7 Habits of Highly Effective Ministers and Elders

In this session, Mike examines those Biblical qualities that both preachers and elders need to develop in order to be effective and thus successful in carrying out their respective roles in ministry.
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The title of this book is based on a book by Steven Covey entitled, "7 Habits of Highly Effective People." In his book, Mr. Covey reviewed two hundred years of "success type" literature and found that regardless of their age, culture or profession, effective and thus successful people shared a number of common character traits which he reduced to seven for his book.

I have used the same approach using the Bible and my experience in church work over the years to identify the seven most common characteristics of effective Christians. In this chapter we continue this study by listing the seven habits of effective preachers and elders.

3 Habits of Effective Preachers / Ministers

We begin with the habits of effective preachers; there are many but I will name three very important ones. Now I must repeat that what we are searching to do for all Christians whether they are deacons, preachers, elders or saints without a particular leadership role, is to describe those common habits that make these people effective.

As I have said, there are many who call themselves Christians, many who have been appointed as deacons and elders, many who have been commended to the ministry of preaching, but are not effective in these roles! If just wearing the title preacher made one effective then a church could randomly select any preacher to serve them as minister. But churches do not do that because they know from experience that not all preachers are equally effective and some are not effective at all.

In this chapter we are defining the habits that effective preachers and elders must cultivated in order to become successful at what they do. As far as preachers are concerned, there are 3 main habits or characteristics that identify the truly effective minister. These are described by Paul in his letter to a young evangelist named Timothy in II Timothy.

Habit #1
Effective Preachers Purify Themselves

For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
- II Timothy 1:6

Timothy was holding back in his ministry because of his youth and the presence of many distractions in the world. He was also timid because of the fear of persecution by the Jews and certainly by the Romans. Paul encourages him to renew his gift and purify himself continually by separating himself from those things that would hinder, distract or slow him down.

Even preachers get into a rut: it could be a rut of fatigue, of boredom, of laziness or sinfulness. It is usually a rut where the preacher starts majoring in minors to avoid the true and hard work of ministry. Effective preachers have the habit of purifying themselves on an ongoing basis in order to remain fresh, open and sensitive to the Spirit's lead.

Effective preachers cultivate spiritual habits that serve to purify their minds and hearts continually:

  • They read the Bible continually and not just for sermon prep.
  • They make time for personal prayer aside from prayer during public worship.
  • They read and study material that will expand their minds and ministries.
  • They cultivate relationships that keep them accountable because every minister needs someone, aside from his wife, who will tell him when he is wrong.
  • They are involved in activities that serve the brotherhood in general and not just the local church. This serves to expand their view of the kingdom.
  • They do what is difficult first. I once knew a preacher who hated to study and prepare lessons but loved computer work. He would spend 3 days getting the bulletin ready, preparing mission reports with statistic sheets, graphs, etc. He would run errands and tend to the office. Finally, on Saturday night, he would get his lesson together and Sunday morning it would show!

Effective preachers continually purify themselves and their ministries in order to maintain the enthusiasm and passion that characterized their original call to minister.

Habit #2
Effective Preachers Preach

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.
- II Timothy 1:8-12

Paul is still passionate about the gospel, even when he refers to it in a letter to a fellow believer and worker. Despite the fact that he has suffered for the gospel, he is still completely convinced and fully engaged in the spread of the Good News.

Effective preachers are effective because they are excited by the message, not where they will preach the message or how many people will be there. Paul is zealous and he is simply writing to one person! What makes preachers effective is that they want to preach in season or out, big crowd or small, friendly hearers or skeptical ones, local or international, in person, on TV, radio, print, or the internet. They just want to preach!

Effective preachers are convinced that the gospel is God's truth to man and they are anxious, even uncomfortable if they do not preach.

