Elders must be Empowered—Don’t Emasculate them!

Ron Cantor —  August 23, 2018 — Leave a comment
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I was recently in the boardroom of a well-known ministry. I was only there to visit a friend who had a meeting there. Every chair was the same and there were no nameplates indicating who was supposed to sit where. When one of the board members of this ministry walked in and saw my wife sitting in the CEO’s chair (which again, looked like every other chair), he flipped out in fear—“Move quickly before [name of leader] walks in. He/She will not be happy to see you sitting in his/her chair.”

He didn’t mean to be rude, but his fear of offending the leader, even though he was a board member (and therefore an essential leader in the ministry) paralyzed his normally delightful disposition.

Jezebel and Eunuchs

Jezebel (and insecure leaders in general) surrounded herself with eunuchs—disempowered men, meant to serve her. New Testament leaders are to surround themselves with empowered men, meant to serve the Lord’s purposes for the people of the congregation, not neutered men. Jezebel ruled by fear and intimidation, surrounding herself with people who would say what she wanted to hear and do her bidding. A New Testament leader creates a warm environment of love, and surrounds himself with people who will speak the truth.

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I have been in congregations (and seen many more) where there were no other five-fold (Eph. 4:11—Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers) ministers, other than the leader. Everyone else on staff was there to support the leader. Elders were for show only, had no real authority, and had no intention of challenging the senior leader. As a result, years would go by and anyone with a genuine gift for leadership would move on to another pasture, out of frustration. There was no room for multiple giftings, such as we see in the book of Acts. The ones who stayed long-term were either yes-men—spiritual eunuchs—or those with hidden agendas.

I understand that some ministries are not built to make disciples and raise up leaders. Some traveling ministries minister to groups through teaching or empowering, and a support team is needed. But, even in the case of the great evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, as he got older, he began to mentor young evangelists in a yearly gathering and, ultimately, choose his successor, Daniel Kolenda  Long before Bonnke would retire, he was pouring into him so he would be ready when the time came. And, before he chose Daniel as his successor, he was surrounded with powerful five-fold preachers like Peter Vandenberg.

New Testament Government

In so many congregations, when a new leader is needed, they have to look outside for a pastor. In denominations, they call the district superintendent. A young man, sometimes fresh out of seminary is chosen and sent to the congregation. It is very unnatural and often unsuccessful. The kingdom of God is built upon relationships. And, ideally, the congregation would have a relationship with the new senior leader long before he is installed. But, most often, the former leader never identifies or raises up his successor.

The model of government that we use at Tiferet Yeshua (The Glory of Yeshua) is based on the Acts 13 model of team ministry.

Now in the congregation at Antioch there were prophetsand teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen … and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:1-3)

Here we see not merely a senior leader making every decision, but a leadership team made up of the different gifts that we see in Ephesians 4.

So Messiah himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastorsand teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… (Eph. 4:11-12)

On our team, we have an evangelist/teacher (me), two with pastoral gifting, another evangelist and our overseeing apostle, who is also what I call a prophetic teacher. As the senior leader, I choose to greatly rely upon our apostle to help me lead. He has kept me from making silly mistakes. I am so grateful for our three elders, two of whom are very pastoral. Moti will meet people and patiently listen to their needs. And he is a servant. If someone is moving, Moti is there to help. Gil is so good at helping broken people rebuild their lives—both in terms of inner healing and in building systems of accountability to break old habits. And David, who leads our young adults, is a real evangelist, always reaching out to unbelievers.

No Rubber Stamp

When I became the lead pastor, I was not previously one of the elders. Prior to this, I was involved mainly in traveling ministry from Israel and writing. But, once I was asked to assume leadership, I went to each one of the present elders and told them, “If you are going to be an elder, you need to have teeth. I am giving youteeth. I am not looking for a rubber stamp, but for your true opinion and discernment.” My goal was to make sure they knew that I wanted to keep them empowered and continue to build a strong team of elders, as did the senior leader before me, Ari Sorko-Ram.  I was not seeking “yes-men.”

Now to be clear, there have been a few times that my flesh regretted that decision because they embraced my commission. Over the past three years, we have butted heads on a few occasions where I thought, “It would sure be easier if they just let me do what I want to do.” During those times, I remembered what my friend, Steve Erickson, once told me:

You can build faster by yourself.
But you can build further as a team.

Sadly, many congregations function on the word of one leader. Often, he feels that he is the visionary and no one has a direct line to God like he does. But what he fails to see is that his “direct line” is filtered through his emotions, wounds, pride, impulsiveness, immaturity and often, a lack of practicality. That is why he needs true men of God around him to help him discern. Not to constantly tell him no, but to help filter out all the parts that are not of God in order to see what the true vision—God’s vision—is.

