How to Pastor One Another on a Plural Eldership

Pastors need pastoring.

While some may assume that pastors know most everything, live exemplary lives, handle crises with ease, and hold in reservoir enormous amounts of spiritual strength and energy, that assumption fizzles by life’s realities.

Pastors struggle with the same discipline, obedience, humility, and spiritual challenges facing members of their congregation. All the while, the congregation may expect otherwise.

So who is to pastor the pastors? Who helps the pastors to maintain steadiness in walking with Christ? Who sharpens them when dulled? Who cares for them when hurting?

In an elder plurality, where some pastors receive a salary from the church and others serve as unpaid elders, those pastoral needs remain just as pressing. Together they shepherd the flock but together they must also shepherd one another as fellow elders.

Paul certainly had this in mind when he told the Ephesian elders, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock” (Acts 20:28, italics added). “Yourselves” implies fellow elders. Watch out for your fellow elders just as you also watch out for the members of the flock. Or from a different angle, just as you would not think of failing to care for the body, even so don’t think of failing to care for your fellow elders.

Yet we can easily presume upon one another. We have expectations with our fellow elders that we all have our acts together. Maybe sometimes we do. But what about the other times that we don’t? If you as the shepherds of the flock don’t care for one another as elders, who will?

Here are some suggestions to make pastoring pastors happen.

1. Pray daily for one another.

Just as you pray daily for your own spiritual needs and those of your family, pray for your fellow elders. Those you regularly hold before the throne you hold closest to your heart. That act of daily prayer brings to mind the needs of your fellow elders. You’re praying for what you’ve observed about them and what you’ve learned in conversations with them. You’ve been sharing life together so most naturally, you share their needs with the Father.

Pay attention to your fellow elders. Communicate with them about their family, work life, and shepherding in the body. Discern where the adversary assaults them. Observe their strengths and weaknesses. They serve arm-in-arm with you, so lift them before the Lord. Plead for their personal disciplines, marriages, children, and ministry.

2. Be friends not business partners.

We can fall into the trap of treating fellow elders as though merely fellow board members. That’s one reason I prefer not to use the term “elder board.” We’re not a board. We’re a body who serves the congregation together in the name of Christ. Board members can be somewhat indifferent to each other as long as the board functions. They can discuss, deliberate, make decisions, and think their responsibilities completed when gaveled adjourned. Yet isn’t it hypocritical when we just go through the motions of acting as a board while failing to truly care for and serve each other? But when you’re members of a body you learn to love each other, care for one another, weep and laugh together, know one another’s struggles, feel with one another’s burdens.

As fellow elders, we’ve joyously shared in births of children and grandchildren. We’ve wept over deaths of parents and siblings. We’ve labored in prayer over struggles with our children and grandchildren. We’ve walked through pains, emergencies, and celebrations. Friends care enough to know and serve one another.

3. Speak into one another’s lives.

When we’re friends as fellow elders, rather than just board members, we have the right to speak into one another’s lives. As Paul’s encouragement in the body’s growth, development, and doctrinal clarity necessitated speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:14–16), elders were not excluded. If elders don’t speak the truth in love to one another then they likely do little of it with the flock.

Yet to speak into another’s life calls for a dual posture. The one speaking must approach his brother with humility, love, and willingness to listen and walk alongside the other. The one approached must share that same humility in listening, love in accepting correction, and submission to respond to a brother’s admonishing word. It means that both the one speaking and the one listening readily maintain teachable hearts. Elders who think they never need correction and admonition do not need to be elders. Until we stand before Christ without spot or blemish, we need others to speak into our lives, especially those fellow elders who pray for us, love us, and hold us in their hearts.

4. Pay attention to pastoral opportunities with elders.

One of our elders and his wife faced the intense grief of a son dying less than an hour after his birth. I will never forget the scene of my fellow elders and their wives gathered around the bedside weeping, praying, and loving on this brother and his wife. We must not presume that the office of elder doesn’t mean that we never need pastoral care.

Pastoral care can come in many different ways. It can be during a family illness or death; the departure of a child heading to college or the military; the birth of a child or grandchild; adverse changes in life or job or family. Sometimes it’s the sensitivity to raging spiritual conflicts that calls for fellow elders to come alongside their brothers.

Don’t presume that another elder will serve the brother in time of need. Take the opportunity to pastor your fellow pastors. The time will likely come when you will be on the receiving end of such ministry, so faithfully minister to your brothers in time of need.

5. Live life together in the body.

By living life together in the body, I’m thinking of the kind of things that we do as members of the congregation but in this case, even intensified with fellow elders. We read books and talk about them. We share stories of how God has worked in some opportunity or need. We discuss sermons and bible studies we’re preparing to teach. We open up about our weaknesses. We talk about struggles with sin. We visit needy church members. We participate in mission trips. We work side by side in various church projects or work days. We share table fellowship. We attend events together. We pray. We laugh. We do life together.

Yes, pastors need pastoring by their fellow elders. We can certainly develop formal structures for doing so, e.g. accountability times, bible studies, peer reviews, etc. But I’m advocating for something more holistic—life on life in the crucible of ministry. Know each other well. Pastorally serve each other faithfully.

Phil planted South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee in 1987 and continues to serve as senior pastor of that congregation. He previously pastored churches in Mississippi and Alabama. He received his education at the University of Mobile (B.A.), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Fuller Theological Seminary (D.Min.), and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Ph.D.). Phil and his wife Karen married in 1975, and have five children and seven grandchildren.
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