in liaison with all staff?
- Or, will individual elders or elder teams be in liaison with certain staff ministers?
- Will there be a designated ministry staff member serving as staff team leader, coordinator, or chief of staff?
- What are attendance expectations for leadership team meetings?
- How will regular ministry staff evaluations/reviews be conducted?
- How will ministry staff relate to deacons/ministry leaders?
Congregational Servants/Deacons/Ministry Leaders
- Will you recognize “deacons,” “congregational servants,” or “ministry leaders?”
- How will they be selected?
- Will they be selected to serve “at large and in general?”
- Or, will they be selected by giftedness and serve in specific ministries?
- Will only deacons staff ministries or may any gifted/qualified person be equipped to lead ministries?
- Will you select only a pre-agreed upon number of deacons?
- Or, will you select all considered qualified/gifted regardless of number?
- To what degree will elders and preachers delegate ministries to other congregational servants?
- How will ministry staff and staff-led ministries relate with deacons?
- Will you encourage deacons to establish ministry teams?
- Will individual deacons or deacon teams with a chair, lead and oversee ministry areas?
- How will deacon accountability and feedback take place?
- How will you equip women servants/ministry leaders (Romans 16:1)?
- Will women lead only ministries to women?
- Or, will you equip women to lead any ministry where they have appropriate giftedness?
- How will women serve on mixed-gender teams or ministry initiatives?
- How will women serve in group decision-making? Teaching/Team Teaching?
- To what degree will you recognize a gifts-based approach to ministry regardless of gender?
Congregation as a Whole
- Will you have regular, open congregational spiritual business meetings?
- If so, what decision-making limitations will spiritual business meetings have?
- What will be your primary channels of communication with the congregation?
- How will your congregation be able to supply regular input to leadership?
These Useful Understandings are not intended to lead to the same conclusions in every church. In fact, I am convinced that all ministry is contextual and all leaders must prayerfully discern God’s leading for the flock to which they have been entrusted the obligation to equip for ministry. Every church can benefit from asking intentional and proactive questions related to how they will work together. They may not all be led to do things the same way, but they can all benefit from at least asking some basic questions and coming to agreement about how they will serve together. May God bless you as you seek God’s will!