I recently had a Facebook conversation with a pastor friend in another city who was sharing his frustrations over difficulties he was having with a staff member. Apparently his youth pastor was leaving after a short tenure because “God was telling him” it was time to leave. Leaving aside my skepticism for anyone who claims to be getting direct revelation from God, this conversation caused me to think more about the kinds of relationships churches often have with ministers other than the pastor.
Of course, there is no mention of a “youth minister” in the Bible. But I know they exist, because I used to be one, and it is a curious relationship. Each of the four churches I served in this capacity insisted that I meet the biblical qualifications of an elder as laid out in the pastoral epistles, yet none of them viewed me as someone serving in the role of an elder. In fact, I’m convinced that some of them desired me to function more like Julie McCoy on “The Love Boat.”
My friends who come from a more Calvinistic perspective are insistent that a church be governed by a plurality of elders. The ones who are also good Baptists will substitute “led” for “governed.” But they certainly have a point to make biblically when it comes to the plural nature of the office. While there is biblical warrant for the idea of an individual elder leading a church, elders are most often referred to in the plural. But my conversation with my friend has me thinking that perhaps there is a healthier middle ground.
While it may already be implicit in larger congregations, I have found very few where those men serving on staff are explicitly recognized by the congregation as “elders” in the biblical sense. Indeed, it is much more common (and devastatingly unbiblical) for church members to view the deacons in that way, and to view these staff ministers simply as hired hands. As someone who was once fired without notice by a group of deacons (who then fired the pastor in similar, though slightly kinder, fashion), I know whereof I speak. But this post isn’t about deacons, it’s about elders.
What I’m suggesting is that churches ought to become much more intentional about viewing those on what is commonly called “the ministerial staff” as elders, and not simply as guys hired to lead worship/youth ministry/children’s ministry. This intentionality must begin with the writing of a job description, and continue through recruiting and calling someone to serve a congregation. The way people approach a “youth director” will be much different from the way they approach an elder to whom the church has given the responsibility for oversight of the youth ministry. The same holds true for the “song leader,” the “education director,” and so on. If a church approaches these roles with this kind of biblical seriousness, it seems to me that difficulties like the one my pastor friend face will become fewer and further between. Amazing how often that’s true when we seek greater faithfulness to what scripture teaches.