How can elders minister to the pastor?
In a Reformed Church the ministry of elders involves ministry to the ministers and involves both oversight and care. The RCA Liturgy and Book of Church Order specify that the elders' oversight includes the conduct of the minister, especially in preaching and teaching.
Most elders have neither studied the Bible in its original languages nor attended seminary. You expect your pastor to know more about the Scriptures than you do, and rightly so. But effective preaching and teaching always connects the truth of God's Word to human lives, needs, and challenges here and now. Elders can apply the test of relevance. If preaching falls short, the constructive counsel of elders may help a pastor move from what the Bible said to what it says as a living Word for today.
The minister's conduct is also the elders' concern. Most pastors are highly dedicated, hard-working people. Their sincere desire is to preach powerfully and helpfully, to serve the people gracefully, and to lead the church in mission effectively. People rely on their pastor in times of crisis and stress. Many confidences must be kept. The burdens are often heavy, and the ministry can be a lonely calling. Pastors are also people with families, personal emergencies, and human frailties.
Pastors need the same care and spiritual nurture we all do. Elders, who work closely with the pastor in the ministry of the church, are in a good position to provide that nurture. At least one elders' meeting each year should be devoted solely to the counsel, encouragement, and care of the pastor. A kind word, a listening ear, or a pat on the back are both welcome and needed.
When elders are pastors to their pastor, good ministers grow to be even better preachers, teachers, shepherds, and leaders. The best caregivers are pastors who are cared for in their own inevitable moments of crisis and vulnerability. At these times, let the elders take care!
Reprinted from The Ministry of the Elder, by Robert White.