Halfway through the funeral service, I realized something about my grandfather I had missed for 30 years: he loved his church. The preacher described the life of my grandfather, talking about how he had spent the last 55 years of his life serving in one church as a volunteer elder, deacon, and Bible teacher, and baptized several of the people who prayed with and for our family. He even helped install the pews we were sitting on at his funeral.
At home, we found stacks of weekly church bulletins and sermon notes in his closets. There were at least a dozen Bibles scattered all over the house, although he was perfectly capable of reciting much of the Scripture from memory.
As I flew back home to Seattle, I felt a deep passion to change my own priorities in life to reflect who I truly am. I am not a marketing director. I am a sinner saved by the grace of God. I am a servant of Jesus Christ. If this is truly who I am, then it should shape everything about my life. I realized I needed to think differently about where I spend my time, how I lead and love my family, and how this should change the way I work.
Stepping into eldership at any church as a volunteer while working another full-time job and leading a family will require significant changes in all parts of your life. As I considered my own call to eldership, this advice I received helped me tremendously.
The increased demands and visibility of being a pastor at your church create fertile ground for temptation for yourself and your family. If you struggle with pride, pray that God will guard your heart as you step into a position of more authority and visibility. If you or your spouse struggles with fear of man, pray for protection that your heart would remain set on serving and pleasing our King.
2. Reset your schedule
Serving your church well as a volunteer elder will require you to make changes to your priorities in other areas. As I prayed about this next season of my life as a volunteer elder at Mars Hill, I decided to drop every other commitment beyond my family, my job and my church. I resigned highly visible board memberships with two non-profits, being careful to make as smooth a transition as possible. While I make a point to work hard for my employer, I have pulled back considerably on what used to be a grueling travel schedule. Within the church, I have also pulled back from some volunteer roles to focus on doing the work where a pastor can have the most impact.
3. Deeply involve your wife
Much of the elder assessment process is focused on the candidate, often much less on your wife. She may have fears and concerns that she does not know how to bring up without appearing to doubt the call God has put on your life. Make it comfortable for your wife to talk about these areas and ask lots of questions of you, other elders, and their wives. Although a husband being called to eldership does not accordingly bring a formal role for his wife, she may feel an increased pressure to serve more through entertaining, leading Bible studies or other activities. Your wife’s service to the church should flow from her God entrusted gifts and capacities considered along with the season of life she is in. It is important to be realistic about the increased time serving as elder will require and to involve your wife deeply in the changes in schedules and priorities. It is also an imperative for Christian men to ensure that your wife and family know where they fall on your priority list. My prayer is always to have a richer relationship with God first as the foundation for everything that follows. My second responsibility is to my wife and she is the only vote that counts on how I am doing with that prioritization. She has to feel this or it’s just empty words. My third responsibility is to my daughters, and fourth to the church. By keeping the church in this fourth position, I am actually serving the people of the church better than if they were a higher priority.
4. Recognize people are watching
As a pastor at your church, even a non-staff role, you represent the church. Whether it’s in a Bible study or talking with parents on the soccer field, the things you say and do reflect on your church. Being open about becoming a pastor will also open opportunities to share the gospel and to be a spiritual mentor for your co-workers and friends.
When you begin making adjustments to the prioritization of other areas of your life, it’s tempting to label those changes as a sacrifice. But serving as a volunteer elder is not a sacrifice. While it likely will require de-prioritizing other organizations, hobbies or time commitments, you’re replacing those things with something much richer. Having a front-row seat to the powerful work of God in the church is an enormous privilege and great joy.
Matt Rogers is a pastor at the Downtown Bellevue church.