With a big smile, he reached out his hand to shake mine and proudly introduced himself as the church’s S.O.B. While my lips pursed in search of a smile, he translated, “That’s ‘Sweet ol’ Bud.’” My grin matched his. He said that he was also the church treasurer, so some called him an S.O.B. in the more traditional sense. A retired Naval officer, he had been an elder for nearly 40 years.
He pulled me aside and immediately began talking about the bicameral structure in the church, and how the brick-and-mortar-minded deacons had been squirreling away thousands of dollars out of view so the spiritually-minded elders wouldn’t waste them, and that was the wrong way for a church to operate. “You really need to get rid of that, Jack,” he exhorted.
He then concluded, “Never forget the eleventh commandment for church sessions: the amount of time spent on any given subject is inversely proportional to the significance of the subject.”
With that, he wished me good luck with the unpacking and said, “See you Sunday.”
Thus began a journey not only with Bud but with hundreds of other elders and deacons whose meetings I would moderate, whose advice I would seek and often follow, and whose majority decisions would shape my ministry for good and for ill.
Some elders – deacons, too – have carried me through ministerial valleys and bridged me over congregational divides. Other elders and deacons have thrown me into those valleys and blocked those bridges.
What has marked off the great officers from the rest? What characteristics set them apart?
The most obvious character trait of great officers is their servant’s heart. They get the fact that Christ has called them to be servant-leaders — bold enough to lead but humble enough to do so in a way that seeks not power but effectiveness, not puffing up but building up.
One consistent behavior is loyalty — not the blind loyalty that rubber stamps the pastor’s projects but the loyalty that speaks the truth in love (as they understand it) to fellow leaders. And once a decision is made, they stand with the majority regardless of how they voted themselves. They refuse to join the gossipers’ club.
A great officer seeks to live the Great Commandment – to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love their neighbors as themselves.
Great elders fight off elder disease: the barnacle of self-importance and cockiness that often attaches to persons who gain inside knowledge.
Yet another mark of such officers is their ability to see the bigger picture of ministry: seeing our congregation’s programs and issues from a perspective of what other congregations are doing and discussing. (HINT: That’s one of the benefits officers gain from a Presbyterian Outlook subscription!).
Great officers befriend their colleagues in ministry.
One other key distinctive: great church officers learn what it takes to become great church officers. They study what the Bible says about church leadership. They read and earmark The Book of Confessions and the Book of Order. They pick up a book or two on church leadership (see pp. 23-24) to deepen their understanding and sharpen their skills. They read whatever they can find to help them fulfill this calling.
To facilitate such leadership formation, we present this edition of The Presbyterian Outlook. Like the one prepared a year ago, it’s directed primarily to church officers and church officers-elect. Unlike last year’s edition this one is designed to be used for group study. Our preparation has been guided by the research and expertise of Steve Eason and Von Clemans, pastors of the Myers Park Church in Charlotte, N.C, (Steve also is author of Making Disciples, Making Leaders: A Manual for Developing Church Officers.) Together we have set out to put into your hands — and into those of all your church’s officers — a discussion tool, so that each article will provide a catalyst into far more ideas and insights than we could fit into these pages. Whether led by a pastor, a church educator, an elder or deacon, this magazine/study guide can launch a group of earnest servant-leaders into a journey of enriched and empowered church leadership.
Please, for the church S.O.B.’s sake, make it so.