Elders must be Empowered—Don’t Emasculate them!

I was recently in the boardroom of a well-known ministry. I was only there to visit a friend who had a meeting there. Every chair was the same and there were no nameplates indicating who was supposed to sit where. When one of the board members of this ministry walked in and saw my wife sitting in the CEO’s chair (which again, looked like every other chair), he flipped out in fear—“Move quickly before [name of leader] walks in. He/She will not be happy to see you sitting in his/her chair.”

He didn’t mean to be rude, but his fear of offending the leader, even though he was a board member (and therefore an essential leader in the ministry) paralyzed his normally delightful disposition.

Jezebel and Eunuchs

Jezebel (and insecure leaders in general) surrounded herself with eunuchs—disempowered men, meant to serve her. New Testament leaders are to surround themselves with empowered men, meant to serve the Lord’s purposes for the people of the congregation, not neutered men. Jezebel ruled by fear and intimidation, surrounding herself with people who would say what she wanted to hear and do her bidding. A New Testament leader creates a warm environment of love, and surrounds himself with people who will speak the truth.

I have been in congregations (and seen many more) where there were no other five-fold (Eph. 4:11—Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers) ministers, other than the leader. Everyone else on staff was there to support the leader. Elders were for show only, had no real authority, and had no intention of challenging the senior leader. As a result, years would go by and anyone with a genuine gift for leadership would move on to another pasture, out of frustration. There was no room for multiple giftings, such as we see in the book of Acts. The ones who stayed long-term were either yes-men—spiritual eunuchs—or those with hidden agendas.

I understand that some ministries are not built to make disciples and raise up leaders. Some traveling ministries minister to groups through teaching or empowering, and a support team is needed. But, even in the case of the great evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, as he got older, he began to mentor young evangelists in a yearly gathering and, ultimately, choose his successor, Daniel Kolenda  Long before Bonnke would retire, he was pouring into him so he would be ready when the time came. And, before he chose Daniel as his successor, he was surrounded with powerful five-fold preachers like Peter Vandenberg.

New Testament Government

In so many congregations, when a new leader is needed, they have to look outside for a pastor. In denominations, they call the district superintendent. A young man, sometimes fresh out of seminary is chosen and sent to the congregation. It is very unnatural and often unsuccessful. The kingdom of God is built upon relationships. And, ideally, the congregation would have a relationship with the new senior leader long before he is installed. But, most often, the former leader never identifies or raises up his successor.

The model of government that we use at Tiferet Yeshua (The Glory of Yeshua) is based on the Acts 13 model of team ministry.

Now in the congregation at Antioch there were prophetsand teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen … and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:1-3)

Here we see not merely a senior leader making every decision, but a leadership team made up of the different gifts that we see in Ephesians 4.

So Messiah himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastorsand teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… (Eph. 4:11-12)

On our team, we have an evangelist/teacher (me), two with pastoral gifting, another evangelist and our overseeing apostle, who is also what I call a prophetic teacher. As the senior leader, I choose to greatly rely upon our apostle to help me lead. He has kept me from making silly mistakes. I am so grateful for our three elders, two of whom are very pastoral. Moti will meet people and patiently listen to their needs. And he is a servant. If someone is moving, Moti is there to help. Gil is so good at helping broken people rebuild their lives—both in terms of inner healing and in building systems of accountability to break old habits. And David, who leads our young adults, is a real evangelist, always reaching out to unbelievers.

No Rubber Stamp

When I became the lead pastor, I was not previously one of the elders. Prior to this, I was involved mainly in traveling ministry from Israel and writing. But, once I was asked to assume leadership, I went to each one of the present elders and told them, “If you are going to be an elder, you need to have teeth. I am giving youteeth. I am not looking for a rubber stamp, but for your true opinion and discernment.” My goal was to make sure they knew that I wanted to keep them empowered and continue to build a strong team of elders, as did the senior leader before me, Ari Sorko-Ram.  I was not seeking “yes-men.”

Now to be clear, there have been a few times that my flesh regretted that decision because they embraced my commission. Over the past three years, we have butted heads on a few occasions where I thought, “It would sure be easier if they just let me do what I want to do.” During those times, I remembered what my friend, Steve Erickson, once told me:

You can build faster by yourself. But you can build further as a team.

Sadly, many congregations function on the word of one leader. Often, he feels that he is the visionary and no one has a direct line to God like he does. But what he fails to see is that his “direct line” is filtered through his emotions, wounds, pride, impulsiveness, immaturity and often, a lack of practicality. That is why he needs true men of God around him to help him discern. Not to constantly tell him no, but to help filter out all the parts that are not of God in order to see what the true vision—God’s vision—is.

And, in our case, it has all been for the good of the congregation. While I did not always get my way, I am confident that in more than 95% of decisions that had to be made, we made the right decision. Elders need to know that it is safe for them to disagree with their senior leader and the senior leader needs to invite this. If you are reading this and you are a senior leader, you know this is true—you know this is biblical. But it takes real faith to believe that these other men are really there so the ministry can succeed. It’s not that they are there to hold you back.

No Other Structure for Government