And, in our case, it has all been for the good of the congregation. While I did not always get my way, I am confident that in more than 95% of decisions that had to be made, we made the right decision. Elders need to know that it is safe for them to disagree with their senior leader and the senior leader needs to invite this. If you are reading this and you are a senior leader, you know this is true—you know this is biblical. But it takes real faith to believe that these other men are really there so the ministry can succeed. It’s not that they are there to hold you back.

No Other Structure for Government

That is the lie the enemy will feed you—they are holding you back. You could do so much more, if you could just break free of their shackles. And you may be tempted to get rid of them, but you would be going against the given order for congregational government.

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, (James 5:14)

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you (Titus 1:5)

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17)

Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. (1 Timothy 4:14)

There is no such thing as New Testament government, without having a team of elders. We do not find any one-man shows in the book of Acts. Even Paul submitted to the apostles in Jerusalem, when they told him to make a sacrifice to stop the rumors that he was teaching Jews to forsake Moses.

And there will make mistakes—like I said, 95% of our decisions were right. But, on the few occasions where you arrive at the wrong conclusion, the implications are minor when compared to the blessing that God will pour out on your team, for seeking to work as a team in covenant unity. God blesses unity.

How good and pleasant it is

when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,

running down on the beard,

running down on Aaron’s beard,

down on the collar of his robe.

It is as if the dew of Hermon

were falling on Mount Zion.

For there the Lord bestows his blessing,

even life forevermore.(Ps.133)

Even Apostles are Submitted

My primary overseer, Asher Intrater, serves not only as an elder, but also in an apostolic role over our congregation. When we embarked on this journey, one of the first things he told me was that if we are ever at an impasse or if I feel he had sinned against me: “Here are the names of the two men to whom you can appeal.”

Now I have known Asher since 1985, so there was already a deep foundation of friendship—a key pillar in successful team leadership. He has been a faithful mentor to me since I lived with his family in 1987-88—right up until I was married. But still he was making it clear that he, as the “apostle” is accountable to others. He is not a king, but a servant. And he has been an amazing example to me.

And these were not mere words. Once, we had a difference of opinion in direction. We tried to work it out between us but we were both strong on our position. At his insistence, he asked me to appeal to Dan Juster and Eitan Shishkoff—the men to whom he is accountable. He has served with them for nearly 40 years without division. This is so uncommon in the body of Messiah, where, so often, independence wins out over unity. When these two men sided with me, Asher submitted without hesitation. At that point, it wasn’t a matter of who was right and who was wrong. It was that the proper procedures were followed and the rest was in God’s hand.

My point is that elders/ leaders:

  1. Must lead as a unified team.
  2. Must be accountable.
  3. Must be empowered to disagree (without fear of reprisal or dismissal).

Restoring Your Manhood

And if you find yourself inheriting elders who had been in a Jezebellic relationship with the previous senior leader, your job is to restore their manhood. Remember how Jezebel died? Jehu rode into town and called up to her balcony:

“Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked down at him. “Throw her down!” Jehu said. So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot. (2 Kings 9:32b-33)

Biologically, these eunuchs would never get their manhood back, but, spiritually speaking, Jehu restored their manhood by giving them an opportunity to stand up against the one who dominated them and kept them in fear so many years. I can’t imagine the courage that it took for them to throw their master down to her death, but, when they did, the power of that spirit of intimidation was broken over their lives. We will speak more on this in the chapter on overcoming intimidation.

The royalsenior pastor is not a biblical model (or the royalcouple), where people idolize their senior leader or the senior couple. Often congregations like that revolve around the personality and gifting of the senior leader—as he goes, so goes the congregation. If he falls, many fall. People seek power by getting close to the “royal couple.”  People play politics, just as they do in Washington, to gain the leader’s favor. That is not a community. That is a show, based on the senior leader’s ability to entertain, manage and control.

A community is built upon the principles in the New Testament—worship, fellowship, outreach and the word of God. In such a community, the elders must be empowered. There is no place for spiritual eunuchs. As we move forward, we will share ways to become free and learn to speak the truth in love.

If you are a pastor and have been using fear, manipulation or guilt to control your board, it is time to change. Yeshua raised up leaders; he did not manipulate them to get his way.

If your elders are powerless rubber stamps for you to get your way (which can often be connected to expense accounts and perks), then it is time to restore their manhood or find new elders who will govern with integrity. If you are building your own kingdom, then this will be very hard. If you are seeking to partner with Jesus for His kingdom, then nothing could be easier.

If you are an elder or leader who finds yourself trapped in an unbiblical system where you have no authority to really govern, then you need to consider leaving. If your leader gives out favors based on what he gets out of it, then you need to confront the system or leave. Yes, it takes courage! But what is a leader, if not someone willing to take a stand for righteousness? It is time to restore your manhood!

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