Elder, Stop Calling Yourself a Board Member

This post is my plea against the lamentable trend of many church leaderships: elders who call themselves, and are called by the church, “board members”.  And just as bad are the elders collectively being referred to as a board of directors.

This is the language of the corporate world, not the church. Likely, it works fine for corporations and regular non-profit orgs. But for the church, not so much.

Part of the problem is that in borrowing the nomenclature we often borrow much more. Sometimes we borrow the mentality and the actual structures of the corporate world. Thus, there are supposedly elder-led churches that are not elder-led in a truly biblical way. They have a board of directors – the elders – and they have church officers: CEO = pastor, CFO= treasurer, etc. When the whole fish is swallowed, the board views itself primarily as a check and balance to the church officers. The officers do the work (shepherding, ministry of the word, etc.) while the board does the overseeing of the organization (church) and oversight of the officers. When a church is structured like that it looks just like every other non-profit organization out there.

Yet, the Bible presents a far better way. In the Bible, elders are THE shepherds and overseers of the church (Acts 20:28). They are not merely responsible for the organization and for the paid staff of a church, but for the souls of every member of the church (Hebrews 13:17).

A paid elder (aka, a pastor) is one and the same as a non-paid elder, except that he is able and responsible to devote much more of his time to church ministry. In my church, we use the terms vocational and non-vocational elders to distinguish between those who are elders with regular day jobs and those who are paid by the church so that they can serve the church full-time. All of the elders are equally charged with shepherding the flock. They are ALL equally responsible for the church, and responsible to one another, to the congregation and ultimately to the Lord.

If you are a church leader, think about 1 Peter 5:1-4. This is what you are called to as an elder:

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.

Are you shepherding the flock or delegating that to a paid pastor whom you oversee? Are you exercising spiritual oversight over the flock or only the church officers and the organization? You are called to be a shepherd, not an executive. So please, stop calling yourself a board member and start thinking of yourself as an elder. And churches would do well to drop the board-of-directors lingo and start fresh. If you need a good place to start, consider the New Testament. 😊

See also: Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5, James 5:15.