Habit #3
Effective Preachers Persevere

When I say persevere, I mean that preachers who succeed in ministry are those who are able to "keep on keeping on" they "last" they "hang in there" they have a persevering spirit.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul encourages him to persevere in three areas:

A. Persevere in Doctrine

Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.
- II Timothy 1:13-14
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
- II Timothy 2:1-2

Persevering in doctrine or teaching means to continue diligently teaching God's Word even when it is inconvenient, or when people will not listen or obey. It also means to persevere when there is opposition from those in and out of the church. Finally, perseverance requires one to confront those who are in error and train others in the proper teaching of the Word.

The preachers' job is to minister the Word in every circumstance and successful, effective preachers make sure they do not get away from that primary task in their many sided job.

B. Persevere in Ministry

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel,for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. It is a trustworthy statement:

For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him;
If we endure, we will also reign with Him;
If we deny Him, He also will deny us;
If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
- II Timothy 2:3-13

In other words there are many distractions and temptations in the world and ministers need to be careful not to become trapped in these. Some ministries are ruined by worry or sinfulness because the preacher becomes more involved with something other than ministry and this thing leads him to ruin. Successful, effective preachers keep their eye on the prize and their hands on the wheel of ministry without detours. I have been offered partnerships in many ventures but always refused because it would be a distraction. I don't want to be concerned about anything other than my family and my ministry.

C. Persevere in Love of the Church

There are many more comments by Paul to Timothy in both his letters about being a good preacher. Suffice to say that the most effective preachers I have met and seen are those who love the Lord's church. No matter how they are treated; whether they have preached in big or small churches; in the Bible-belt or in the mission field; they continue to love the Lord's church and sacrifice themselves for it.

No matter how much education you have or how skilled a speaker you are, if you don't love the church you cannot be effective as a minister. People can sense this and will respond to you accordingly.

Summary I

There are many who wear the name minister/preacher. Colleges and preacher training schools are producing a new crop every year. But effective preachers achieve success because they have cultivated 3 important habits:

  1. They continually purify themselves through prayer and reading the cleansing Word of God.
  2. They continually preach the gospel with enthusiasm and avoid debates over issues, personalities.
  3. They continually persevere in teaching the Word to others, service to others and promoting the church of Christ to the world.

This is what they are about, this is what is central about them. If the only thing that you remember about the preacher is his hobby or his passion for football, something is wrong! Of course there are many other factors that contribute to successful ministry. Things like people skills and getting in touch with the culture of the people you are preaching to; however, without the habits I have just spoken of, a man will not become effective in ministry no matter how many friends he has in the church or how well he fits in to the local scene.

4 Habits of Highly Effective Elders

It is difficult to say all that needs to be said about the role of elders, so I will have to summarize and compress my comments into 4 key habits for effective eldering.

Habit #1
Effective Elders are on Guard

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
- Acts 20:28-30

In this particular passage, Paul calls the elders together and exhorts them to be on guard in three areas:

A. Guard Themselves

Effective elders watch themselves and guard their conduct and attitude first and foremost. Elders who are not seen as striving to grow and develop in personal spiritual maturity have no respect among the brethren and without respect they cannot be effective. The church will be patient and forgiving with an elder's weakness if he is striving to improve it. More elders lose their effectiveness because they mistakenly think that being an elder excuses them from having to deal with sinful habits and sinful character traits such as pride, laziness, gossip and worldliness.

B. Guard the Flock

Effective elders understand that once they become elders they have to change their priorities. Many times men take on the role of elder and see it as an extra duty, like a religious hobby that they add to their schedules. But eldership is like marriage, it changes your whole life and your schedule. The most effective elders are those that guard the flock 24/7, not just at Sunday and Wednesday services. You cannot be effective as a shepherd without being deeply involved in the lives of the sheep seven days a week.

C. Guard the Word

Note in Paul's encouragement and meeting with them that there was no talk of buildings, money or programs. These were matters that the deacons were concerned about. Effective elders concerned themselves with their ongoing personal spiritual development, the needs and direction of the spiritual lives of the members and the accurate teaching and preaching of God's Word. Effective eldering requires men who resist the temptation to do the more tangible work that belongs to deacons, and tackle the more challenging and demanding work of building the kingdom within the members!

The Word tells us that effective elders accept and excel in guarding themselves, the church and the Word against the world and against the forces of evil and darkness.

