Advice for Church Leaders

Recently, historians have discovered an old letter from Presbyterian Elder Screwtape to a young elder, Wormwood. It’s a short letter, and provides a lot of interesting observations from an experienced elder to the young man.

My Dearest Elder Wormwood,

I was very moved at your recent ordination celebration, and wanted to let you know that we’re all looking forward to the work you are now able to do for the church. While the charge given to you at your ordination was adequite, there are many things that you should know that were not covered in that charge. I will attempt to give you a few encouragements and reminders as you progress in your career as elder. Follow my advice, and you too will lead a strong congregation, who are striving to follow your lead.

  1. Make sure that the congregation is always aware that you are a leader in the church. Sadly, the Presbyterian Church frowns on tattooing elders as part of their ordination. Without a tattoo, it is difficult for the lay people to immediately recognize you as an elder. Since their ignorance can cause serious confusion, it is imperitive that you remind them during normal conversation that you are an elder. This especially works when justifying a decision to a concerned layperson.
  2. Protect as much information as you can from the congregation. The layperson oftentimes cannot understand how the leaders of the church think. That’s why they are not leaders, and you are. Since they may not understand, it’s good to not confuse them with the mundane inner workings of the church. Make sure the sermons focus on sin and Jesus, and not on future plans for the church. Remember, just because you publish a phone list, it does not mean that you should use the phone list.
  3. Keep unauthorized congregational discussion to a minimun. The common lay person is often filled with confusing, and often conflicting ideas. In order to fulfil your responsibility of preserving the unity of the church, leaders need to severly limit the amount of disunity. It is preferable to informally poll the congregation to find ideas and concepts that everyone in the congregation agrees on, and limit discussing to those topics. Topics to avoid include baptism, creation, prophecy, the Lord’s supper, Genesis through Deuteronomy, Daniel, Ezekiel, Paul’s Epistles, and the book of Revelation.
  4. Deflect criticism by blaming the critic. The Lord has seen fit to fill His Church with many… well… unsanctified people. Despite the clear teaching of scripture, many of the laity do not understand the authority that the elders have (see point 1). People like this will fill most of your rare free time talking your ear off about decisions that shouldn’t concern them, as they are not leaders, but followers. Use these opportunities to teach this person about the proper relationship between you and them, and then use God’s gift of email filters to automatically move their correspondance into the recycling bin.
  5. All Work is Good Work. One of the funniest parts of the PCA Book of Church Order (and there a lot of funny parts) is when it requires that a church Session must meet at least every three months. It is, of course, impossible that any Session could function meeting every three months. It is much easier to keep track of the details of everone in the congregation if you meet once, maybe twice a month. A meeting should last well past a time you would allow your children to be out, but remember as you roll into bed at 2AM that you were doing a lot of hard work. Even if you don’t remember anything being accomplished, and really only talked about that couple in the front row last Sunday who sang really bad harmony, you were doing the work of the church, and it was worth it.
  6. If You Didn’t Think of It, It’s Not a Good Idea. Over your career as an elder, many people will find their way into your congregation after being saved in a baptist church. While this growth makes for an easy substitute for evangelism, it does not come without it’s own problems. Oftentimes, these people will come with spiritual baggage from their old congregation, including their own personal “burdens” for special missionaries, charities, and outreaches. Of course, these entities could not contain the propriety of the organizations selected by your own missions committee. These new members must be made aware that their baggage must be left at the door, and that they are required to support wholeheartedly the work of the missionaries selected by the missions committee, even though they may know nothing about their work. If necessary, remind them that you are an elder (see Step 1).
  7. Be Very Careful Whom You Baptize Two of the awesome gifts given to elders is the ability to peer into another person’s soul and to divine the “hidden” will of God. While we each have a different technique for doing so, in the end, we all get that good feeling when we know we’re sitting in the presence of someone elect from all eternity. Sadly, the Lord did not see fit to bless us with the ability to perform this gift instantly… instead, it takes about six months of intense discussion with the potential candidate to determine their ultimate destination. The best place to perform this act of telepathy is isolated in a small, secluded room. If you classify this room a “new members” class, you are able to fulfill the double task of facilitating your telepathy, while isolating this potential reprobate from the rest of the congregation who have already been approved by your all-seeing eye.

Let me give you one final encouragement before I close this letter. Do not envy the megachurches that exist out there. It is the falsehood being taught from their pulpits that tickle their ears and cause those congregations to grow. Always remember that truth will be rejected, and that “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” I pray that your congregation will be a bastion of truth, avoiding the temptation of growth. Our church has five members, and we are blessed to be smallest, purest church in this area. I pray that you, too, will share in our success.

Elder Screwtape

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