by Phil A. Newton
in 40 Questions About Pastoral Ministry
Paul’s reminders to Timothy and Titus help frame the sort of content that needs to be part of pastors pastoring fellow elders. The gospel, holy living, perseverance in the faith, studying Scripture, and avoiding speculative arguments compose a breadth of material for discussion and sharpening one another. While busily engaged in shepherding the flock entrusted to the elders’ care, elders must keep an eye on one another.
Paul certainly had this in mind when he told the Ephesian elders, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock” (Acts 20:28, emphasis added). “Yourselves” implies fellow elders. Watch out for your fellow elders just as you also watch out for the members of the flock. Or from a different angle, just as you would not think of failing to care for the body, even so don’t think of failing to care for your fellow elders.
Yet we can easily presume upon one another. We have expectations with our fellow elders that we all have our acts together. Maybe sometimes we do. But what about the other times when we don’t? If the shepherds of the flock don’t care for one another, who will? Here are some suggestions to make pastoring pastors happen.
Pray Daily for One Another
Just as you pray daily for your own spiritual needs and those of your family, pray for your fellow elders. Those you regularly hold before the throne you hold closest to your heart. That act of daily prayer brings to mind the needs of your fellow elders. You’re praying for what you’ve observed concerning them and what you’ve learned in conversations with them. You’ve been sharing life together, so most naturally, you share their needs with the Father.
Pay attention to your fellow elders. Communicate with them about their families, work, and shepherding in the body. Discern where the adversary assaults them. Observe their strengths and weaknesses. They serve arm in arm with you, so lift them before the Lord. Plead for their personal disciplines, marriages, children, and ministry.
Be Friends, Not Business Partners
We can fall into the trap of treating fellow elders or members of the church staff as though merely fellow board members. That’s one reason I prefer not to use the term “elder board.” We’re not a board. We’re a body who serves the congregation together in the name of Christ. Board members can be somewhat indifferent to each other as long as the board functions. They can discuss, deliberate, make decisions, and think their responsibilities are completed when gaveled adjourned. Yet isn’t it hypocritical when we just go through the motions of acting as a board while failing to truly care for and serve each other? But as members of a body you learn to love each other, care for one another, weep and laugh together, know one another’s struggles, carry one another’s burdens.
As fellow elders, we’ve joyously shared in births of children and grandchildren. We’ve wept over deaths of parents and siblings. We’ve labored in prayer over struggles with our children and grandchildren. We’ve walked through pains, emergencies, and celebrations. Friends care enough to know and serve one another.
Speak into One Another’s Lives
When we’re friends as fellow elders, rather than just board or staff members, we have the right to speak into one another’s lives. Paul’s encouragement in the body’s growth, development, and doctrinal clarity necessitated speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:14–16); elders were not excluded. His reminders to Timothy and Titus give plenty of content to think about as we speak into one another’s lives. If elders don’t speak the truth in love to one another, then they likely do little of it with the flock.
Yet to speak into another’s life calls for a dual posture. The one speaking must approach his brother with humility, love, and willingness to listen and walk alongside the other. The one approached must share that same humility in listening, love in accepting correction, and willingness to submit to a brother’s admonishing word. Both the one speaking and the one listening must readily maintain teachable hearts. Elders who think they never need correction and admonition should not be elders. Until we stand before Christ without spot or blemish, we need others to speak into our lives, especially those fellow elders who pray for us, love us, and hold us in their hearts.
Pay Attention to Pastoral Opportunities with Elders
One of our elders and his wife faced the intense grief of a son dying less than an hour after his birth. I will never forget the scene of my fellow elders and their wives gathered around the bedside weeping, praying, and loving on this brother and his wife. We must not presume we never need pastoral care.
Pastoral care can come in many ways. It can be during a family illness or death; the departure of a child heading to college or the military; the birth of a child or grandchild; adverse changes in life or job or family. Sometimes it’s the sensitivity to raging spiritual conflicts that calls for fellow pastors to come alongside their brothers.
Don’t presume another elder will serve the brother in his time of need. Take the opportunity to pastor your fellow pastors. The time will likely come when you will be on the receiving end of such ministry, so faithfully minister to your brothers in times of need. I’m writing this chapter during a time when I’ve been physically laid aside and isolated due to four months of chemotherapy treatment. The care from my fellow elders has lifted my spirits again and again.
Live Life Together in the Body
By living life together in the body, I’m thinking of the kind of things we do as members of the congregation, but in this case, even intensified with fellow pastors. We read books and talk about them. We share stories of how God has worked in some opportunity or need. We discuss sermons and Bible studies we’re preparing to teach. We open up about our weaknesses. We talk about struggles with sin. We visit needy church members. We participate in mission trips. We work side by side in various church projects or workdays. We share table fellowship. We attend events together. We pray. We laugh. We do life together.
Yes, pastors need pastoring by their fellow elders. We can certainly develop formal structures for doing so (e.g., accountability times, Bible studies, peer reviews, etc.). But I’m advocating for something more holistic—life on life in the crucible of ministry. Know each other well. Pastorally serve each other faithfully.
This post is adapted from 40 Questions About Pastoral Ministry edited by Phil A. Newton. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.
“Imagine being able to sit down and talk to a friend who has faithfully pastored for over forty years, and in a series of sessions, you have the chance to hear him share from Scripture and personal experience what he has learned along the way. Phil Newton is a friend and a mentor in ministry, so I can hear his voice as I read these pages. In this book, Phil comes alongside pastors to talk about everything from navigating your first year, to handling opposition, to tending your own soul, to planning a sermon series, to evaluating when it may be time to leave a church. I trust this resource will be a means of great encouragement to fellow pastors!”
—Matt Mason, Senior Pastor, The Church at Brookhills, Birmingham, AL
“How I wish I could have read this book when I was starting out in pastoral ministry forty-five years ago. Phil Newton offers practical wisdom that will help pastors young and old. Dr. Newton offers tested wisdom that is both biblical and practical. I hope you will buy two copies―one to read and one to give to a young pastor.”
—Dr Ray Pritchard, President, Keep Believing Ministries