Habit #2
Effective Elders are on Duty

This is a personal observation, but I have noticed that the most successful elders are the ones who carry the shepherd's staff wherever they go. In other words, their lives are defined by their role as elders in the church. You see it in the way they talk, the way they act and the way they react to things in or out of the church. Some elders are elders when they are in the building or at an elders' meeting. But effective elders are elders at ball games, picnics, work or wherever they are. No other role, whether it be their job or favorite hobby, is more emphatic than their role as elder. When they share with others that they serve as elders, people are not surprised.

Elders who are "on duty" realize that in this world there are many lost sheep looking for a shepherd and they have been ordained by God to find them wherever they are.

Habit #3
Effective Elders are on Fire

Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
- Acts 13:1-3
Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.
- Acts 15:3-4

I list these passages in order to point out that elders (teachers) were involved in the great mission work of Paul to the Gentiles. For Jewish Christians it took great courage to encourage and support this type of activity among the Gentiles, but they were enthusiastic for the gospel.

So many times elderships are reduced to being decision making bodies that give the thumbs up or down for budget items, instead of being on the edge of launching new ideas and efforts to seek and save the lost as well as ministering to the saints. Elders that are "fired up" about evangelism or helping the poor or strengthening the church provide the kind of leadership people will follow. Effective elders lead by example, highly effective elders lead by inspiration, and inspiration is what leads the church to do great things for God.

Habit #4
Effective Elders are on the Same Track

…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
- Ephesians 4:2

Paul understood that when you take people who are divided by culture, social position, education, each with their own sinful flesh, and try to make one unified body out of these separate parts, you have to work at it! It is no different with elders and their efforts to work together as a unified group. Why do you think the qualifications for eldership stress those things that enable a man to get along with others? I Timothy 3:2-7 lists sixteen qualifications describing the elder candidate. Of these sixteen, eight refer to his ability to relate to other people, especially other elders because these are the men he will spend a lot of time with.

Effective elders are those who truly are temperate, prudent, hospitable, not addicted to wine (or anything for that matter), not confrontational, not argumentative, not self-willed ("got to have my way") not proud (cannot admit weakness or fault). Effective elders work on their relationships with each other. They invest time and effort into this for several reasons:

  1. Causing division and conflict among the elders is always the first plan of attack for Satan.
  2. Eldering is a "group task" not an individual task, so the more unified and team-oriented the eldership is, the more successful.
  3. The church is a reflection of the eldership. A divided, do-nothing eldership will produce the same kind of congregation.

Effective elders recognize that a healthy, open, unified group of elders is Biblical in nature and a source of comfort and confidence to the congregation. We don't like to see our parents fight, we don't like to see our elders fight either.

They not only know this but they take concrete steps to maintain that unity of the Spirit, and work diligently at keeping the peace among themselves, and they do it for the love of Christ and the sheep He died to save.

Summary II

Obviously, so much more could be said about this very important subject, but these four will suffice. Effective eldering requires that these men be on guard each day for the spiritual well-being of themselves, the church and the teaching of the Word.

They need to be on fire in order to inspire the church with their zeal to serve the Lord, the church and the lost. If the elders don't inspire, who will? You cannot hire out inspiration.

Effective elders are also a force for unity, peace and reconciliation. This stands out in the leadership and as a result it permeates the entire congregation. Effective leadership in the church is the key to growth because the church cannot grow beyond its leadership.

I hope you will continue to pray and support your eldership as they seek to become more and more effective as each year goes by.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you define effectiveness and how does it differ from correctness?
  2. Explain each of the following habits of effective preachers/ministers:
    • Effective preachers purify themselves
    • Effective preachers preach
    • Effective preachers persevere
  3. How do the habits of effective preachers/ministers relate to all Christians?
  4. How do you define leadership and how does this relate to all Christians?
  5. Describe each of the habits of highly effective elders:
    • Effective elders are on guard
    • Effective elders are on duty
    • Effective elders are on fire
    • Effective elders are on the same track
  6. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?