For the past few years, the elders at New Covenant Bible Church (where I serve) have begun every meeting by reading an adapted form of the following from Zack Eswine’s The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus (Crossway, 2015).

How do we learn to lead meetings in ways that help us relinquish and resist the temptations we face?

I can describe for you what five years of listening has led us to. But this is no formula. Local knowledge will lead you to different details and strategies. But perhaps what we are learning can give you a place to start.

After we’ve gathered, talked, weathered awkward silences, laughed, listened to one another, and shared a scene or two from each other’s week, I invite us to pray. This is our monthly elders’ meeting. We are learning to shape it in light of what we’ve been looking at in this book.

So I’ll say something like:

“As we begin, let’s remind ourselves that a church meeting and a business meeting are apples and oranges. They both have their important roles, but they represent two differing things.”

Then I begin to read through the first portion of our stated agenda, something we do every month to begin each meeting. I often feel nervous that I’m being redundant. But these leaders remind me that they need this redundancy. It strikes them as so foreign to the air they breathe at work. So, I read on:

What we do: We shepherd the people of Riverside Church with our prayer, presence, teaching, and planning.

The next statement reads:

Our decision making: ER (immediacy and relief), BR (efficiency, quantity, and money) and Shepherding.

We remind ourselves that “Emergency Room” decision making relies upon immediacy and relief.

“Board Room” decision making highlights efficiency, quantity, and money.

At times elders need one or the other but neither as our norm.

Most of the time the growth Jesus leads us into does not come immediately, doesn’t necessarily relieve us, and is not very efficient.

Then we read 1 Peter 5:1–5, which is printed on the page:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

After we read it, I ask: “What sticks out to you from this verse tonight?”

After a good, long pause, someone says, “Not for shameful gain.”

For the next few minutes we share with one another the temptation to use our work as elders in such a way that we gain sinfully from the people we serve, like how holding a cup so that our member with cerebral palsy can drink from its straw can turn into a dark temptation to be seen by others for the way we care for people. We turn this conversation to prayer.

Then I simply read down through the next section of bullet points. We remember:

  • A church meeting is not a business meeting. We have a different bottom line.
  • Our goal is not, as a norm, to do large things famously as fast as we can.
  • No relationship is on the line tonight. We give each other the benefit of the doubt.
  • Most of the time hurry will not help us.
  • Building relationships and sharing our lives together is part of our agenda and is no waste of time.
  • Oftentimes, we differ or disagree as a matter of temperament and perspective and not because one of us is sinning and the other one isn’t.
  • We are quick to give and to receive forgiveness when we do sin against each other.
  • We seek to do our meetings the way elders are meant to do ministry.
  • This thing we are doing is about Jesus, not us.

We are now 30 minutes into our meeting. We’ve shared stories, rehearsed our purpose, and searched our hearts briefly with God’s Word.