How does one handle elders who don't eld? They agreed to serve, but by and large don't take up the responsibilities in their areas, and/or don't do tasks that they themselves agreed to do ... and so things go undone for months ... and I refuse to do their work for them. (Apparently, that's what the previous pastor did). I've done the pep talk, the "awesome task of elders," the checking in periodically to make sure things are on track ... nothing. Before I became a late in life pastor, I was a working mother/wife/daughter of an aging parent AND an elder, so I totally get the "my life is so busy..." thing.
Mystified and Frustrated
The best way I've found to address this is with peer involvement. Find a great couple of elders who would be willing to approach the "less engaged" and become more involved. Sometimes the less involved mistakenly think that it's the pastor's job to pick up the slack, and it sounds like they have had that example. Bring in a guest preacher/leader/consultant who can say exactly what you've already told them about many hands making light work. Sometimes a new voice catches the ear. If this doesn't work, have a meeting with each one, without any shame involved and discover if it may not be the right time for them to serve. Perhaps there are others waiting in the wings who could do a much better job. Make sure that the nominating committee is being clear about the expectations of service so that people are accepting nominations to serve as elders knowing that it takes work.
And Muthah+ writes:
I am not sure if you are talking about commissioned officers in you church polity or senior citizens, so I will speak to both.
If these are commissioned officers: It is time to have a 'come to Jesus meetin' with them. A one-on-one meeting, whether it is a call at their home or taking them to lunch or a drink, ask why they are having trouble getting things done. Sunday's Gospel might help (Matthew 21:23-32) zero in on the issue. They may not know how to accomplish the task, they may have forgotten, they might be afraid of failure, etc. Try to keep the conversation on the task rather than on the personality and have some suggestions for those who might help them to get their tasks done. Check to see if there are philosophical differences about their tasks--this in an important piece of information you need to have. It is often helpful to let them know that others find it difficult to do their work when their tasks are undone.
If they are seniors: Ask if they have forgotten! They too may be overwhelmed. (As a senior now, I am sitting her with egg on my face because your letter has reminded me that I have forgotten to do something that I had signed up for.) Find ways that folks can admit their failings without having to lose face. Being over 65 myself, I am finding memory loss is common among us. We have all the good intentions in the world but often the little grey cells are not as sharp as they once were and our energy levels are not the best either. Go read a few Maxine comics and know that you will be here sooner than you thought. But it IS incumbent on you to ASK and to provide some solutions to getting the work done. You may have to reassign the job to someone who can get the work done if you are unwilling to do the work assigned to others.
Third thing, check out your frustrations. Often when I was getting frustrated because another wasn't doing what they said they would do, I was frustrated with MY job. Others' agendas did not match mine. Remembering that I was always working with volunteers helps, but not much. If you can unhinge your success as pastor from others getting their work done, you may not feel so put upon. There will always be work that does not get done. It is one of the great frustrations of the ministry. If you're depending on the accomplishment of certain tasks then you must be either willing to either do the task yourself or reassign the work if the one-on-one does not work.
Fourth thing: Are you dealing with a control issue? Is the person who is not doing their work a person who is playing power games? Sometimes this is a way to indicate how much power an individual has. If this is the case, read Edwin Friedman's last book on congregational systems. It will help you maintain a non-anxious presence in the face of power plays. If it is a power issue, it is important to diagnose the underlying issue. I always had a consultant friend or therapist who could help me suss out such issues over lunch or coffee. I have always worked from the position that if I wanted something to change in my environment, then I was the one who had to change--I could never expect others would change for me. But it is important to figure out what change in me will produce the actions that will help me accomplish my goals.
Thank you, Matriarchs, for sharing your wisdom about this very difficult issue. What about the rest of you? What would you add? Let's continue the conversation in the comments section.
And, as always, if you have a question you'd like us to discuss, send us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.